The punctuality of John Newton, while tide-surveyor at Liverpool, was particularly remarked. One day, however, some business had detained him, and he came to his boat much later than usual, to the surprise of those who had observed his former punctuality.
It appears, that if he had left the shore a few minutes sooner, he must have perished with the rest on board.
Coincidence? I think not! Or is it?
How you answer that question depends a lot on your world view. An atheist would not respond in the same way you do. You believe in a sovereign God, he doesn’t. You believe that everything that comes to pass does so as a result of God’s decree. An atheist would say that it was all a matter of chance. The answer to that question, is, at its basis, a question that has to do with the first commandment.
Last week in our study we considered how the first commandment requires us to have a singular devotion. That is to say our affections are to be placed upon God alone. Tonight we are going to take that one step farther. If the first commandment requires us to have a right affection for who God is, it also requires us to have a right affection for what God does.
So tonight we are going to consider how we should delight ourselves in God’s Providence. Basically I want us to understand that we should delight in God’s wisdom, his timing, and his power.
I. We must delight ourselves in his wisdom
A lot of what happens to us hurts, doesn’t it? If we could have a tête-à-tête with God, we would sit him down and say, “What are you doing?”
The Larger Catechism can help us here. In Q&A 105 it says that the first commandment prohibits us from “charging God foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us.”
Now when it says “evils” it doesn’t mean that God is doing “that which is wrong.” That is the way we normally use the word “evil.” But in olden days the word evil had another meaning. It meant “things that were harmful.” Or perhaps better, “things that seemed to us to be wrong or harsh.”
This is where you can think about Job. Job had one really bad day, didn’t he? You could say that he had one really bad hour. In just a matter of minutes his whole life was turned upside-down and inside out. He went from being on Lifestyles of the rich and Famous to the world’s most impoverished man.
Then there was round 2. After his environment collapsed, he was afflicted with some sort of disease that made him basically rot. He sat in the dust and scrapped his flesh with a piece of pottery. (even his breath wasn’t spared! See Job 19:17.)
Now what would you have done if you had this happen to you? But what did Job do? It says—after all this had happened to him—that he blessed the name of the Lord. Then the writer of the book leaves this commendation in 2:22—“In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
Now I started this point by saying that we must delight in God’s wisdom. That is important to remember. Because when trails assail us, and we curse God, we are saying “What God has done was out of accord with what He should be doing. If God really loved me he wouldn’t do this (or let this happen)!”
I think it is a lot like how Katelyn reacted when she got one of her first immunization shots. When the needle pierced her skin, the first thing she did was not cry. Before she cried she looked at her mother and me—as if to say, “What are you doing!?!?!” I can’t remember where we were, but I do remember how her head turned and her eyes widened. For that instant just before the shriek her face was plastered with a look of utter bewilderment. We knew she couldn’t understand, but what we did was actually for her greater well being.
It’s like the story told by John Yates. A man who was the only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small uninhabited island. He cried out to God to save him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a rough hut and put his few possessions in it. But then one day, after hunting for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; he was stung with grief. Early the next day, though, a ship drew near the island and rescued him. “How did you know I was here?” he asked the crew. “We saw your smoke signal,” they replied.
Though it may not seem so now, your present difficulty may be instrumental to your future happiness. That is why we must learn to delight ourselves in God’s wisdom, no matter how bad our situation may seem.
If we are going to delight in God’s providence, we must not only delight in his wisdom, but we must delight in his timing.
II. We must delight ourselves in his timing
Sometimes its not about what we get, its about when we get it, isn’t it?
Single people would like to lament, “God, I have been in 5 different weddings, but not one of them was my own.” Someone like that can think, “Why hasn’t God brought me a woman or a man?” Or a woman may say, “You know God, my biological clock is ticking. I know that you gave Sara a child when she was 90, but I rather not go that route.”
We have to remember again that God knows what is best. This is why we must be careful thinking about God on the basis of his providence. What we believe about God should be shaped by his Word, not just his providence. If we base what we believe about God on his providence then we can come to think that he is some big ogre. We can think, “You promised me this, but your not giving it to me. What are you doing?”
We may believe he is a cruel monster than a loving father. But his Word will never teach us that. His word always reveals him to be an affectionate father. It reveals him to be one who looks out for his children and always does what is best for them.
Maybe he is saying, “Things just are not ready yet.” Would a farmer let his child eat of the an apple tree when the apples are not ripe?
Maybe he doesn’t want you to have it because it wouldn’t be for your good, at least at that time. You don’t get to drive until you are 16. That’s because it wouldn’t be good for you to do so before then. You have not developed the maturity yet (yes, I know, a lot of 16 year-olds don’t have the maturity either!).
Whatever the reason may be (and most often we don’t know why) we still must rest in the fact that God knows the proper time. And if we wait for it, and delight ourselves in his timing, think about how wonderful it will be when it comes.
A lot of people think that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was something that God was going to give Adam and Eve. You know the story, he said “You can have anything and do anything, except eat of that tree.” But a lot of people believe that God was going to give it to them in the proper time. As a matter of fact, they say that Adam and Eve had a probation period—that means the time would come to an end.
We don’t know how it would have turned out obviously. But don’t you think it would have been better if they waited?
We must remember Solomon’s words, “Everything has its season.” God has foreordained everything to come to pass at just the right time. Therefore we should commit ourselves to his care, and delight in it.
With regard to God’s providence, the 1st command requires that we delight in his wisdom, in his timing, and—may I also add—we should delight in his power.
III. We must delight ourselves in his power
Now, to a degree, we have already established this. In talking about God’s wisdom and timing we have assumed that he had the power to bring whatever it is to pass. But I want us to consider God’s power a little more, perhaps from a different angle. If we rightly understand God’s providence—his might & authority—then we will be led to credit him with the praise that he is due.
Let me say it this way: We can be tempted to ascribe the praise due to him to other things—powerless things—such as idols, ourselves, or some other creature.
In the book of Habakuk the prophet mocks the stupidity of the Israelites. He talks about how they begin to worship their fishing nets. He describes it like this:
“He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.” (Hab 1:15-16)
So they go out on the lake, they catch a lot of fish, and they see the “power” of the net—and it’s ability to provide—and they begin to worship their nets.
This has happened all through the ages. Have you ever wondered why Hindu’s worship cows? That’s a pretty absurd god—at least in our eyes. Well, the cow started off as a useful animal. It was used to plow the fields and do all other types of work. Because of it’s power they began to exalt it above all other animals. In time it became so exalted that it was worshipped. Then as a holy animal, people would not “profane” it. So they stopped using it in the fields and for food.
Of course, in America, you don’t usually see people sacrificing to their computers or their cars. Our problem is most often ourselves. Our problem is that we ascribe the praise to ourselves. We say things like “I put food on the table.” Or “I have come so far and done all this.” We can be like Nebuchadnezzar who went for a walk one day and said, “Isn’t this the great Babylon that I have built by my power?”
If we have that attitude are we any different than the Hindu or the net-worshiping Jew? Not really. We all make the same mistake—we don’t see God as the one upon whom we are dependent.
Johannes Vos sums it up well when he says, “We must always remember that we are created beings and that God is our Creator, on whom we are dependednt for our very life and consciousness. This Creator-creature relationship is and always will be the main fact of our existence. To disregard it, even for a moment, is wicked.
Remember that when you bow your head at meal-time, or when you wake up in the morning. It’s amazing how independent we make ourselves out to be—when that first breath hits our nostrils in the morning we should be thinking, “Thank-you, Lord.”
Think also how this should affect your talk. I was joking a few weeks ago when I said we were going to have a “pot-providence” instead of a “pot-luck.” But think about how we can take the praise and credit away from God when we talk about things happening “by mere luck” or “chance.” We say those types of things all the time, don’t we? “You got lucky on that one, didn’t you?”
If you find a $100 bill in your bushes tomorrow morning, it isn’t because it is your ‘lucky day.’” It’s because God forordained that someone wouldn’t be paying attention as they came out of the bank. It’s because God made the wind to blow at just the right moment. And it was because he—by his mighty power—caused your bushes to grow up right where they did.
In 1937 Walt Disney released the first full-length animated movie: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Producing an animated movie was a gargantuan task. Disney artists drew over one million pictures. Each picture flashed onto the screen for a mere one-twenty-fourth of a second.
As we watch the movie run at regular speed, it seems so simple. We have no Idea all that goes into it.
Our lives are just like that movie. As our lives run at regular speed, we have no idea how much God’s providence fills every second. God puts infinite thought, skill, and careful attention into every detail. This is why we must learn to delight ourselves in him.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.