“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?...But strive first (have faith) for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness (right relationship with you), and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:27, 33)
So what does faith have to do with our everyday lives, especially in times of anxiety? Often we confuse faith with beliefs, as in “I believe that God exists” or “I believe that Jesus atoned for my sins.” Faith these days has become little more than accepting certain ideas to be true and going on with our lives as if these beliefs make no difference in how we live.
However, faith is much more than a set of beliefs. Faith has three intertwined aspects that empower and reinforce each other. Faith starts with trust. This is how Luther defines it in his Large Catechism. Faith is putting your trust in someone or something for all that you need from day to day. A second part of faith is commitment or loyalty. I trust in God’s commitment to me in Christ for all that I need and therefore I am committing myself to follow Jesus in all I do and say. Only then do beliefs step in as we seek to better understand this God in whom we have faith and what it means to follow Jesus.
You’ll notice that together trust and commitment describe a relationship between 1) we who have faith, 2) the God in whom we place our faith, and 3) those whom God in Christ calls upon us to love through our faith. When we have faith, we trust in this transforming relationship of love that God has with us, empowering us, strengthening us, fortifying us. We trust that somehow, some way God, through the power of the Spirit of Love, will guide us through into something better and life-giving. And we commit ourselves to the new life God is offering.
But this life of faith is not an easy one. Often in times of suffering we hear people say, “you just gotta have faith!” as if we can whip up this faith out of ourselves on our own power. But that’s hard to do, especially these days when distrust of just about everything reigns rampant. In relation to the struggles of life, “just having faith” seems a naïve piece of advice. “I’m trying,” we cry to Jesus, “but I just can’t find any faith right now! Life is too hard. I’m struggling too much. Increase my faith, O God!”
But there is good news in the midst of our struggles. The good news is that faith is a gift, given by the Holy Spirit. This gift of faith comes to us through the power of the Word who is Jesus Christ. Faith is literally “in-spirited” in us when we open ourselves to hearing the gospel promises and receiving the new life shared with us daily in the reconciling grace of Jesus Christ. Faith comes to us when we give ourselves up to God and open our selves to the realm of Christ that is near.
In our trust, commitment to God, and beliefs that come to us through the Spirit, faith gives up trying to be God and gives up trying to control the world. Faith gives up judging people or self as less than, expendable or “other.” Faith gives up trying to be better, stronger, tougher, and righter than others.
Instead, faith asks, “self, why are you so anxious when the God of Jesus Christ is your God?” Faith asks “is all this worry helping me or anyone else? Is it adding to my hours on earth?” Faith seeks help and listens to those who will proclaim the promises of hope and the commands of love and courage. Faith prays, prays some more, and then stops to listen in the presence of God. Faith participates in God’s mission for the world, sharing the trust given by the Spirit by loving one another with a commitment to living Christ’s new life for our neighbors.
I close with a prayer first written in a letter to the Ephesians long ago. This is ultimately Paul’s prayer for faith: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:16-21)
May God’s Spirit bless you all with faith in the days ahead!
Dear Friends in Christ,
“We’re going to bounce back. This isn’t the first drought the farmers in our area have gone through and it won’t be the last.” This quote comes from Jill and Tyler, farmers in the Chester area, who appeared in a video called “Bone Dry: Farming across Montana in 2021.” This video was produced by the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee, Montana Pulse Crops Committee, and Agristudios in an effort to lift up and celebrate the resilience of Montana farmers throughout the state.
I had a chance to watch this video before Christmas and was inspired by the stories of resilience I heard as well as the stories I’ve heard from some of our Lutheran ranchers and farmers across the synod. The year 2021 was an especially difficult year for our ranchers and farmers, many of whom faced wild-fires and intense heat and drought, unjust market conditions and socio-economic upheaval, grasshoppers and hay shortages. Making a decent living in agriculture always presents yearly uncertainties particularly for the smaller producers of the crops and meat we count on to be on our tables every day at reasonable prices, and this year was harder than many. I know that many of you in your homes and congregations have suffered the consequences of this difficult year in ag.
And yet this video, which begins in the winter as farmers start to plan their planting process and carries us through the drought into the wild fire season, describes the courage and resiliency of the MT/NWY food producers who even in the midst of so many challenges, get up with the sun every morning, go out to the fields, barns or pastures and keep pushing through the hard times, moving forward in their vocation to participate with God in providing the food we eat.
What does this resilience look like in word and practice? In many of these farmers and ranchers I heard a calling, a deep sense of purpose to not only feed the world but to care for the land in the process. One farmer in the video described it as an “itch” he gets every December to get back out there into the fields. I’ve seen this “itch” in members of my own family and the congregations I served who would get up at 2:30 a.m. in -20 temps to help a cow birth her calf and then carry that calf into their homes to nurse it into survival. I would hear it in the words “we have hope for next year” expressed regardless of how the previous year went. And I would hear it in the promise that “we’re resilient, we’re adapting…and we’re in it for the long haul.”
I also have experienced farmers/ranchers resilience in the reframing of the struggle towards discovering something positive to focus on. For example, in the video, Jill and Tyler respond to the heat and drought that stunted their crops into very low yield product by stating, “We’ve got some product here, so that’s exciting; and we’re going to just keep working as hard as we can to get what we can off of it and continue to plan for next year.” Despite the frustration of putting the crop in the ground and having it “crushed in one month,” they still found the value in all that work for the future. “At least we have cover over our ground and at least we have something (nutrients) we’ll put back into the soil,” Jill said. And Tyler added, “Every drought brings its opportunity” such as market prices rebounding for next year, new contracts for the 2022 crop and the hope that Mother Nature will bring something different next year. (See minutes 14:30-18:45 for Jill and Tyler’s interview.)
I also see resilience in the adaptability of the ranchers and farmers, as they learn, grow, and innovate with healthier ways of doing their jobs. But finally I see this resilience in the willingness to help and care for one another in the midst of hardship, not just sitting with each other in the struggle but carrying each other through as much as they are able, even if its offering just one more day of water or a week of hay to feed the horses. (See “Hay It Forward”)
I know that at some point even the most resilient farmer/rancher can lose hope and fall into despair. Just this week I saw a news story indicating that farmers and ranchers have the highest suicide rates of all occupations. And I’m guessing that there isn’t an agriculture-based community in Montana or N. Wyoming who hasn’t experienced the painful loss of one of its members to suicide. There are many reasons for these tragic circumstances, including minimal mental health care availability, the need to measure up to the rugged individualistic “I can do it alone” stereotype, and social stigma around the need to ask for help particularly when it comes to our emotional or mental health.
But the truth is that none of us are alone; we all need each other. Not only is God with us, strengthening us and shining the light of hope into our dark places, but also we who follow Christ are called to be God’s resilient, enduring people of faith who carry love, help, justice to those in need. It’s okay -- normal really -- to need help sometimes and it’s an act of courage and resilience to ask for that help when we need it. And for those of us who hear that cry, it’s a calling, Christ’s calling, to provide such help.
I think that we as Christians can learn a lot about resilience and hope and loving the neighbor from the farmers and ranchers who somehow find it within themselves to “come through it every year” and “hope for things to be better next year.” There is a reason Jesus used agricultural illustrations regularly to describe the kingdom of God. But I also think we can learn from those who have reached that place of despair and somehow, perhaps through a friend or pastor or another’s kind deed, find that spark of life within themselves to seek help. For that is all of us sometimes.
And if that is you right now, please reach out for support to a doctor, pastor, family member, friend, or hotline. For God loves you and wants you to be in the life God has created, Christ has saved and the Spirit has inspired for the long haul.
May God bless you all with Christ’s resilience!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod