Monday, September 20, 2010

Micah's Legacy, Part IV: An Increased Reliance Upon God

Fourth, Micah’s death has decreased our reliance on ourselves, and increased our reliance upon God. Before Micah died, I would have been able to explain to you what it means to trust in God. But ever since that Sunday morning in July of last year, when Heather and I stood by, helplessly watching as our son left this earth, we have a newfound appreciation for our own limitations. Understanding our own limitations is helpful insofar as it requires us to place a greater degree of trust in God.

The circumstances surrounding Micah’s death clearly demonstrates the surpassing power of God’s purposes over even our best-laid plans. Regardless of how much we plan, how many professionals are involved in our plan, how wise we think the plan is, or even how much we pray to God, our wisdom and strength are utterly insufficient. Whether in our professional lives, our parenting abilities, or our financial situations, we are utterly helpless without God. While God will use our abilities and circumstances to carry out His plans, God’s purposes (not ours) will stand.

The implications to me of my own lack of self-sufficiency are far-reaching. One very practical application to my life of this has been in financial provision. While we can (and should) be diligent about education, training, and building a career, it is God who ultimately provides us with the skills, the job, and the paycheck. In the twelfth chapter of Luke, I find two passages, found consecutive to one another, to be relevant to living a life of financial reliance upon God.

First, in Luke 12: 13-21 Jesus gives a parable which has often been called the parable of the “Rich Fool.” “Someone in the crowed said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

As an estate planning attorney, I have the opportunity to observe in many of my clients the very same mentality espoused by this rich farmer. It certainly seems wise to make money, to save, and to plan for educational and retirement costs. I don’t think that Jesus was faulting the farmer for owning productive farmland or making money; he was, however, faulting the farmer for his intention to rely upon himself and to “cut out” God from his financial life. The rich farmer attempted to rely upon his “own” finances to be rich toward towards himself, but not rich towards God.

The rich farmer was also making presuming upon a certain future with regard to his money. He thought, incorrectly, that he would have many years to “relax, eat, drink and be merry.” So many of us in our comfortable American culture think that, based upon our income, savings and retirement accounts, we will have 15 or 20 years of a “rich” retirement to relax, eat, drink and be merry. But God’s plans are not our plans. With the onset of cancer, heart attack, or life-altering accident, God’s plans are often not our plans.

In our situation, soon after Micah’s birth, one of our family members was kind enough to make a generous contribution to a college savings account in Micah’s name. All of us, myself included, presumed upon a future in which Micah would have the opportunity to college. No one ever dreamed that Micah wouldn’t have a chance to go to college. Jesus is not suggesting that we shouldn’t save for future expenses, such as retirement and college; he is, however, warning us against relying upon ourselves for a certain future.

Second, in Luke 12:22-31, it seems that Jesus anticipates (or perhaps answers) the listener’s objection from his first parable. I can imagine one of his listeners saying, “Jesus, I don’t understand that parable. If we can’t even store up crops during a good year, what are we supposed to do about money? Shouldn’t I worry about having enough money to feed myself and my family?

Jesus says, “…I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor born, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.”

The promise that “God will clothe you” must have had significant meaning to the listeners, given that, earlier in the Gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus demonstrated his authority by feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. Earlier Jesus showed his listeners that He has the authority to feed and clothe them; now, he is commanding them to trust in Him for our daily provisions. Jesus is not giving us a list of commands, and then suggesting that we are “on our own.” God calls us to an unwavering obedience to him, and in his sovereignty, promises to provide all we need.

Jesus is not looking for people to stand “on their own two feet.” Jesus is looking for people on their knees, people who are in such need of God’s power in their lives that they are willing to rely on God for everything, including food and clothing. If we rely upon ourselves, we will be anxious about every life opportunity. We will have our attention divided between Jesus and the status of our own pocketbook.

In taking Micah away from me, the Lord also took away some of my tendencies towards self-sufficiency. Whether in our financial situation, specifically, or just in life, generally, we have lost a sense of self-sufficiency, and increasingly found a need to rely upon God.

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