I met a homeless man while doing outreach at the park one day. He had agreed to hear the gospel from me and so I began to share. He sat there distracted as I spoke, so I would stop every few minutes to ask for feedback. He didn’t seem to have heard anything I was saying. Instead, he’d tell me about another of his problems.
He had a lot of problems. His baby mama had kicked him out of the house and wouldn’t let him see his kids. He was sleeping on a friend’s couch, but the friend’s landlord had decided to sell the house. He was having trouble finding work because he’d gotten hurt at his last job and couldn’t do much physical labor. There were other things, but those were the big ones. He kept rehearsing these things with the refrain, “I just have a lot of problems right now.”
I felt for him in his circumstances, but I knew that his afflictions were merely symptoms. His “problems” weren’t the problem. I told him, “I know these things are hard, but if you’re not a follower of Christ, they’re not the problem. You just have one problem – you don’t have a relationship with God. As long as you’re preoccupied with all of these other things, your back will be turned to him. I’m asking you to turn away from those concerns for a minute and consider his call on your life. If you’ll do that, he’ll take care of those other things.”
He didn’t have problems plural. He had one problem. It’s the same for every person on the planet.
Here’s the beauty of the gospel: Because Christ rose from the dead, all of our real problems have already been solved. We need to trust that it is so. Every person’s only problem is that they are at odds with the One in charge of creation and who orchestrates all of history. God has come in the flesh to fix that problem and with it all others. Consider this passage from Romans:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 NIV)
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that Christ offers a life free from pain, but he will give all of our pain a purpose if we’ll let him.
When we accept Christ as our savior, that means we give him sole custody of our problems. Should we go into problem solving mode after that, we’ve reneged on our original commitment and allowed unbelief to pollute pure devotion to him. The simple thought, “What am I going to do about ______?” is a deviation from the walk of faith. Should be fail to recognize the deviation, we’ll discover in short order that our peace and joy have left us. If we continue in problem solving mode, we’ll eventually experience temptation to engage in dysfunctional behaviors in an attempt to fill the vacuum left by joy and peace. Should we succumb to those temptations, we’ll find that we’ve got a whole other set of problems which we need to solve and so our descent into degradation will have begun in earnest.
Happily, none of that has to happen. We can give our every concern to God in prayer as they arise and trust that he will take them up. Leaving our problems with him, we can resume our task of loving him and others. Should we entertain problem solving thoughts and at some point find ourselves in a far country, restoration won’t require a return journey. We’ll only need to turn again from our problems to him, that is we’ll need to repent of problem solving, and he’ll restore us completely.
I’ve learned these lessons through my own repeated failures at trusting. Maybe you won’t have to make the same mistakes or at least not as much. Trusting God with our real problems each day is the difference between faith and religion.