Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field

When not going to school, reading, studying, preaching, or blogging, I am helping students with financial aid at Southern Seminary.  This is my full time work, Supervisor of Student Resources, and today I had the pleasure of addressing more than 100 prospective students and their families about financing seminary.  Sharing financial aid nuts and bolts, I tried to frame the presentation with four biblical truths about financial aid.  Considering the current economic uncertainty in the world, I sought to encourage those called to ministry to lift their eyes to heavens from which their help comes from (Ps. 127:1).  You can call it, “Financial aid during a time of financial uncertainty,” or “Bulls, Birds, and Bugs: Financial Aid from the Forest and the Field.”  Let me share them with you briefly.

First, God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  Psalm 50:10-11 reads, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.”  The underlining truth that grounds our confidence as Christians, is that God is sovereign.  In terms of financial provision, we can trust that all the earth is his and the fullness thereof (cf. Ps. 24:1).  At any time, our Sovereign God can appropriate, reallocate, or liquidate his “stock.”  Regardless of how the Nasdaq or the Dow fare, God’s economy is always good, and he will care for his own.  So as you consider your financial need at this time, be reminded that God owns it all and will provide exactly what you need when you need it.

Second, the birds of the air doing just fine. In Matthew 6:24-26, Jesus confronts anxiety caused by the question of means, when he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not more valuable than they?” 

God’s word teaches us that God cares about the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees, and if he does, Jesus says, we need not worry about our provision.  He cares significantly more about those who bear his image, than the bird who fly today and fall tomorrow.  Jesus goes on, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).  For those who are called to ministry, it is imperative that we learn to trust God for his provision.  God affords us this learning tank as we prepare for seminary.  Therefore, in a time of financial uncertainty, God gives us the opportunity to learn contentment (cf. Phil. 4:11-13, 19) and to trust him for provision as we train theologically. 

Since we know the end of the story, a new heavens and a new earth with fields aplenty, we can gladly walk through the unsettled middle. 

Third, God’s timing is perfect, so don’t be a horse or a mule.  In Psalm 32:8-9, God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you wit my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” 

In the Christian life and in ministry, it is essential to learn that while God is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, he does so in ways and in days that we may not expect–or want (cf. Isa. 55:8-9).  I did not anticipate that my seminary career would take four and a half years to complete, but in God’s timing he made perfect provision for me over the course of 9 semesters. For those going into ministry, this waiting on the Lord, is as important to the pastor, missionary, or church planter as learning Greek or Hebrew.  God’s timing is perfect, but we must learn to trust his timing.  Be comforted by Psalm 32:8-9 and remember Isaiah 64:6, “God works on behalf of those who wait for him.”   Guard yourself from being a horse who moves too quickly or a mule who moves too slowly by trusting in the Lord’s timing.  God’s good designs for your life may include seminary and a bounty of undeserved provision, but they may include another path of provision and blessing.

Fourth, consider the ant and plan wisely.  Solomon writes in Proverbs 6:6-8, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler; she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”  Waiting for the Lord and trusting in his provision does not mean passive inactivity.  I often encounter zealous young men and women called to ministry, who have spent little time thinking about how they might afford the education.  They go out to sea without a paddle, a sail, a radio, or a life raft, assuming that the currents of the waves will lead them in the right direction.  They call this walking by faith, but in fact it is a kind of foolishness that that disregards God’s call to walk wisely, exercising dependent dominion. 

Walking by faith is based on hearing God’s promises and acting in belief (cf. Rom. 10:17; James 2).  Blindly presupposing that God will bless an untimely decision to go to seminary that imperils family, that jeopardizes current ministry, or that hinders the ability to suitably provide for your family–I am speaking to men here–is not the same thing as “risk-taking” faith.  The latter is steeled by God’s promises revealed in Scripture, the former is assumed based on an uncounseled decision (Prov. 11:25).  The sovereignty of God promotes human responsibility; it does not facilitate sloth or idle living.  God’s cosmic reign encourages honest work, coupled with ant-like planning.  Along the way God often smiles on us, providing gracious and unexpected supplies and resources, but this never frees us from the responsibility to plan and to plan well (cf. Prov. 16:1-9).

In short, all creation reflects the glory and wisdom of God that help us to better walk in wisdom (cf. Ps. 19:1; Isa. 28:23ff) .  In the five animals considered here, we see principles of wisdom that spur us on as laborers and aspiring shepherds, for we ourselves must learn to live like sheep even as we train to shepherd.  God is our Great Shepherd and the One who will provide all that we need, and for those who are called to ministry they are also called to wisely pursue biblical equipping, according to the provision and the timing God supplies.  This kind of equipping may come from a seminary, or it may not, but regardless we are called to labor faithfully in the vineyard in the God places us until the master returns to receive his own.

(If you would like more information about Southern Seminary, come to a Seminary Preview Conference.  The next one is scheduled for April 2009.  More information about financing seminary can be found at Goingtoseminary.com. ).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss