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OCTOBER 9 2016 THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD

The Providence of God

 

One of the most comforting doctrines about God in the whole of the Bible is God’s providence. What is providence? We have a well-known city in America named Providence in Rhode Island. It was founded by Roger Williams who was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 for his views on freedom of religion and his care for the Indians. He believed that Christians should be able to worship the Lord according to their understanding of the Scriptures while the civil authorities in Massachusetts mandated conformity to the Church of England. Williams also believed that the Indians were not being treated well by the colony. He advocated that they should be paid for the land that was being used rather than just being taken.  He also sought to correct English attitudes of superiority toward the Native Americans. He wrote:

 

Boast not proud English, of thy birth & blood;
Thy brother Indian is by birth as Good.
Of one blood God made Him, and Thee and All,
As wise, as fair, as strong, as personal.

 

That was not tolerated so he was exiled. He had to escape in the middle of winter when the sheriff came to arrest him. He travelled 55 miles in a blizzard and eventually came to the area where Providence is today. He and fellow outcasts rowed across the Seekonk River. When they reached the other side they were greeted by the Narragansetts tribe who said, “What cheer, Neetop,” which means “Hello, friend.” (I want you to know that you are all my Neetops.)

 

Williams was so pleased with the friendliness of the Indians and the excellence of the area that he established a colony there with twelve of his friends and named it Providence. This helps us understand what the word means. He named it Providence because he understood that God had led him there and cared for him and his men.

 

Providence is God’s activity throughout history in providing for the needs of human beings, especially those who follow him in faith. Providence is real because God cares about the world and everyone in it but, especially, those who belong to him by virtue of faith. All through the centuries there have been many who took great comfort in the reality of providence.

 

Our Scripture reading this morning is Genesis 22:1-14.

 

We see that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son. And he was ready to do so, even to the point of having his knife in his hand, until he was stopped by the angel. The burnt offering was still to be sacrificed, however. Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket by his horns.

 

Consider what the Lord had to have done for the ram to there at that place and time. He would have known that Abraham would positively respond to his request to sacrifice his son. He would have known how long it would take Abraham to arrive at Mt. Moriah and be ready to offer his son. At the same time he would have directed the ram to the very spot where Abraham and his son were. And he would have ensured that the ram would get his horns caught in the thicket. More, God would know that the efforts for the ram to extricate himself would fail and he would remain caught. God worked out every detail, even the desire of the ram to go to that part of the mountain. This is providence.

 

“So, Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide;’” (vs. 14)

 

In Hebrew it is called Yahweh Yireh. This is where we get the modern worship song, “Jehovah Jireh, My Provider.” (“Jehovah” is a corrupted form of God’s name, Yahweh. It arose hundreds of years ago when our knowledge of ancient Hebrew was severely lacking.) We sang that song last week.

 

Abraham’s experiences demonstrate providence. The Baptist Catechism of 1689, one that was used for hundreds of years, has a question on providence. The question is “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer is: “God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

 

Why does he preserve and govern everything? For the benefit of his own people. For you! Oh! The doctrine of providence is an immense comfort and consolation!

 

The unbelieving world recognizes something of providence but, at the same time, they want to deny the personhood of God. They want to avoid thinking about God. So, they come up with counterfeit concepts of providence. There is the idea of fate. Countless numbers of people have believed themselves to be trapped by a sometimes fickle and always foreboding fate. “As fate would have it …,” they say. There is the idea of luck. Luck is what happens to some people and not to others. It means something good happens, unless the word is preceded by the adjective bad. Luck describes unexpected events but without a personal agent – God is left out. There is the idea of chance. It describes the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted or understood. Again, God is left out of the definition. The ideas of fate, luck, and chance are fallen man’s feeble attempt to describe providence without acknowledging God. Fate and luck do not even exist, and chance is nothing more than a description of ignorance.

 

Providence is real and it ensures that God’s hand is upon all, bringing the outcomes that fit his plans for our benefit.

 

[I.] God’s providence is grounded in God’s goodness. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort. What if God were capricious? Or, what if he had terrible mood swings (like some people we may know)? Or, what if he was just kind of mean? If he were any of those things then his providential control over all things would be no comfort at all. Some people have a concept of God that is not too far from one of those characterizations!

 

God is good. This is both the testimony of Scripture and the experience of all who truly know him.

 

            For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,

                        abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.

(Psalm 86:5 ESV)

 

            For the LORD is good;

                        his steadfast love endures forever,

                        and his faithfulness to all generations.

(Psalm 100:5 ESV)

 

Not only is the Lord good, he is good towards you!

 

Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

(Exodus 34:5-7, NKJV)

Have you repented of your sins and given your life to the Lord? Then Exodus 34:5-7 is yours! God is “abounding in goodness” towards you!

 

Another way that God’s goodness is revealed is as his favor:

 

            For the LORD God is a sun and shield;

                        the LORD bestows favor and honor.

            No good thing does he withhold

                        from those who walk uprightly.

(Psalm 84:11 ESV)

 

God’s providence flows out of his favor towards those who walk with him. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

[II.] God’s providence meets our needs. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

            “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 of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

(Matthew 6:25-33 ESV)

 

We ought to distinguish between our needs and our wants. Most things we want we do not need. But we do have needs. Jesus, in verse 32, tells us that the Father knows our needs and the entire passage informs us that God will supply our needs.

 

A number of years ago, our whole family was traveling and we were driving through Iowa on our way back to Washington State where we lived at the time. We planned poorly and had run out of money. We purposely did not own credit cards so we were in a heap of trouble.  We still had 1700 miles to drive to get home. Our immediate need was food. Everyone was hungry. We pulled into a very small town and we prayed. I walked into a Danish delicatessen. I didn’t think that the proprietor would accept an out-of-state check. But, I explained our predicament and he said he would be happy to take our check. It turned out that he made all the bread fresh right there as well as some of the luncheon meat. We ordered a good supply of sandwich fixings and headed out back on the highway. Josie made up the sandwiches and, because everything was so fresh – the meat, the bread, the cheese – those were the best sandwiches Josie and I had ever eaten. We looked at each other in amazement when we tasted the sandwiches and thanked the Lord! God provided! But think about how he did it. Most establishments will not take an out-of-state check, but he led us to a man that would. Not only to a man that would but to a man that made some remarkably delicious ethnic food! God’s providence was working! We eventually got to a larger city where I could call a friend and he deposited some funds in our bank so we could get home.

 

God knows our needs and he providentially meets them.

 

We also need God’s righteousness. In verse 33 we read,

 

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The Lord Jesus is saying, in effect, “Yes, you need food, drink, and clothing. But you also need God’s righteousness. Seek that and the Lord will give you all that you need.

 

We have no righteousness of our own. That which we think we have is like filthy, blood-spotted rags in God’s sight  (Isaiah 64:6). If we stand before God on Judgment Day in our own righteousness then we will be cast away forever. We have no hope. But God has provided a way that we can appropriate a righteousness that is not our own. We can have the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is perfect, applied to us! We receive his righteousness through faith and repentance. If there is anyone here who thinks they do not have the righteousness of Christ, talk to me or one of the other elders here, and we will help you to receive it.

 

God meets our physical needs but he also meets our greatest need – to be right with Him.

 

What must we do? We should seek our own needs mildly. This means we work in order to have food, drink, clothing, an abode, and transportation. We should seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness firmly, in a greater measure than we seek the meeting of our physical needs. Life is more than food. The body is more than clothing. Seek and see God’s providence!

 

God’s providence meets our needs. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

[III.] God’s providence brings us bounty. Therefore we can experience security and comfort. We have needs and we have wants. God always provides our needs but he sometimes gives to us our desires also. This is because he is kind and loving. We must realize that we deserve nothing from God.  Before we came to the Lord Jesus Christ we were rebels and traitors to God’s kingdom. We deserved death. Instead, we received mercy. We were brought into God’s family and made heirs of the kingdom! Nevertheless, even as members of God’s house, we still foolishly resist his good and perfect will, going our own way at times. Because of this, we do not deserve anything from him even now. The Father is so loving and kind that he continues to hold us up and he desires our joy. Therefore, he will give to us the desires of our heart when those things are good for us.

 

            Delight yourself in the LORD,

                        and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Psalm 37:4 ESV)

 

David knew well that God was for him. He experienced having the desires of his heart satisfied. Why? Because he had a heart that was after the Lord (Acts 13:22)! David had weaknesses. He sinned more than once. But he didn’t remain in his sin. He repented with tears. He delighted in God. When you delight in the Lord, when he becomes the most important Person in your life, as he was to David, then you will see that the desires of your heart will be given. You will receive beyond your means. You will receive bounty!

 

God has given me bounty. I have so much more beyond my needs. If I were living in a shack, alone in Antarctica, I would be content. But I have so much more. Not because I am better than a person who is living in a shack. I am not. I delight in the Lord. I have many failings - too many to count. But, I delight in the Lord.

 

            As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.

(1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)

 

Paul tells Timothy that not only does God provide our needs, but he provides everything that we can enjoy those things! There is another word in this text that we should observe. God not only provides but he richly provides things to enjoy! This is God’s bounty!

 

When we delight in the Lord we discover that the Lord gives us the desires of our heart. If we delight in the Lord and we do not receive the desires of the heart, do you know what this means? Answer: It means that thing that we wanted was not the best thing for us. We may think that it was. Yet, God knows better than we.

 

God’s bounty is waiting. Delight in him and see it come!

 

[IV.] God’s providence brings us deliverance. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort. As we read through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we see God delivering his people from danger time and again. The way he does it is often through amazing means: by giving nightmares to the enemies of Israel, by causing their enemies to fight one another, by having ravens bring his prophet food in the wilderness, and so on.

 

David Lloyd Jr., the son of a former pastor here in Winfield, has been a missionary in Haiti for over ten years. He and his wife went there to help the orphans in that island-nation. They established a church and an orphanage. There is a great deal of corruption and scam artists there. So they had to hire an armed guard to protect them and the property. Not long after they began their ministry there a man came by who himself had an armed man with him and told them that the property actually belonged to him but he would allow them to use it if he paid them rent. They knew he was scamming them because they had purchased the property and had the title search done and had gone through all the proper channels. They told him that they were certain that he was mistaken and that he was not going to get any “rent.” He then threatened them and said that if they did not pay very bad things would happen. They learned that he was a powerful and feared man on the island and that everyone around the area paid him and, if they did not, people were murdered. They called their guard to remove him from the property. When he saw who it was he immediately quit his job and left. The scammer left but said he would be back with his men.

 

There were a few men who were helping young David with the mission. They gathered together and held hands and prayed for deliverance. As they prayed they felt the presence and power of God so strongly that one of the other pastors there said, “This matter is over. I don’t know what God is going to do, but I know that it is already taken care of.” Within three or four months that man and all of his men were all either murdered or died in unusual circumstances. God providentially delivered those missionaries and the children that they were caring for.

 

God will deliver you from the trouble that you are now in. Whatever problems you are facing are probably less surmountable than a group of murderous thugs that are out to cause you harm.

 

God’s providence brings us deliverance. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

[V. Conclusion] One of the most comforting doctrines about God in the whole of the Bible is God’s providence.

 

God’s providence meets our needs. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

God’s providence brings us bounty. Therefore we can experience security and comfort.

 

God’s providence brings us deliverance. Therefore, we can experience security and comfort.

 

How ought we to respond to the marvel of God’s providence?

 

  • Seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first, above our needs. Then we will see that our needs are all taken care of.
  • Delight in the Lord. Find your satisfaction and your joy in him. Then you will see that your lesser delights are satisfied too.
  • Ask him to deliver you from your difficulties. Then see that heaven and earth are moved on your behalf.
  • Know his providence is directed toward you and find comfort in it.

 

We may not name a city Providence as Roger Williams did. But we can name our home Providence, and we can name our own lives “Providence.” Roger Williams was so certain of the reality of God’s oversight that he went on to also name his first child born in the settlement, Providence. We, too, can be that certain.