Sadly, you do not hear the word Providence in the Church as much as it was once used. If you take the time to read the prayers of God’s people from centuries ago, you will quickly find that they not only understood God’s providence, but they leaned heavily upon it to face life’s challenges. In today’s church, we have far too many self-help books, programs and guides and far too less teaching on God’s Providence.
Where Providence Began
Abraham is the first person in the Bible to introduce us to the Doctrine of Providence. In Genesis 22, when he and his son, Isaac, are climbing Mount Moriah to make a sacrifice to the Lord, his son asks him, “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Isaac had no idea that God had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Abraham had no idea that God was testing his faith and that God would not have him sacrifice his only son.
I am sure that Abraham’s heart sank as he responded by faith, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” I wonder if Abraham thought to himself, “God did provide the lamb the day you were born.” I’m sure he was sick with grief.
As the story unfolds, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing His son. God did provide for the burnt offering and this the first Biblical lesson in God’s Providence. Did you know that the word Pro means “before” and the root word for “vide” is where we get our English word, “Video” which means “to see” or “to watch”? The Provide means that before we ever have a need, before the crisis ever hits, God has already seen the need and has already provided for the need. This is God’s providence!
How would you define Providence? I like the Westminster Shorter Catechism. When asked, “What are God’s works of providence?” The answer is, “God’s works of providence are, his most holy (Psalm 145:17, wise, Psalm 104:24, Isiah 28:29) and powerful preserving, (Hebrews 1:3 and governing all his creatures, and all their actions (Psalm 103:19; Matthew 10:29-31).
When I read this definition, it forces me to ask if I really believe that God (in His holy wisdom and powerful preserving) has the ability to govern all my actions? Is God able to manage my life? Is He able to order and direct my steps? Is He able to lead me in paths of righteousness or even through the valley of the shadow of death? If God is truly Sovereign and He governs all the affairs and actions of mankind, then He can govern my life as well.
William Cowper was great friends, as well as next door neighbor, to John Newton. They lived in England in the mid to late 1700’s. Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” and Cowper wrote “There Is A Fountain.” I would have loved to have heard some of their conversations.
What I find fascinating about Cowper is that he suffered from depression. Back then they called it melancholy, but today, they would call it depression. He was institutionalized and never quite fully recovered as he would have numerous setbacks. At times, he could feel the depression setting in. But the Lord used him greatly. Is it not wonderful that the Lord can use us even in dark times and difficult seasons? The Lord has used Cowper’s writings and songs to minister to people hundreds of years later. I’m not sure of a more appropriate lyric that captures God’s providence more than Cowper’s, “A Light Shining Out of Darkness.”
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
A Soft Pillow to Lay Your Head
What will living in God’s providence do for you as a believer? First of all, providence frees you from bitterness from those who have wronged you in the past. Remember how Joseph forgave his brothers who sold him into slavery in Genesis 20? He said, “What you meant for harm, God meant for good.” Understand that no one can thwart the plans of God for you (Job 42:2).
Second, providence gives you a new perspective on life’s tragedies. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 is a great Scripture to bring to mind when life is hard. It says, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.”
Lastly, providence will give you the courage to keep going in tough times. Because God is there, we know that He cares for us, even when life is falling apart all around us. It is God who promised in Deuteronomy 31:6, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”