Friday, December 19, 2014

Providence: Not Just an Old Lady Word

There are many Biblical concepts that are not named or laid out in a logical fashion in the Bible.  Take the Trinity for example.  The word "trinity" is never found in the Bible, but the idea of "God in three persons" is evident all over Scripture (Matthew 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 12:3-6; 1 Peter 1:2 to name a few).  Another one is providence.  Unlike trinity, which is a scholarly word, providence is a word used by little old ladies every where.  It isn't in most versions of the Bible, but I've come to believe that God really does move in all situations in our lives for our good and, more particularly, the good of those around us, just as he did throughout the Bible.

Take Esther for example.  A young Jewish girl, she was chosen to be the Queen of Persia by Ahasuerus the king.  Sounds great, right?  Getting to live in a palace, being pampered every day?  Not so much when you consider that the king could have her deposed for not obeying him and killed for coming into his presence uninvited.  She went a month without seeing her husband once.  I think Esther would rather have stayed with her adoptive father Mordecai, but God had a plan for her.  When the wicked Haman planned to have all the Jews in Persia killed, Esther was in just the right place to help save them.  Consider Mordecai's words:
Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine that you in the king's palace can escape any more than all the Jews. "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13-14)
Esther had her doubts, but she listened to Mordecai and was God was able to use her in his plan to save the Jews.

Joseph had it even worse than Esther.  The queen of Persia lived in a palace, but Joseph spent 11 years as a slave (because his brothers sold him!) and two more in prison before he was able to see God's plan work in his life.  If I had been him, I'm sure I would have thought that people had caused my hardship and the Lord didn't care.  The Bible doesn't record what Joseph thought at this time, but it does say that he served Potiphar so well that he was made the chief servant of the household.  When Potiphar's vengeful wife caused him to be imprisoned, Joseph continued to serve God by interpreting dreams for well placed prisoners who then told Pharaoh all about him.  In the end, 
Joseph was able to save his entire family from famine because of where the Lord put him.  Joseph's brothers were responsible for their evil actions, but Jehovah was able to use it for good.  This is what he told his brothers:
Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God. (Genesis 45:5-8)
Joseph is not the only one who went to prison for a purpose.  When Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, they chose to pray and sing hymns rather than mope.  When the earthquake that freed them came, the jailer saw the power of God both in the quake and in God's servants.  He asked them how he could be saved, and as a result, his entire household became believers (Acts 16).

From these stories, it is clear that God can work in even the toughest of circumstances to see his will done. I'd like you to notice a few things.

1. God often works in our lives for other people's benefit.  In all three of these stories, God put these people in less than desirable situations in order to save someone else.   When you are in a bad place in your life, look around.  God may have put you there to help or save someone else.
2. Attitude is everything.  If Paul and Silas had not been focused on worshiping God, do you think the jailer would have asked them anything?  If Joseph had been a disruptive prisoner, would they have freed him to interpret the king's dream?  God can put us in place, but it is up to us to be the kind of people who can be used in a bad situation for His glory. 
3. Sometimes we are the recipients of God's providence.  Instead of looking at the story through the hero's eyes, think about the people who were helped or saved.  The Philippian jailer was on the point of killing himself when he thought his prisoners had escaped.  Instead, he gained a new life in Christ through those very prisoners. 

Looking back on my life, I can see a few times where God's Providence is evident.  I wonder, though, if I missed out on letting God use me because I was too focused on myself or my attitude was bad.  In the future, I'll be looking at every situation in my life with new eyes, hoping to see a reason God has put me there.

Footnote: The day after writing this post, I experienced God's providence first hand.  My car was acting very weird, and I knew it was going to die.  I prayed very hard that I would make it to the car shop, but it died on the highway, just barely making into the parking lot next to the auto repair place.  All my new knowledge about providence and what to do in a bad situation flew out the window. "Really, Lord?  You couldn't have let the car go fifty more feet?"  Then I saw a familiar face.  The elder's daughter was at the Sonic next door, but she saw a person in need and wanted to help. She didn't know it was me until I got out of the car.  If my car had died in the right parking lot, she would never have seen me. I was able to get a ride home from someone I trust because God put us both right where we needed to be, even though my attitude was lacking.  I'm so grateful for God's providence AND grace! 


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