Providence

“The Master of the Jigsaw Puzzle of Our Lives” (Sinclair Ferguson on the Providence of God)

devoted7a-810x1280__82818.1478970628.315.315In his book, Devoted to God, Sinclair Ferguson includes a chapter dealing with what Romans 12:1-2 has to say about the doctrine of sanctification.  In v.2 the Apostle Paul says the following:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

There Paul describes the will of God as “good and acceptable and perfect.” Now this passage, strictly speaking, primarily refers to what is known as the preceptive will of God. That is, the will of God as it has been revealed in Scripture regarding how we as believers in Christ are to live. We are to seek to discern and do the will of God. And in doing so, we will find His will to be good, acceptable, and perfect.

But, as Ferguson points out, this passage also has application to the will of God in general, and so even to what is known as His secret or decretive will. And so that means that it has application to the providence of God as well. He writes,

” . . .God’s will is ‘perfect’ because his wisdom is flawless. We see this in small things, perhaps sometimes in great things. The Lord is the master of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives. The pieces may be strangely shaped; often we cannot see how they fit together; but eventually when the big picture is complete we will see that each piece was perfectly shaped. He leads us by ways we could not have guessed, into situations we never expected, to fulfil [sic] purposes we never could have imagined.” (p.52)

What a beautiful way to describe the believer’s perception of God’s providential care over his or her life. It is sometimes very difficult for us to understand what God is doing in our lives. But God truly is the “master of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives.” And He knows what He is doing in our lives, even when we do not. It brings to mind the old, classic hymn by William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” One of the verses of that hymn puts it this way:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

What a comfort to know that the will of God is indeed perfect, and that behind every frowning providence He hides a smiling face. Our lives may sometimes seem like a jigsaw puzzle to us, but never to God!

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Rugged Providences

Brooks Precious Remedies

Providence is God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). So God not only preserves all things as He sees fit, but also governs all things as well. Providence is basically God’s sovereignty in action. It is what the Apostle Paul is speaking of when he tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, ESV).

Providence is a comforting truth for believers. It assures us that, no matter what happens in our lives, God is still firmly in control. And not only is He in control of all things, but He is in control of all things for our good, even for our salvation (Romans 8:28).

But that doesn’t mean that we will always immediately perceive how God is making all things work together for our good. Sometimes His providence is not only hard to understand, but at times it can also be hard to experience and endure.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) calls this “rugged providence.” In his classic book, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, he writes:

“As the waters lifted up Noah’s ark nearer heaven, and as all the stones that were about Stephen’s ears did but knock him closer to Christ, the corner-stone, so all the strange rugged providences that we meet with, they shall raise us up nearer heaven, and knock us nearer to Christ, that precious cornerstone.” (p.154)

What a wonderfully helpful and encouraging reminder! Sometimes God’s providence in our lives can indeed be strange, and even rugged, but we can be sure that it is always good. God’s providences in our lives, no matter how rugged, will never harm us, but will actually serve only to bring us closer to heaven.

The Ultimate Cure for Discontentment

cure

How many of us struggle with envy and discontentment? To put it another way, are we truly content and at ease with our present circumstances?  Are we anxious about the future?

How many of us are content with our income? Our automobiles? Our homes?  Our families? Our social status? No matter how much we have, we always seem to focus on what we do not have.  There is always someone around us who has more (or something better) than we do.  We are an envious lot.

It is not without reason that the 10th commandment not only prohibits envy, but does so at great length and in great detail.  The 10th commandment (Exodus 20:17) is much longer than the commandments against murder (v.13), adultery (v.14), theft (v.15), or bearing false witness (v.16).  Rather than simply saying, “Thou shalt not covet.”, the 10th commandment specifies a number of the various ways that we are tempted to covet:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV – emphasis added)

We covet the estate or place of others, the family of others, the possessions of others, and all kinds of things.  The green-eyed monster is a many-headed hydra.

So what is the cure for discontentment?  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews writes,

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV)

How are we to guard our lives from the love of money?  How are we to learn to be content with what we have?  Take a vow of poverty?  Lower our expectations?  Think about those who have less than we do or are worse off than we are? (And do that instead of focusing on those who have more than we do?)

All of those things may sound like good advice, but is that what the writer of Hebrews is saying?  No – not even close.  We are to guard our lives from the love of money; and we are to be content with what we have, not because we just need to bear down and get used to not having as much, but because we need to see with the eyes of faith how much we actually do have!

Concerning Hebrews 13:5, John Calvin writes,

It is quite certain that lack of faith is the source of greed. Anyone who has the firm conviction that he will never be forsaken by the Lord will not be unduly anxious because he will depend on His providence. Therefore when the apostle wants to cure us of the disease of greed he properly recalls us to the promises of God by which he bears witness that He will always be present to us. (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries Vol.12, p.207).

So faith in the providence of God (God’s “most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” – Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11) is part of the cure for envy and discontent.  When we believe that God Himself is working all things together for our good and is providing for our needs according to His power and wisdom, it is then that we will be able to rest from our anxiety about the future; it is then that we will be able to be content with our present circumstances.

But Hebrews 13:5 not only encourages us by pointing us to the providence of God; it also encourages us by pointing us to the God of providence.  We may be tempted to think that we do not have much in this life.  But in telling us that God Himself has promised His people that He will never leave us or forsake us, the writer of Hebrews is reminding us that we can be ‘content with what we have’ (v.5) because what (or rather who) we have is God Himself!

If you are in Christ by faith, you have God Himself as your God.  God has blessed you not just with things, but with Himself!  You have God Himself as your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:5-15).  You have Jesus Christ, the Son God Himself, as your Savior and mediator, who not only died for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25), but who is also reigning at the right hand of God the Father almighty and interceding on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). And You have God the Holy Spirit dwelling within you (1 Corinthians 6:19), who also intercedes on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27).

So if you are a Christian be content with what you have, because you truly have more than anyone on this earth without Christ can even dream of having – you have the one true and living God, the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable triune God as your God. And He will never leave you or forsake you!

That is the ultimate cure for discontentment.

The Difference Between Confidence & Presumption

“Providence is a Christian’s diary, but not his Bible.” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, p.123)

While we can be sure that God works all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28), we must be careful not to try to ‘read the tea leaves’ of His Providence, so to speak.

We can be sure that He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), but that does not mean that we have access to know what His specific purposes are in any given situation or circumstance.

So when we need or desire guidance, we should look to the Word of God, not the Providence of God. (Indeed we cannot even begin to understand the latter without the former.)

As believers, we take comfort, not in knowing why God is doing whatever it is that He is doing in our lives at any given moment, but in knowing that He surely knows what He is doing.

Deuteronomy 29:29 provides us with wise words to live by:

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

We need to focus on what God has revealed to us in His Word (including His commandments – “that we may do all the words of this law” – Deut. 29:29), not on the things that He in His infinite wisdom chose to keep to Himself.

To do so is to be on the road that leads to confidence in God and His purposes in our lives.  To do otherwise is to be on the path of presumption and error.