Back when I was getting my Ph.D., I had to commute to the university where I both taught and took courses. The commute was two and a half hours one way, and a great deal of it took place on winding country road in the absolute middle of nowhere. The odds of hitting a deer were high. The odds of getting help anywhere nearby were low.
My days were long. I’d leave early in the morning, drive two and a half hours to school, teach a few courses, sit through a couple of seminars with my peers in the program, keep my scheduled office hours, then commute two and a half hours back home to eat a late-night dinner with my husband…and then do homework.
Recently, my husband and I had the chance to make a small part of that old drive as part of a larger trip. As I stared out the window at the hills and deer as we passed by, I caught myself wondering: how on earth did I manage it back then? How was I able to tolerate that interminable commute? How did I get everything done without having a breakdown? How did I tolerate that miserable, demanding schedule? I couldn’t fathom it now.
I wonder this about a lot of things in my life that, in retrospect, seem impossible or overwhelming. And I wonder it about a lot of people, too. How is it that a woman – whose crowning joy in life was her marriage with her beloved husband – can struggle on after his unfortunate death? How do people manage to look a terminal diagnosis in the eye and keep on smiling? How does a man find the strength to go forward when his son has chosen to walk a difficult path? Where do these people find the resources? Where did I?
The answer, of course, is “God.” But it’s illuminating to think about the way in which God provides peace and necessary resources for times of struggle and trial. And what I mean by that is this: in the Christian walk, we usually don’t have what we need until we need it.
We want this to be different. When we read Philippians 4:19 – “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” – we anticipate the meeting of those needs in advance. We want peace long before we ever have to have it. We want the ability to endure instilled in us long before it is ever tested. We want the reassurance of knowing that it’s going to be fine far, far before anything bad ever happens.
But often that is not the way God works. In fact, God seems to delight in giving resources precisely at the moment they are needed. The manna He provided the Israelites came in careful measure: just what was needed for each day. Elijah arrived just in time to provide nourishment to a widow on the day that she was preparing to die. Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes exactly at the time for the meal, not the day before.
And I find all this to be oddly comforting. I’ve mentioned here before that I am a worrier, and that my worry operates on a scale of “if”: what if something bad happens? What if something doesn’t happen? What if the thing I fear becomes true? See, when I worry, I worry because I sense I don’t have the resources required to deal with whatever it is that I fear or am worried about. To that end, I have wasted a lot of time over the years trying to be find those resources and to be prepared: to cultivate an unflappable peacefulness that is perpetual and never-ending and that will shield me far in advance of the worst that might happen.
But it’s silly and useless to worry that way, primarily because I don’t have the resources required to deal with whatever might be coming…and that’s okay. And it’s futile to try to gather together enough peace and strength and endurance to weather a trial that might one day come in the future. I don’t need those things right now. And God knows that. The truth is, God gives us what we need when we need it – and not always before. I know many believers who, right up until a moment of crisis or struggle, had no idea how they would survive or get by. But then, in the face of it, they did. They simply did. Because God gave resources where and when they were required.
God wants us to depend on Him. To have faith in Him. To acknowledge that, when necessary, He will give us precisely what is needed in that moment, at that time, and through that experience. If we try to cultivate readiness in advance, or to pool our own resources or lean on our own experience, we’ll inevitably counter something that we’re not ready to handle. It’s at that point we have to step back and acknowledge that the peace and the strength we crave isn’t something we can produce or maintain on our own – it comes from God, and at God’s good pleasure.
Worried you’re not strong enough to face what’s coming? You’re not.
Worried you can’t possibly manage it? You can’t.
Worried you don’t have the strength to power through? You don’t.
But you will. At precisely the moment that you must, and maybe not a moment before.
It’s God who will see to that.