I hope the title of this column is not redundant. “Preemptive” and “preparation” both refer to work done ahead of time in order to be ready for something that will or may come. “Preemptive” carries the additional sense of heading off something undesirable. One “prepares” for a camping trip; one “preempts” the flu by getting a vaccination.
I have noticed personally that it is best to be prepared for a case of acute suffering—and to preempt a loss of faith during suffering—by not waiting until the suffering strikes. It is better to make up one’s mind about how one will react to the inevitable. Forewarned is forearmed.
We all know that “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), and yet one sees a tendency to go along our merry Christian way until we get broadsided, and then our faith falls apart momentarily. We get angry with God for a few days and start singing, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Moreover, we feel entitled to it, or think it’s just natural. In other words, we have faith as long as there isn’t anything we need to have faith about!
But as a prison inmate I know said, “If you ain’t cool all the time you ain’t cool.” There is not much credit for trusting in God as long as things are going your way and there is nothing to trust Him with. As Jesus said about cheap obedience, “What benefit is that to you?” (Luke 6:32). If we believe during the 80 percent of the time when life is fine and tell God to sleep on the couch in the 20 percent that suddenly isn’t fine, I would say our batting average is not .800 but .000, and we are actually pretty weak people:
“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10).
If we imagine that God doesn’t expect us to keep believing in Him when His presence is nowhere to be seen, we haven’t understood the first thing about what faith is: believing in God when His presence is nowhere to be seen. That is almost a definition.
“… for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
So to be prepared for the bouts of acute suffering and perplexity when God seems AWOL, I find it helpful to preemptively remember that there come times when God seems AWOL. Period. He allows those times precisely in order to exercise our faith. And then He watches:
“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
He watches to see if we will still believe. These are our growth times; let us not waste them. And if we act blamelessly before Him during these testings, He will “give strong support” for us having fought the good fight.
To know in advance how all this works is to be preemptively prepared for whatever trials may come.