I try to live a life of control. I’m a planner, and like to live my life in a planned, orderly, and controlled manner. That’s just the way I’m wired. You may be like me, or you may live your life in a more impulsive manner. Either way, living a carefully planned life, or an impulsive one, we need to realize that we are not in control. That’s just not how life works. But while we are not in control of our lives, we can take comfort that God is.
Often, as I would walk into my workplace from the parking lot, I would look at the massive complex that I was walking toward and pray, “Lord, I don’t know what is going to happen today, but you do.” Our lives can be going along well, with everything proceeding as planned, and then something happens that we didn’t see coming. I remember that happening early on a Friday morning a few years ago heading to my weekly faith and work book club with good friends before a holiday weekend, only to be stunned just a few hours later when I got a call that my father-in-law had died.
This happened again when we got a phone call telling us that my Dad had been taken to the ER, and was going to be admitted with cardiac issues. In the days before this, my wife Tammy had commented after we had a few open days on our calendar, that she was thankful for those days because she knew that it would not always be like that. She wondered if we were being prepared for something.
You can substitute similar unplanned things that that have taken you by surprise in your life. We’re going along just fine, doing routine things in our daily life, with activities all planned out, and then something happens that we didn’t see coming. How are we to respond?
While some believe that the events of our lives are completely random, the Christian can take comfort, and trust in, what is referred to as the doctrine of providence. Providence is a word that we don’t hear often these days. What is providence? Question 11 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: 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.
That answer may be a little too theological for some. Here are some other descriptions of providence from people I respect:
Author Jerry Bridges defines providence as God’s “Constant care for and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.” Pastor John MacArthur states that “Providence is how God orchestrates everything to accomplish His purposes.” Pastor John Piper writes “It is God’s seeing to everything. Absolutely everything that needs to be done to bring about his purposes, God sees to it that it happens.”
Pastor Alistair Begg wrote an entire book – The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances – about God’s providence in the life of Joseph, one of my favorite characters in the Bible. Begg tells us that that the overarching theme of the book is “that of the sovereign hand of God manifesting itself in His providential care over His dearly loved children and bringing about all that He has purposed in the affairs of time.” Begg tells us that God determines what is going to happen according to His will, for His glory, and for the good of His people.
Christians can trust God for guidance and control in those events and circumstances that come our way that we didn’t see coming. While I’ve focused on unwelcome or negative events, these events can also be positive, like a job offer, or an opportunity to move to a beautiful part of the country, that we weren’t expecting.
I highly recommend Begg’s book to you. Here are a few more quotes from The Hand of God that I found helpful about God’s providence:
- The doctrine of providence brings us comfort in the face of great difficulty and sorrow.
- The center of God’s will may take us into the eye of a storm. We should not seek, therefore, to confirm God’s will by the absence of adversity.
- It takes the test of trials to make us useful to God. Some of us are not as useful as we might be, for in shunning trials we have missed God’s blessings.
- We often ask God to remove the problem from us or remove us from the problem. But most of the time what God does with His children is change their attitudes toward the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- For most of us, most of the time, it is true that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than through success and laughter.
- We need to understand that although our days may seem dark, and although there seems to be no potential for change, nevertheless God is working everything out in conformity with the purpose of His will. He makes everything beautiful in His time.
Were you previously aware of the doctrine of God’s providence? I hope you take comfort in knowing that while we don’t know what will happen today and can’t control a lot of things, God determines what is going to happen according to His will, for His glory, and for the good of His people. And for that, we can give a hearty “Amen”!