FINANCIAL FAITH (Trusting in the Lord)
A Sermon by Rev. Lawson M. Smith Preached in Bryn Athyn February 26, 1995
“He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7).
Do you believe in the Lord? Most of us would say, “Yes, of course!” Especially we would say this in conversation, but even lying in bed at night alone, or with our partner fast asleep, if we asked ourselves, “Do I really believe in God?” we would still say in our hearts, “Yes, I do!” It makes sense to believe in the Lord. Life without the Lord is meaningless.
But still we are often afraid of many things: financial hardship, the disapproval of others, sickness, death, crime, moral breakdowns in ourselves or our family members, and so forth. We know that God in His providence permits an awful lot of terrible things to happen. We also might wonder whether we could bear some experiences that God might think would be good for us. So we are often nervous or afraid, which leads to stress, loss of sleep, illness, impatience with others, and other side-effects.
Often it appears that if we bend the Lord’s rules, things will work out better, and we will be more secure than if we play it straight. We know the Lord says not to steal, but if we steal here and there, don’t pay our taxes, etc., we will have that extra cushion. We know the Lord says not to tell lies, but if no one knows, what harm is it? We know the Lord says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, but sometimes they don’t deserve it; sometimes we need to be disagreeable or stern so that people don’t crowd us too much or interfere with our lives.
Whenever we say to ourselves that actually things will work out better for us if we don’t follow the Lord’s rules too closely, we are really saying that we don’t fully trust the Lord. We treat the Lord like an old grandpa: He’s got some good ideas, but maybe they’re a little old-fashioned, a little extreme in our times. We’ve got to modify His ideas for the real world. Since the Lord is not quite in control of things, or not paying close attention (since so many bad things happen), we have to take matters into our own hands to some extent. Clearly this is not complete faith in the Lord, as the omnipotent God of heaven and earth.
But in the Word the Lord insists that actually He is completely in control, even while He is permitting a limited amount of evil. We must learn to have more and more faith in Him by doing what He says.
Let’s look at a few of the Word’s teachings about material prosperity in relation to trust in the Lord.
The Lord puts the case very strongly in the New Testament, where He says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not the life more than food, and the body than clothing? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin … Therefore do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?’ and `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matt. 6:25, 28, 31-34). The Lord’s words here, taken out of the context of other teachings, could be interpreted to mean that we should pay no attention to our food, clothing and shelter. Rather it means that although we must take care of our natural lives, our main focus should always be on the Lord’s providence and life in heaven, for which we are preparing.
The psalms vividly contrast two attitudes, one that trusts in wealth to make us secure and happy, and the other that trusts in the Lord. Psalm 49 shows how short-sighted a person is who focuses on material things as the source of happiness and security. “For [a wise man] sees that clever men die; likewise the fool and the senseless person perish and leave their wealth to others. Their inner thought is that their houses will continue forever, their dwellingplaces to all generations; they call their houses after their own names. Nevertheless man, though in honor, does not remain, … For when he dies, he shall carry nothing away … ” (vv. 10-12, 17). The psalm points out that worldly prosperity brings a man honor temporarily. “Though while he lives he blesses himself (for men will praise you when you do well for yourself), he shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light. Man who is in honor yet does not understand is like the beasts that perish” (vv. 18-20). Jesus put this very plainly in the words, “What is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).
Psalm 112 gives a contrasting picture of a person who trusts in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments … Wealth and riches shall be in his house, and his justice endures forever. Unto the upright there arises light in darkness; he is gracious and full of compassion and just. A good man deals graciously and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion. He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (vv. 1, 3-5, 7). This is a beautiful portrait of a man who trusts in the Lord. He lends graciously and compassionately, not hoarding his money as though his happiness depends on it. At the same time, he guides his affairs carefully. And if bad news comes a setback in business or a sudden large expense he does not worry too much, because he trusts in the Lord. The Lord gives him the light of peace and hope even in dark times. We do not have to be wealthy to lend to others graciously, to delight greatly in the Lord’s commandments, and to have a steadfast heart.
The Heavenly Doctrine complements these powerful teachings of the Old and New Testaments. It is not disorderly for a person to make provision for himself and his family and take care for the morrow in that sense. The people who break the commandment against care for the morrow are those who do not trust in the Divine but in their own talents and abilities, and who care only about worldly and earthly things. “With this kind of person, worry about the future, and the lust of possessing all things and controlling everyone, rules their whole lives … They grieve if they do not obtain their desires, and are distressed at the loss of them. They have no consolation, for they are angry at the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and condemn themselves” (AC 8478:2).
We can work on cultivating an attitude of contentment with our own situation. We can accept certain limitations and learn to enjoy life within them, even while we’re working hard. Learning to be content with our lot is a fundamental part of trust in the Lord. Contentment is actually the nearest thing to heavenly joy that we can have in this life! People who are driven by a craving for money and things and vacations and so forth do not have room in their hearts for faith in the Lord. Such a life can never be peaceful, because earthly wealth and status are so fleeting. If that’s what we depend on for happiness, we will always be worried, under pressure.
On the other hand, those who trust in the Divine, although they guide their affairs as prudently as they can, based on their best guesses of what the future will bring, do not let anxiety possess their hearts. “Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain their desires or not. They do not grieve over the loss of them, and are content with their lot. If they become wealthy, they do not set their hearts on wealth. If they are promoted to honors, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others. If they become poor, they are not made sad. If they are in humble circumstances, they are not cast down. They know that for those who trust in the Divine, all things make for a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive to their eternal welfare” (AC 8478:3). What a beautiful life, what peace of mind! We can have this peace. The Lord wants to give it to us. We can work hard, guide our affairs with discretion, and yet set our sights on the Lord’s peace as the source of happiness.
The Writings go further, saying that those who trust in the Lord are continually receiving good from Him. Whatever happens to them, whether it appear prosperous or not, is still good, because it contributes to their eternal happiness. But those who trust in themselves continually bring evil upon themselves. Even prosperous and happy-seeming things are evil to them, and contribute to their eternal misery, because they confirm themselves in the notion that wealth and their own cleverness and hard work create happiness (see AC 8480:3). “The Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as lead to the happiness of eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and none for those who would be led astray by them. But for good people who would be hurt by worldly prosperity, the Lord provides that they should be gladdened with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored thus happier!” (AC 8717:3). What more could we want than happiness from the Lord?
Our problem is that we enjoy the love of the world so much. We enjoy thinking of owning a nice car or a bigger house, having nicer furniture and appliances, nice clothes. We also enjoy claiming control of our lives and credit for our successes. But these loves cause us anxiety, both in success and in failure in success because it’s never enough, but we now have more to lose. We have to choose between the peace of trusting in the Lord, that He will provide everything we need to be truly happy, or the excitement, frustration and anxiety of pursuing and maintaining worldly things. In the end, whatever we love most is what we trust.
The Lord wants us to take responsibility for our lives, to be as prudent as serpents yet as harmless as doves. He wants us to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment yet acknowledge that all goodness is from Him, so we are open to receive more goodness. He wants us to take measures to be safe and secure, but at the same time to realize that in the end, He is the only One who can guarantee our security; and that the security He is most interested in is ours and our loved ones’ eternal safety.
The key ingredients in developing a deep faith in the Lord are: first, to be as scrupulous as we can be in keeping the Lord’s commandments, avoiding evils as far as possible, and serving our neighbors as well as we can; and second, to set our sights on the Lord’s promise of eternal life, even while we are enjoying and/or coping with life in this world as best we can.
“To believe in the Lord is to have confidence that He saves. As no one can have this trust except he who lives a good life, living a good life is also meant by believing in the Lord” (TCR 2:3). As we practice the life of charity, the Lord will show us more and more clearly that we do not need to be afraid of anything or anyone, because He is taking care of us. We will become like the man described in the psalm: “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7). Amen.
Lessons: Psalm 49, AC 8717:3
Arcana Coelestia 8717:3
But this subject falls with difficulty into the idea of any man, and least of all into the idea of those who trust in their own prudence; for they attribute to themselves all things that happen prosperously for them, and the rest they ascribe to fortune, or chance, and few to the Divine Providence. Thus they attribute the things that happen to dead causes and not to the living cause. When things turn out happily they indeed say that it is of God, and even that there is nothing that is not from Him; but few, and scarcely any, at heart believe it. In like manner do those who place all prosperity in worldly and bodily things, namely, in honors and riches, and believe that these alone are Divine blessings; and therefore when they see many of the evil abound in such things, and not so much the good, they reject from their heart and deny the Divine Providence in individual things, not considering that Divine blessing is to be happy to eternity, and that the Lord regards such things as are of brief duration, as relatively are the things of this world, no otherwise than as means to eternal things. Wherefore also the Lord provides for the good, who receive His mercy in time, such things as contribute to the happiness of their eternal life: riches and honors for those to whom they are not hurtful, and no riches and honors for those to whom they would be hurtful. Nevertheless, to these latter He gives in time, in the place of honors and riches, to be glad with a few things, and to be more content than the rich and honored.
Spiritual Frontier – Emanuel Swedenborg