For many years, I thought faithfulness meant continuing to believe in Jesus as Savior throughout my life, not turning away from the faith in God I said I had. It was one of those attributes listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit that naturally shows up as you continue to live the Christian life. Right?
Caring for my husband after his spinal fusion surgery taught me there’s a lot more to faithfulness then mere continued belief in God or staying married to the same person.
What is Faithfulness?
Faithfulness is refusing to give up when everything inside and outside of you screams to walk away from what you say you believe and the promises you’ve made. You stay always faithful because you know there’s an unseen end and a higher purpose for the pain and inconvenience of the moment.
After Preacher Creature spent ten days in the hospital and two months at home recovering from his surgery, I had lots of reasons and opportunities to give up on God and on a lot of other things in general. I was in mourning for the untimely death of a close friend. I was exhausted. Afraid. I cared for a grumpy and irrational patient. The demands of our ministry didn’t pause for my husband’s surgery.
I felt overwhelmed, crushed, and despondent over an unrelenting series of unfortunate events. Life felt like someone was trying to stone me to death by throwing boulder after boulder of unsolvable problems. My spirit sagged from too much heartache. How could I stay faithful?
Bible Characters Who Weren’t Always Faithful
I turned to the Bible to find out how others did it. To my dismay, Hebrews 11, the great chapter of faith examples, didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. To my surprise, it was through examining the lives of characters who weren’t always faithful that I discovered four obstacles that could block my path toward unswerving faithfulness.
- Fatigue: The prophet Elijah and I shared that in common. Running on empty describes it well (I Kings 19).
- Fear: Saul chose to disobey God’s orders because he was, as he told Samuel, afraid of the people (I Samuel 15:24). Yes, I’m acquainted with fear.
- Disillusionment: We have cause to believe that Judas capitulated and turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus didn’t appear to be what Judas thought He should be. Has life ever gone in a different direction than you expected? Friends let you down? Trials sneered at what you thought you could handle? The hard times sure have a way of pointing out our inadequacies and I quickly discovered I wasn’t as good, patient, or loving as I thought I was.
- Distraction: Demas, one of the Apostle Paul’s companions, left the missions team because, Paul says, he loved the present world (2 Timothy 4:10). Solomon’s many wives lured him from faithfulness to God (I Kings 11:4). When you’re down for the count, the greener grass grows dense at the fence line, taunting you with how life could be better. Even temporary fixes can lure us from staying the course.
What keeps us always faithful?
Marriage vows call us to faithfulness. For better or worse, they say. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, are the promises we make. Yet, at the height of my fatigue, fears, and failures during Preacher Creature’s recuperation, the Evil One stood with a canister, ready to siphon my commitments in small and subtle ways. No, divorce or leaving permanently was not even in the deck of playing cards. But, as any long-term marriage partner knows, there are other small but obvious ways to check out physically, mentally, and emotionally.
In the middle of one sleepless night when Preacher Creature’s muscle spasms would not relent, I didn’t think I could cope any longer. I wanted to tell Preacher Creature exactly what I thought about his muscle spasms and then walk out of that bedroom, check into a local motel, and sleep for 24 hours straight. Who could blame me?
Is there a faith-based alternative?
I had to hang in there. I cried the words of my favorite Steve Green song, “Find me faithful!” This is what my marriage vows and my salvation commitment call me to do. But at two in the morning, the large, overwhelming task of faithfulness seemed impossible. I kept praying, imploring God to give me the strength to stay awake and keep ministering to my pain-weary husband.
The next morning, my blurry brain asked, “Faithful in what?” How do I live faithfulness?
I came up with four areas where I – and you – need to remain faithful.
Don’t panic. I had no intention of walking out on a sick man. I probably wouldn’t even make it to the front door. But Satan is far more savvy than to present such a black or white alternative. Staying faithful in my marriage meant staying emotionally close. Loving the unlovely. Taking a servant role in the more gross tasks of caregiving. Letting the drug and pain induced criticisms roll off and finding it within myself to forgive quickly.
Despite overriding popular sentiment, marriage is still a long-term commitment. Marriage partners do not find the strength in their marriage by how much they have in common, but by how they are able to work together in spite of their differences. Any friendship is proven by their ability to still talk to each other no matter what life throws at either of them. If you want a rich, satisfying marriage or friendship, you find as much delight in helping each other dig out from a brutal blizzard as you would enjoying a fine summer’s day together.
It would have been so easy to take a sabbatical from church responsibilities. And some of this I needed to do. I needed to allow others to minister to me. My temptation, however, was to step back from everything, to selfishly say,” I’m too busy, I’ve got to take care of me, you’ve got to take care of me.” To view the responsibilities as all or nothing instead of prioritizing and committing myself to the tasks only I could do.
No matter what was happening in my personal life, God’s Kingdom still strained to move forward. If I were to remain always faithful, I would tighten the bonds of connections with my church sisters rather than sever them. I’d do the extra little tasks for Preacher Creature, like make a Ministry Alliance bank deposit or call on an elderly church member. I would still attend church and engage with those around me. I needed them as much as they needed me.
Our ministry during that recovery era did not stop; it merely changed and shifted into new patterns as God placed us all in new situations. That became clear when one home health care worker paused in her intake report and asked about our church’s summer children’s program. We would never have made a connection with her if Preacher Creature had not needed healthcare services. After that day, my prayer became, Lord show me how You want me to serve others TODAY.
Biblical doctrine tells me that God is good, He is powerful, He loves me very much, and He is in control. Those convictions tell me that all life is sacred and worthy of respect. And I’m convinced down to my worn slipper socks in the need for an active faith.
Life events should not make my faith fickle. If I say I believe in Jesus’ forgiveness expressed on the cross, then I need to reflect the same kind of sacrificial grace, forgiveness, and love to those around me no matter what is happening to me. How I treat my Preacher Creature patient and how I talk about him to those who inquire about his recovery reflects those convictions. I can’t allow the tough times to change who I am in Christ or who I’ve committed to become.
Each day is a new day. Each moment brings challenges to my faith expressed by my choices. Staying always faithful means I won’t change no matter how the pendulum of my moments fluctuates. If I say I trust in God, I’ll show how I’m relying on Him every step of the way.
I’ll stay faithful through the storms and through the night. I’ll cling to my confidence that God is watching out for me and over me. I won’t allow myself a moment of doubt or self-pity. I’ll tenaciously believe that He walks before and beside me. I’ll keep giving to someone who cannot give in return. My life will be the same behind closed doors as it is before a watching world, for the sanctuary of the home becomes a training center for how I demonstrate my faith and faithfulness on the open field.
God is who He says He is. He is still faithful to lead us forward with His light. He never gives up on us. In turn, we need to keep our part of the faithfulness bargain and hold on to Him, no matter what.
May God find us faithful. Always faithful.
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