Father Iain McKillop
TRUST, TREASURE, ABIDE
These difficult times certainly make many of us feel insecure. In brief forays to shop for necessities one avoids as many contacts as possible. Thankfully there’s not so much traffic on the roads when you’re forced to step off the pavement, but be careful!. Even here in the countryside walkers by the newly ploughed fields keep about 10 feet away from others. Most people here seem to be reacting sensibly to the lock-down. More seem scared of succumbing to the virus than take undue risks in needless activities.
This present situation is more dangerous than many of us may have met before. It has certainly made me reconsider where my securities lie; I know that others feel the same. Usually we find our security in family, friends, community, national security, jobs, qualifications, experience, our role in life, personalities or strength of character, our home, salary, pension or financial support, perhaps, for some, one’s position in society. Almost overnight all these have become less important than our health and personal safety.
For members of churches or other places of religion, there is a feeling of security in being part of a faith community, with companionship, reminders of belief, corporate worship and fellowship. Such communities now have been forced to practice faith in rather different ways. Who would have imagined churches ever closing? Even in wartime they remained open for prayer, solace and refuge. Yet it has proved right to have closed places of worship, since the virus can be passed on so easily, as others in the world found before they closed their churches, temples, mosques and other meeting places.
In this unprecedented situation we need to develop different ways of finding security in our faith. I have been exploring a number of Bible passages that encourage us to ‘trust’, ‘take refuge, ‘cleave’ and ‘abide’ in God. If you feel worried it is worth holding onto Psalms 23; Psalm 46, Psalm 91; 1Corinthians 13; John chapters 14 and 15. Many of you will no-doubt have your own favourite passages to which you regularly return for reassurance; share them with others! There are thousands of other reassuring passages in scripture, (some of which I’ll write of at other times) but those above are a good, solid foundation for trust!
Trust is not always easy, especially as we don’t see God, and experience challenging situations which tempt one to doubt or question. The Greek biblical term for ‘trust’/‘peitho’ suggests that one can have confidence, assurance, and are persuaded by the truth in which one puts one’s trust. [Matt.27:43; Mk.9:24; Lk.11:22; 18:9.] In the Gospels ‘faith’ and ‘trust’ are often used almost synonymously. ‘Faith’ has less to do with abstract beliefs or doctrines, than true trust which relates us to God. Jesus frequently commended and answered the requests of those in whom he found faith [Matt.8:10; 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; Mk.2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Lk.5:20; 7:9,50; 8:25; 17:19]. But we should never believe that just because we have faith, God will heal or answer our prayers as we want him to. Nor, despite Jesus’ teaching about ‘faith as small as a grain of mustard seed’ [Matt.17:20] should we think that our prayers aren’t answered because our faith is too small. We are assured that God’s wisdom always answers all prayer in the ways that are ultimately right and best. But we might not always recognise the answer to our prayer, like we do not always see God working. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things as yet unseen” [Heb.11:1]. Remember that after his Resurrection Jesus told Thomas “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” [Jn.20:29].
It’s easier to say ‘put your trust in God’ than to truly trust whole-heartedly. We live in an age of understandable scepticism and questioning, when many intelligent, thinking people struggle with belief. We should never condemn doubt, despite James 1:6 says that it is not useful. Doubt is a sign that a modern thinking person’s faith is truly seeking for answers. We pray for the healing of this pandemic, and would love to see a miracle suddenly release us. Though the natural world is not likely to change like that, we still pray, and pray for protection and blessing. Perhaps the most honest expression of faith in scripture is the man who longed for his son to be healed, yet whose experience of life made him doubt. His prayer to Jesus was: “I believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk.9:24]. Perhaps that should be our frequent prayer when we, as modern believers, experience pressure, fear, insecurity, doubt or questioning. If scripture is true nothing is beyond God’s intervention; so we pray in trust “I believe, help my unbelief!”
One of the most famous verses about the security we might feel with God in this situation is from Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me…!” Sensing God’s presence with us can be a strengthening refuge in any situation. Just as people have been storing up provisions for physical survival through the pandemic, we also need a spiritual store of strength.
I’ve recently been contemplating the Greek word used for ‘treasure’, translating Jesus’ words: “Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth… but store up your treasure in heaven… where your treasure is there will your heart be also” … [Matt.6:21]. It is not just about security in our wealth, although Jesus went on to warn his followers that they could not serve God and material things. The word is ‘thesauros’ the term we use today (with a Roman ‘u’ not a Greek ‘o’) for a ‘treasury or compendium of words’. Thesauros can mean ‘treasure’ or ‘treasure chest’, but it could mean anything that we store up, value and rely upon. Jesus was commending us to build up a spiritual store which we can hold onto for security eternally, even when, as now, many of our sources of security dry up or disappear. He was encouraging us to build our correct priorities: to become good, holy, righteous people, prioritising the development of spiritual strength through our relationship with God. This doesn’t mean that our former grounds of security were wrong – we need money, homes, friends, family, community – but all these may prove insufficient and do not last for ever. Our character, our ‘eternal treasure-house’ and our relationship with God are ultimately what will continue eternally. When Jesus “commended” his life into God’s hands in dying on the Cross, he was demonstrating where his own trust was ‘stored up’. [Lk.23:46].
Jesus also told us to “Abide in me as I abide in you” [Jn.15:4]. ‘Abide’ in the Bible is far more than a poetic word for ‘live in’ or ‘live with’; it denotes ‘permanent belonging’. The Greek term ‘menō’ means ‘to stay securely in place’; with various prefixes can mean: to ‘persevere’, ‘remain’, ‘endure’, ‘be patient’, ‘stand firm’, ‘await patiently’, ‘stay with’, ‘hold on’. So there is a sense of immense security within the word ‘abide’. In the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament, it emphasises that God’s covenant promises to us, his Kingdom and his laws ‘abide forever’ [Isa,7:7; 14:24; 40:8; Zech,14:10; 1sa.66:22; Rom.9:11; 1Pet.1:23,25]. He promised that the righteous will abide with God for ever [Ps.112:3; 9]. This security remains because Christ remains forever [Jn.8:35; 12:34] and his Spirit is with him forever [Jn.1:32].
In the tremendously insecure world that we are experiencing at present the need is great to ‘hold on’, ‘trust’, ‘treasure’ and ‘store up’ a secure faith in the God who loves us, is strong enough to hold and protect us , and offers eternal security. The experiences of my life so far assure me that when I place my trust in God it is not just wishful thinking. I am sure he is there for us and that we live within God’s care. May we all feel his presence with us and share with others the peace which that can give.