The Providence of God
It was the summer of 1986 and Cindy and I were in Haiti with a traveling singing group, young people of diverse racial backgrounds who loved the Lord and wanted to serve him. We had also been traveling with a smaller ministry team, and it was during those two years I had found a passion for preaching. I saw a hunger for the Word in many churches we visited, and I also discovered that being a traveling evangelist was not what I ultimately wanted to do. I remember preaching in a church in Ohio where I was told the pastor, who did not attend the services we held in his church that week, mostly talked to the congregation on Sundays about his belief in things like the “power” of crystals. These folks were starved for biblical preaching. God began stirring in my heart a desire to be in one place with a community of believers where we could grow up together in our faith and love the watching world by proclaiming the truth of the Gospel in word and deed. Hmmm, where could I possibly do something like that? Of course, God was calling me again, as he had done when I was 15 and as he had done when I was running from him in college, to be a pastor. And the exciting thing for me in the summer of 1986 was that I had been told by my pastor that he wanted to bring me on as his associate when we returned from Haiti and our itinerant ministry was done. That didn’t work out as I had hoped, and I was hurt and not a little bit frustrated over what I believed at the time to be a broken promise. My thoughts were ten times more on what I perceived men were doing to me than on what God was doing. God had another plan for me, but all I could see and feel at the time was betrayal.
I have heard it said we live our life forward, but it only makes sense when we look back. But we must see and understand the providence of God in our lives! John Calvin wrote, “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it.”
John Piper has written extensively about God’s providence and I will use some of his notes here. The word “providence” comes from the Latin word for “provide” which has two parts: “pro” (“forward or on behalf of”) and “vide” (“to see”). So you might think that “provide” would mean: “to see forward” or “to foresee.” But it doesn’t. It means “to supply what is needed; to give sustenance or support.” And so the noun “providence” has come to mean the act of “providing for or sustaining and governing the universe by God.” We say in English: “I’ll see to that,” meaning, “I will provide for that, or I will make sure that is taken care of.” We do that on a small scale when our wife mentions the trash being full and we say, “I’ll see to it. I’ll take care of it.” God does it on a much larger scale. He says, “The universe has needs. I’ll see to it.”
We see this in the book of Genesis. Remember the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac his son? Before they went up the mountain, Isaac said to his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And when God had shown Abraham a ram caught in the thorns, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide.” Abraham saw the providence of God.
Remember when his brothers came to Egypt and Joseph revealed who he was? Joseph’s truth-telling in Genesis 45 exposed their past sins. He says twice to them that they sold him. “You sold me here.” He does not sugarcoat that or dismiss it. You did this. But look at what is most important. Joseph says, “God sent me here.” You sold me, but God sent me. You exercised agency in this, and you are responsible for what you did, but God is ultimately responsible. He says, “God sent me before you to preserve life.” Providence. God saw to it.
It is the same with Jesus’ death. Peter told the crowd on the day of Pentecost that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God saw to it. But Peter also says to the Jews, “you crucified and killed (Jesus) by the hands of lawless men.” They were guilty of Jesus’ death, as are we all, but his death was the perfect plan and providence of God.
When you look back at the long and winding road you have traveled, what do you see of God’s providence in your journey? He has been there all along, carrying you, leading you, sometimes pushing you.
For your sake and for his glory.