As many of you know, Jim and I went through a very difficult season in our lives and our marriage last year when Jim was unemployed for seven months. At the time I was going to nursing school full time and working two jobs at the hospital. Our monthly income added up to be exactly half of our monthly bills. To take on more hours at the hospital, I sacrificed any free time I had, including Sundays.
I wish I could say that I handled this time well, but the truth is I struggled. A lot. In my relationship with God, in my relationship with my husband, in other relationships. Although I knew God was in control, and was at work especially during this difficult time, my faith was very weak.
Jim and I have two very dear friends facing this exact season in their lives and marriage today. While I do not wish that kind of hardship on anyone, I feel as though I should share what God taught me during that time and how God blessed us in the end.
1. God always provides. This lesson was learned very practically as Jim and I counted up our monthly expenses and our monthly income, and saw a large discrepancy between the two numbers. Yet, even as our income was only half our expenses, each month every bill was paid and every need was met. We experienced the seemingly impossible - two bags of groceries left on our front step, a check in the mail, cash slipped into our wallets... yet, "with God all things are possible".
2. God has a plan. The question Jim and I most often asked during this season was "Why?". And we soon found out... seven months later. God had a specific plan for Jim involving full-time ministry, and He used unemployment to grab Jim's heart and place him in exactly the right place. Before this season, Jim struggled in his job, feeling unfulfilled and as though something was missing. Now Jim is at peace, knowing he is exactly where God wants him. That kind of peace is perhaps the greatest blessing we have experienced.
3. God is in control. This lesson may seem redundant after the last two lessons, but for Jim and I, it was very much something that we specifically learned. In the midst of the financial hardships and the why's, Jim and I struggled with knowing God was in control. Often during this season He felt so far away. Jim and I both felt that our prayers were hitting the ceiling and falling back down, and for the majority of those seven months, we did not see God's hand clearly. Don't get me wrong, Jim and I both knew that God was ultimately in control, but its one thing to know it in your head and know it in your heart. It wasn't until after this season was over that Jim and I were able to truly say in our hearts "God is in control".
There were many other lessons learned during this time that I won't go into. I think to sum up everything Jim and I experienced would be accomplished by a passage from Malachi. If you are not familiar with the last books of the Old Testament, I highly encourage you to read them. Malachi is my favorite book of the Bible, mostly because God puts His thoughts into terms simple enough for me to understand!
Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV)
"For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.
As my pastor shared last week, this passage is often used in the context of tithing in the church. For me, it so adequately describes what God was trying to say to us through those seven months. God tells us, "Return to Me and I will return to you" and then He tells us we have robbed Him. How? We robbed God, so to speak, of ourselves and the blessings that He has for us. How do we fix this? By bringing our full selves to Him, leaving nothing out. And then, He promises us that if we put Him to the test, He will open the windows of heaven for us and pour down a blessing until there is no need. No emptiness, no confusion, no lack of gain. When Jim and I were able to fully surrender ourselves to God, the windows of heaven were opened for us. Not just in a practical sense dealing with our physical needs, but in all ways. God provided for every need - spiritual, emotional, mental.