Faithfulness

Over the past few days, I have felt it placed on my heart to talk about faithfulness.

I want to start by asking the question “What is faithfulness?”. I think a lot of us associate being faithful with not cheating on our romantic partners. But apart from this, is there a universal definition? Oxford Dictionary describes “faithful” in three ways; 1. Showing faith; 2. Loyal, trustworthy, constant; and 3. Accurate, true to fact. “Faithfulness” is listed as noun of “faithful”, with no definition of its own. Merriam-Webster defines “faith” in four ways; 1. Allegiance to duty or a person; 2. Belief and trust in God; 3. Complete trust; and 4. A system of religious beliefs. Merriam-Webster lists both “faithful” and “faithfulness” as conjugates of “faith”. From these definitions we can gather that “faithfulness” is a constance, an unwavering trust and loyalty, with a smattering of religious connotations.

But what does it mean in a spiritual sense? Galatians 3:22-23 says, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (ESV, my emphasis). So, we know it comes, grows, from the Holy Spirit. But it still doesn’t answer what is it?

A brief scan of verses from the Bible indicate that both God and His followers are faithful. I really like studying the Bible, with like dictionaries, atlases, additional texts, etc., as I find that these provide even more information to the culture, history, understanding of the Bible. The Zondervan Bible Dictionary defines “faithfulness” as “An attribute or quality applied in the Bible to both God and human beings. God is constant and true, faithful in keeping his promises, and unchangeable in his ethical nature. God’s faithfulness is usually connected with his gracious promises of salvation. Faithful men are dependable in fulfilling their responsibilities and in carrying out their word. The NT has frequent exhortations to faithfulness. It is one of the fruits if the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).”

We see an example of God’s faithfulness in the story of Noah, with the rainbow. But what about us, followers of God? So, in our religious conversation, with all of these definitions, it seems to me that “faithfulness” is planted in us by the Spirit and grown through exercising our ability to be trustworthy and constant to God, loyal allegiance to our Creator. However, like any fruit (or plant), if it isn’t tended and taken care of it, it won’t grow. Or, like a muscle; if it isn’t trained and worked, it won’t strengthen.

I begin writing this with the idea that faithfulness is important during tough seasons in our lives, those seasons that bring us to our knees and test our faith a bit. But after looking over these definitions, I’ve come to the understanding that as Christians, from the beginning of our Christian walk, we are called to be faithful to God, regardless of what season we are in.

Sometimes I think we fall into the rut of only being faithful to God during tough seasons, as that’s “when we need things”, especially in our first world situations. I’m guilty of this too, but plainly, this shows a fickle, unsteady, inconstant relationship with God. You’re going to call me a masochist, but I deeply appreciate (proverbial) smacks in the face, as they make me re-evaluate how I’m living and my relationship with God. And digging into what faithfulness means, this has been a major smack in the face, and it has shown me I have quite a long way to grow.

I have also found through this process that defining what it looks like to be faithful is like trying to define love or describe the taste of water; there is no true universal definition or checklist. From my understanding, faithfulness looks like being obedient and following what God lays before you. It might not look like reading your Bible every day. Or it might. It might not look like listening to worship music 24/7. Or it might. From what I understand, faithfulness to God is doing what He asks of you. In the Bible, it does say to be knowledgeable about the Word and meditate on it, but I don’t think that’s a cookie-cutter statement. That might look like God calling some of us to be daily readers of the Bible. It might look like some of us getting Bible degrees. It might look like some of us following in Ravi Zacharias’ footsteps. I’m understanding that faithfulness is different for each person, based on God’s presence in their lives, and that could be why it is so hard to clearly define. I would encourage us to passionately and frequently ask God what it looks like for us to be faithful to Him.

There are some wonderful examples of faithful people in the Bible, and a lot of them screwed up. (If that’s not an encouragement, I don’t know what is.) I think of Abram and Sari in Genesis as they desperately want a child, and in their old age (I mean, Sari was probably 90) they had their first child, after years of waiting for God’s timing. But even prior to this, Abram had been told by God that his descendents would outnumber the stars in the night sky, and when no child arrived, Sari gave Abram her maidservant Hagar to have a child with, years before Isaac was born. This clearly shows an example of stepping out of faithfulness to God, and the consequences that came along with that. Even though there was a bump in the road, Abram and Sari were faithful waiting for God. And, then, we see a painful story of faithfulness (and this one always breaks my heart) when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. (Spoiler alert: no one dies.)

We see a prolonged story of faithfulness in Joseph’s story, from when he was thrown in the pit by his jealous brothers, through to when he was second in command in Egypt and provided for his brothers during a long famine, and all of the bumps in the road in between.

We see an intense story of faithfulness in Exodus when Moses and Aaron led the Israelites out of Egypt, after petitioning Pharaoh for quite some time to let them go.

King David is another example of faithfulness; being told he would be king at a young age, and trusting God through to when that time came, even when pursued with threat of death by King Saul. (I think it’s also important to remember that King David is also the “creeped-on-bathing-woman, got-her-pregnant, had-her-husband-killed” King David.)

We see a story of life-risking faithfulness in Queen Esther, in the way she followed God’s call and stood before the King unannounced, on behalf of the Jews.

We see powerful faithfulness in Job; as his life is falling to dust all around him, he never wavers from trusting God.

And think of Mary and Joseph; think of Mary’s faithfulness to trust God and follow through with an unwed pregnancy, and think of Joseph’s faithfulness in trusting God to stay with his wife.

We see faithfulness in the disciples, in following Christ’s teachings, and their continuation of spreading the Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul, though not a disciple, is a powerful example of this, in how he followed God’s call on his life, regardless of where it took him, how he was treated, or even how he was killed.

And above all, Jesus exemplifies profound faithfulness in obeying God through to his death on the cross.

Apart from stories in the Bible, and these people from long ago, there are powerful stories of faithfulness in our everyday lives. I think of those that are following God’s call on their lives for missions, who pack up their lives and move to another country without having all the answers. I think of people who are listening to God’s call to start up ministries despite not having much of a financial parachute. I think of those who follow God’s call into leadership despite any and all perceived personality failings. I think of those who follow God’s call to speak publicly about their faith at school or at work, despite fear of rejection, retaliation, or loss of their job. I think of those who are totally undignified in their pursuit of faithfulness to God.

What about me? I’ve just come out a tough, painful season of learning to trust God no matter what the world throws at me or tells me. And you’ll hear some of that along the way. But I wanted to share the things I’ve learned about faithfulness throughout the process of growing.

-Faithfulness is not formulaic

I am part of the instant gratification generation. We like “Do A, B, and C, and get X, Y, Z”. We know that if you eat less and exercise more that you’ll lose weight. We want things to be simple and clear and quick. We don’t want to put in much work, but we want a big reward. But God doesn’t define His people by their generational labels. I’m thinking He expects us to be faithful to Him regardless how long it takes, regardless of our generation.

Early in my marriage, like less than two months in, I quit my job. (That’s a very long story, but just know there were a lot of feelings I needed to work through with that.) It took the better part of four months until I found a job, not for lack of trying on my end. And through that time, of financial and marital stress and personal depression, I was often tempted by the idea that if I “read my Bible every day, and pray every day, and worship every day”, God’s going to speed up this season and He’s going to give me a job. I felt that God was really silent, and so I often thought that if I do those things, then He wouldn’t be as silent. Sometimes I think we fall into the pattern of thinking that “if we do these things, then God will do His things.”

I have to constantly remind myself that I am not that powerful, that God doesn’t move in response to me. And that, yes, it is good to meditate on the Bible daily, and worship God continuously, and pray without ceasing, but God works in ways we can’t understand. And who do we think we are to tell God that “I’ve done these things; your move”.

Faithfulness is not a checklist to blessings. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. Its not built on deals; “if you do this God, then I’ll do this”. While writing this, I had a revelation, that faithfulness is not a checklist, because it is our chance to grow. Faithfulness requires more from us, because God requires more from us than just checking things off a list. God wants us to have strong faith, not a superficial faith. If we’re being faithful for the blessings, we’re being faithful for the wrong reasons.

Faithfulness is painful.

We as Christians need to get better at talking about how hard it is to be a Christian. I think we need to get better at admitting when we are struggling with what God has put before us. When I was in my period of waiting, I felt so alone. Even though I was active in my local young adult group, and I was building relationships and friendships, I felt so alone, because I was going through something hard. I wanted to talk about my struggles, if I was being honest. But, I didn’t know how it would be perceived, or even if Christians talks about the hard things. I wanted to say that I was struggling, that my faith was shaking, that my trust in God was unsteady, and all of the dark personal thoughts that went along with those things. I wanted to have a spiritual breakdown but I didn’t know if that was something I could do, and I was afraid of being met with the standard “I’ll pray for you” and a bunch of encouraging verses. I wanted, needed someone my age to sympathize with me, as only a Christian youth could. I needed someone to tell me “I know, this is hard, and I’m so sorry you’re struggling.”

This is very similar, in a sense, to being a bride and planning a wedding. There is this huge cultural pressure to be happy and joyful continuously throughout the engagement, and if you aren’t, why are you getting married? And, because of this, I often felt that my feelings of anhedonia were wrong, and that something was wrong with me. I found out, after my wedding, when I became a bit vocal about this (thanks to a wonderful book from a college roommate at my bridal shower), that my experience was not singular or isolated. This was something a lot of brides dealt with.

As Christians, let’s not handle hurting Christians the way our culture handles our brides; isolation causes more harm than good. And, given that being faithful can at times be very isolating and painful, let’s collectively work to create a space for faithfulness to blossom even when it’s painful.

-Emotions-

I have found being faithful to be emotionally painful, and at times, even emotionally draining. There are two emotions in particular that I want to talk about; trust and jealousy. It would be so easy to be faithful to whatever God has asked of you (singleness, missions, season of waiting, etc.) if nothing else got in the way. But of course, that’s where the growth happens.

Let’s talk seasons of waiting for a minute. I’m fairly certain that God had been asking me to leave the job I was at for quite some time (at least two months) before I actually did. However, because transparency is good for the soul, I don’t think I trusted God enough to provide a job for me, finances for my family, etc. So, I didn’t listen to His nudges to leave. Over the several months I waited for a job, my trust with God strengthened, but also came crashing down; it was a right proper rollercoaster ride. I hope I’m not alone in experiencing how hard it is to constantly trust an unknown future to a non-tangible God. During a particular time where I was learning to really trust God during those four months, I interviewed for a job at the church I attend, and I felt God nudging me towards it. I thought and felt that He was guiding me towards the interview, and that I needed to be faithful in attending the interview. However, given I didn’t quite have the right qualifications, I left the interview feeling embarrassed, confused, and angry at God. It became even harder to trust Him when I felt embarrassed. In that time, I also began to question how I hear, understand, and experience God interacting with me. It is hard to trust during seasons of waiting, when everything feels uncertain. People, when hurt, develop difficulties trusting other people, and I think this becomes the same for trusting in God.

Jealousy also gets in the way of being faithful, and I think collectively, we need to get better at vocalizing when we feel jealous. Jealousy, if not addressed, turns into envy, and in turn, discontentment, frustration, anger, etc. While sitting in my period of waiting, I became jealous of people who were sharing the things God was doing in their lives (getting pregnant, getting a promotion, getting a new job, buying a house, going on vacation, etc.). I became so jealous that I couldn’t have what God was giving other people, that it distracted me from embracing what God was doing in my life. We talked earlier about faithfulness not being a checklist towards blessings, which is true, but we also need to acknowledge that blessings might not always be financial or materialistic things; blessings may come in growth. We’ll talk more about growth in a second, but I just wanted to illustrate how jealousy can change your perspective on what God is doing in your life, and it can also encourage you to put expectations on God for your life. Both are killers of faithfulness.

-Patience-

One of the biggest things I struggled with, while learning to be faithful to God’s call for my life during my season of waiting, and even presently, is the nature of patience. God never promises that things will happen quickly, nor does He ever suggest that things will happen within our timeframe. This is such a hard pill to swallow, because waiting is hard. It’s hard to wait in pain, wait in confusion, wait on God. Patience is hard during waiting periods, and it’s also hard when God gives you a call for your future, but no timeframe.

I think Abraham and Joseph are two powerful stories of this. Abraham waited decades for his firstborn son, after God had said that his descendants would outnumber the stars in the sky. Can you imagine how painful this was for Abraham and Sarah, to know that they were getting older and older, and yet still no children? Yes, there is also a level of excitement, in not knowing when God’s plan will happen, but I think, sometimes, this makes the present a bit unbearable. I often find myself getting really excited for my favorite seasons months before it’s their time, and this makes it all the more difficult to enjoy the present season I am in.

Joseph is another example of this; can you imagine his emotional state while sitting in prison in Egypt, for a crime he didn’t even commit? Does having patience for what God is planning to do create a deeper sense of peace at the present moment? I think it depends on how much you allow yourself to trust God, as well as embracing that God’s plans are better than your plans.

One of the things I constantly say is “Patience is a virtue.”, as it reminds me and those I’m with to be patient and wait. I’ve found this has made me a gracious person and an overall more patient person, in instances of being stuck in traffic, lines at the grocery store, etc., generally minor life things. However, when it applies to big life events (moving, starting a family, going on vacation, buying a house, etc.) and waiting on God, waiting and having patience becomes trickier. It’s also when we become impatient that we can become jealous, and as we’ve seen, can be quite the obstacle.

A final thing on patience – it’s when we become impatient with God and think we know better or can spend time up, that major consequences come into play. For example, instead of continually waiting on God, Sarah convinced Abraham to sleep with her maid servant to conceive a child. This worked, but it still took upwards of ten years for Abraham and Sarah to have a child, like God had promised. And when Abraham and Sarah finally did have a child, the presence of the child born out of impatience created lasting consequences. Acting outside of faithfulness when we become impatient yields life-changing consequences – I know this first hand. Forcing yourself into a new job when God asks you to be where you are adds consequences. Forcing yourself into a relationship when God is asking you to remain single adds consequences. Acting outside of God adds consequences. Take heart, though, we are not powerful enough to change God’s plan for us; however, He won’t might not always remove our consequences.

-Growth-

One of the most painful components of being faithful to God is the surgery of growth. I have found that though I really enjoy seeing how much I have grown, I really don’t like the process of growing. There’s a beautiful analogy of a diamond becoming a diamond only after going through intense pressure, and I think this is a perfect representation of growth through God. Being faithful to God’s call requires growing, in all aspects. If God calls you to be faithful to daily reading of Scriptures, that may require growth in devotion and/or dedication. If God is calling you to approach someone in public and ask how you can pray for them, it may require growth in trust of the Holy Spirit, let alone a growth in personality traits (introversion vs. extroversion). To remind me of the necessity of growth, God “likes” to remind me of the story of Jonah when I start coming up with excuses as to why I can’t/shouldn’t do what He’s asked of me. He’s done this several times in my life (ending a relationship, apologizing for private sins to people no longer in my life, etc.) Whenever He does this, I know a period of growth is coming, but I also know that every bit of growing I do, I develop more of a Christ-like spirit, and that’s so encouraging.

But like in all things, an intimate relationship with Christ won’t come by not doing anything; like losing weight or graduating college, it requires work. And, above all, I hope God is important enough to you to make the painful growth worth it. Let’s also note here that if we aren’t faithful with small tasks (like sharing the Gospel with someone the Holy Spirit points as towards), how can we be faithful to bigger tasks (like an extended time as a missionary)? If the excitement of the bigger task makes us think we’d be more faithful then, it’s quite clear our gauge of worthiness of our faithfulness is way off. The size of the task should not minimize the size of our faithfulness.

There may be times where God asks you to grow in humbleness. For example, I worked at a grocery store for two years during college, and during the painfully recent period of time where I didn’t have a job, my husband kept pointing me towards jobs in grocery stores. Though I knew I needed a job, any job, I struggled hard with humbling myself back to the position of a cashier. I had great pride in my accomplishments as a college graduate and the jobs I had already worked, and I felt stepping back into shift work was a smack in the face. And yet, I didn’t trust God enough to soften the humility of working that type of job, and so who’s to say if I ever truly grew the way God was asking of me? Pride is a huge obstacle to growth.

-Faithfulness requires letting go of control.-

Finally, being faithful to God requires letting go of the illusion of control. This might mean the control of being in a relationship. This might mean the control of your finances. This might mean the control over your future, and all that that entails.

My present looks starkly different than what I thought it was going to when I graduated college. I’m not even sure of what my future looks like. I’m learning that being faithful to what God calls of me (to be patient in the job I’m in, to be patient with my finances, to pursue hobbies God brings to my attention, and to grow deeper with the leadership team I am apart of at church) is a day to day basis.

This also means letting God have control of the every day things as well. This could mean that God may suddenly prompt you to pay for the groceries for the person behind you in line, even if you hadn’t budgeted for that. This could mean that God may prompt you to start praying for Brother Buffer or Sister Sandpaper in your life or at your job. This may even mean that God asks you to leave the job you are working at and be in a season of waiting before the next job comes along. Letting go means letting God.

But letting go of control in pursuit of being faithful to God also requires grieving. We’ve been taught, since we’ve been young, that we have the ability to craft our own futures; little do we talk about the grieving that comes with “giving” back control to God. There is a call I’ve received from God for my future, but I know that with that excitement also comes grief. The grief of the possibility that my future home, future children, future jobs, etc., may function very differently than I had originally thought sits right beside this God call. Grief is a powerful emotion, and I think it needs to be felt and experienced as a farewell to the futures crafted without God’s control, in order to fully embrace the futures crafted with God.

-Conclusion-

Throughout writing this essay on faithfulness, I’ve settled into a profound understanding of what it means to be a faithful Christian. This isn’t easy, and being a Christian was never intended to be easy or painless. Being faithful to God is a daily request from God, a daily invitation to grow with God, grow in the Holy Spirit, and to grow closer to God. It is b by being faithful that beautiful things happen (like seeing someone healed through one of your prayers, leading people to Christ through listening to the Spirit’s promptings, and revelations in God’s character by spending time with Him).

The Bible describes God as a jealous God, and I think it is through our faithfulness that God is secured as the only god in our lives. Currently, I have been very faithful to a “30 music challenge” on Instagram; I have been posting every day. And yet, I am months behind in my Bible reading, a challenge I’ve working on in pursuit of growing closer with God. This is a realization I experienced just now, and certainly, in this, I am not being faithful to God. As someone who as just spent a significant number of days writing this out, this simple realization is heart breaking.

I want what God wants for me, and with that, I accept the uncomfortableness of growth, the pain of waiting, the struggles with trust and jealous, the letting go of control, and I accept that God will move when He moves. This is my call as a Christian.

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