Jeremiah 17:5-10 (NRSVCE)
Thus says the Lord:
Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals
and make mere flesh their strength,
whose hearts turn away from the Lord.
They shall be like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see when relief comes.
They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse--
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings.
It’s very easy, I think, to read passages like this and get the wrong impression. Trust in the Lord, and He will provide. That’s one takeaway from this, but it’s only part of it. And even that part can be misunderstood.
When we talk about trusting in the Lord and receiving His blessings, we certainly don’t mean “do nothing, and the Lord will provide.” We don’t mean avoid going to the doctor, because the Lord will provide. We don’t mean skip the vaccinations, because the Lord will provide. We don’t mean quit your job, because the Lord will provide. Rather, it means doing things purposefully and prayerfully. A tree does not grow aimlessly. It spreads its roots to where the nutrients are, and it stretches its limbs up toward the warmth of the sun. It moves with the purpose of being strengthened and nourished. So too we should be. Our nourishment comes from above, and our strength comes from our roots being firmly established in our faith. It is a faith of action, and a faith that bears fruit. A faith that drives us to reach for the warmth of the heavens, and to use the blessing of warmth we receive to spread seeds of faith around us. All because we have trust that the Lord’s blessings will always be there, to nourish us.
The alternative is to live in fear. Fear that we may collapse at any moment. Fear that the Lord may not provide. That fear drives us to turn to the world for strength. The world is immediately present to us, which makes it much easier to choose the world over God. But the world cannot provide the nourishment we need, and so to turn to the world instead of to God is to be like a shrub thirsting in the desert, eventually to have its roots give way and be blown away like a tumbleweed. One who is fearful shrinks and shrivels, desperately clinging to whatever power he has left within himself. Whereas one who has faith uses what power he has left to produce what fruit he can, trusting that the Lord will provide.
Now, that’s a lot of flowery language and imagery to say something which is quite simple. God will bless those who trust in Him, and that trust drives us to action. It drives us to work to provide for our families. It drives us to give to charitable causes. It drives us to maintain our health and the health of those under our care to the best of our ability. And it drives us to reach out to our neighbor in love. The first command God gave to the first man was to do work—to take what God had given him and use it to care for what was around him (Genesis 2:15). God created man to be faithful to Him, and being faithful meant doing what is good to do. A faith which does not prompt action is no faith at all.