We have finally reached my very favorite time of year: Autumn. The leaves turn colors, the air turns crisp and the sunlight turns pale. My childhood was spent in farm-country, among some of the kindest classes of people in the country, and I am grateful to have returned to farm-country again. Growing up, prayer requests at church always included prayers for more rain, less rain, for the frost to hold out one more week until the harvest could be brought in. Although no one in my family was ever a farmer (lumberjacks, sure– we are Scandinavian, after all), I learned to so greatly respect and be grateful for the work of farmers that labored from sunrise to sunset to put food on my table.
Because I got to hear their prayer requests, I got to be a part of a much humbler approach to life and faith: Depending on God for very real, material, life-giving needs. The prayers of farmers are very different than those of the rest of us– they pray for sun, but not too much that the crops burn, rain, but not enough for the seed to go to rot, insects to fertilize, but not to destroy, frost to put the ground to rest, but not so early that it kills the harvest. For those of us that work in offices, shops, restaurants, hospitals, we are unaffected by the elements around us and we can easily lose sight of God’s providence, as we can easily be distracted by what seems to be the providence and omnipotence of our bosses and customers. Our needs have a middle-man and we easily lose sight of their true provider.
I often think of A Christmas Carol as Thanksgiving comes around, not because I am rushing ahead to Christmas, but because I think the Cratchits are a remarkable example of gratitude in the face of destitution. However, their example still fails to give gratitude to the correct provider– Ebeneezer Scrooge is not their provider, and while he is worthy of appreciation, love and respect as a child of Christ, he is merely the method by which God provides for their family. Scrooge does not provide for the Cratchits, but God does, sending that providence through Bob’s employment.
Sometimes I wonder how often we make idols out of our bosses, making sacrifices to appease them in hopes of gaining their good humor so they will rain down blessings upon us in the form of promotions and raises. Don’t get me wrong, we have a duty and responsibility to respect those in authority over us and to do our best in our place of work. But we must keep these things in the correct priority and never forget that our true security comes from the Lord above and not from a man on Earth.
The food on our table relies upon the sun and the rain, even when we forget where it comes from. Sometimes I fear that our new ways of eating, with food coming dehydrated in a box, from a paper bag or styrofoam box handed through the car window, a frozen block to be reheated in the microwave, have distanced us so far from their source that we forget (or never learn). We are provided for in a very real, very practical way. Thanks to the people surrounding me as I grew up, I have learned to never curse the rain. Thank God for the rain.
Even when I left farm-country for San Antonio, I learned to appreciate the rain in a new way, as the perpetual drought left the aquifer low, risking our drinking water supply. Our physical needs can never be provided for in a way outside of God’s providence through his creation. But we cannot be lulled into the view of God as the Watchmaker, creating the world and setting it into motion, then stepping back and not interfering in its operation. Now, we know this is not true. The story of Noah (Genesis 5-10) alone shows us how God still interacts with his creation, sending rain, clearing storm clouds, sending rainbows to remind us and confirm his promises to his people. We are responsible for caring for his creation, but he is still in control of it, still commanding his creation to provide for his greatest creation.
“When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live, and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance.
“When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when an enemy besieges them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of the afflictions of their own hearts, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart), so that they will fear you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.” — 1 Kings 8:35-40
Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple should be our own prayer much more often than it is. Too frequently, we get wrapped up in praying for enough money to cover our expenses or for our boss to recognize how hard we are working or for our car to just keep running for another two weeks because we cannot afford the repair bill. These are not bad things to pray for. God wants to hear all your concerns and prayers (Philippians 4:6). However, when our prayers always call for a middle-man (the boss, the car-repair guy, the tax refund), we can easily forget from whom our help comes. Sometimes, we need simply lift up our hearts to the Lord, “being aware of the afflictions of [our] own hearts, and spreading out [our] hands,” and ask him to act.
Our tables are not filled by our Protestant work ethic. Our plates are not piled high by our extra hours at the office. Our groaning stomachs are not quelled by our tilling and harvesting. Our needs are met by our Heavenly Father alone.
He asks us to partner with him for the sake of our spiritual development, similarly to a parent giving the spoon to their young child to feed himself although it would be easier and tidier to hold the spoon herself. He asks us to trust him completely with our physical needs, for he will provide for them. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
So, thank God for rain. As Solomon prayed, ask God to teach us the right way to live and to send rain on the land he gave to us. Let us never forget that we must rely on him daily in order to continue living in this world that he created. The food on our plates, even the food that comes out of a box and scarcely resembles its original source, comes from the Lord’s providence, harvested by a farmer, processed by a laborer, transported by a trucker, sold by a grocer. There may be middle-men, but the source of our sustenance is the rain sent by our Heavenly Father.
In light of the violence and evil in our world,let us give thanks for how God has
provided for us on such a basic, physical level. Let us remember that our security is in Him, not in our job, not in economic stability, not in political peace. Let us lift these concerns up to him, but give thanks first and foremost for the rain, the sun, the wind, because without these things, we would have nothing else.