Posts Tagged ‘providence’
“We’re in trouble,” he said. “Hurry and put on your life jackets.”
. . .
We are not dealing with God as though He were a machine. He is personal, and as we pray He does not respond mechanically, but as the Personal-Infinite God. The point is that He is there. And He can, and does, act into the universe He has made.
Francis Schaeffer, speaking in chapel, Wheaton College, the fall of 1968.
Read the whole story of God’s gracious intervention here.
Charles Spurgeon on God’s providence:
I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphis over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.
Thanks to JT for the reminder.
Yesterday started in humbling fashion. As some of you will know, I was struck down with a violent virus a few weeks ago now. Said virus left me weak as a kitten and unable to exercise, with the result that I am now marginally less weak and out of shape to boot. After a little light jogging and cycling, the time had come to go back to the early morning workouts with a few friends.
In my absence, our base of operations had shifted to another, more local park. We started with the usual runs and sprints and pyramid drills of sit-ups and press-ups, and that was painful enough, prompting more than a few giggles from my uberfit friends.
But then we moved on to the new element. Apparently, this park is the only one for miles around with a parkour training environment (for more on the insanity of free running, see something like this). Now, there are many things at which I am not good, but rarely do I find something at which I am so natively and staggeringly inept as parkour. I was built for rugby, you see, and all this whip-thin and whippet-supple stuff passed me by.
There were many low points. There were the chin lifts when a man who once claimed to be my friend asked why I was wearing the face of a constipated monkey. There were other lifts I was supposed to be doing, when I ended up dangling helplessly. Working back and forth hanging underneath a series of rungs, I asked how many would be a good number.
“Chris managed six,” said Carl, “And I have done three.” I had a go, and thought my two was pretty impressive.
“Chris can go across the whole set of rungs and back six times,” explained Carl. “You managed two single rungs.”
We did some practice leaps over some kind of fence apparatus. I now have parkour shin, the result of landing on said shin on top of the fence in mid-leap. I barely spared myself landing on a far more painful part of the anatomy. At one point, required to hurtle up a ramp and leap from the top, I backed off . . . and off . . . and off.
“Where’s he going?” asked Chris.
“It’s alright,” said Carl, “I think it’s his run-up.”
Needless to say, this rather spoiled my focus.
Anyway, determined to accomplish something of value, I was again dangling off something, by now bruised and bleeding, and feeling my wedding ring cutting into my finger. I took it off and placed it with my other valuables in the bag, and eventually the painful hour was over.
I headed home, glad to be back in the swing of things, but wishing I could swing and not merely hang. As I headed to the front door, crossing the fruitful sward, I pulled my keys from my bag and heard a little ping. It sounded as if I might have dropped something, but I kept moving. When I got in and sorted myself out, I realised that I was not wearing my ring. Searching through the valuables, I realised what that little ping had been. It was the sound of my keys catching on the ring and catapulting them into the grass as I walked to the door.
Searching ensued. I was due in London at 1030, so there wasn’t much time. Seeking to behave calmly, I gave myself the customary loofahing and donned the appointed garments. I headed back out with the help of Thing One and a rake and some urgent and brief prayers. We began to search. I combed the grass. I began wondering how much metal detectors cost. Thing One searched with his boy rake, chopping and flinging in such a way that if he came anywhere near the ring it would probably disappear into the middle distance at some velocity. The tension began to mount. My wife could see I was grieved, and was trying to be supportive. I would soon need to leave. Thing Two wandered out to watch the fun, carrying a breakfast-type snack of mini-weetajobbies of indeterminate brand. He gazed at me in some fascination as I continued to scrutinize the ground (as, probably, did many of the neighbours). He got closer. As usual when he is meant to be eating but has found something else to entertain, the lip of the bowl began to droop at more of a pouring angle. Pretty soon he would begin to shed weetajobbies. I lunged for the bowl but it was too late, and a couple of the little blighters succumbed to the irresistible pull of gravity. I opened my mouth to suggest that such clumsiness was unhelpful and stooped to pick up the lost breakfast.
There, lying precisely between the two fallen weetajobbies, was the lost ring. I scooped up them and Thing Two with some joy, kissed a cheerful goodbye to the wife, Things One and Two and the newborn Thing, and leapt into the vehicle to speed Londonwards in order to deliver a lecture on John Bunyan to one hundred Dutch students. On my finger – a sore and bruised but altogether happier and properly clad finger – was my wedding ring.
Such are the kindnesses of God, even in the dropping of breakfast cereal.
This is a hard book to read. It is not the occasional profanity that makes it so, so much as the searing – sometimes very ugly – honesty and gripping profundity. The author, as far as I know not herself a believer, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a wild kid with an unbroken spirit and a knack for finding trouble, to a teenager discovering a gift for distance running that carried him to the Olympics (he seemed destined to be the first man to break the four minute mile until WWII intervened), to a highly-skilled bombardier in a B-24 Liberator over the Pacific in the war against Japan, to a castaway adrift on a raft in a shark-infested ocean for 47 days, to a brutalised POW in a series of Japanese concentration camps, to an apparently free man chained to his hatred, to an alcoholic who could not break free of his guilt and anger. Zamperini was finally broken, but it was grace that broke him, and made him truly whole. He heard – very unwillingly at first – Billy Graham preach, and Christ broke in upon his untamed spirit and emptied him of self before granting him a strength that he had never had before. Very skilfully and engagingly written, you will find your pulse rising and falling with the twists and turns of the story; you might suck in your breath, hold your head in your hands, clench your fists, and weep tears as you read. The book showcases the heights and depths of the human spirit, prompting us both to consider that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that we are fearfully and deeply depraved. For those with eyes to see, the story is a stunning study in providence. That superintending wisdom and power preserves a gifted, vigorous, self-reliant rebel, guiding him slowly but surely to the cross of Jesus Christ, and changes him into a gifted, vigorous, Christ-reliant servant who preaches the gospel to his once-torturers and sets out to find others who, like himself, need the best of friends and a true Saviour. A treat especially for those who appreciate stirring biography and (perhaps mainly military) history, elements of this telling might take it outside the orbit of some. Nevertheless, read and recommended with that awareness, I believe that this is a story worth reading, for it ultimately reveals a God worth praising.
Are you and I afraid to give of our substance to those in need, to invest money, time and energy in the needy? Do we feel that it is foolish, risky, or pointless? Here is an answer from Jonathan Edwards to such unfounded fears:
When men give to the needy, they do as it were sow seed for a crop. When men sow their seed, they seem to throw it away. Yet they do not look upon it as thrown away because, though they expect not the same again, yet they expect much more as the fruit of it. And if it be not certain that they shall have a crop, yet they are willing to run the venture of it; for that is the ordinary way wherein men obtain increase. So it is when persons give to the poor. Though the promises of gaining thereby, in our outward circumstances, perhaps are not absolute; yet it is as much the ordinary consequence of it, as increase is of sowing seed. Giving to the poor is in this respect compared to sowing seed, in Ecc. 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” By withholding the hand, the wise man means not giving to the poor (see verse 1, 2). It intimates, that giving to the poor is as likely a way to obtain prosperity and increase, as sowing seed in a field.
The husbandman doth not look upon his seed as lost, but is glad that he has opportunity to sow it. It grieves him not that he has land to be sown, but he rejoices in it. For the like reason we should not be grieved that we find needy people to bestow our charity upon. For this is as much an opportunity to obtain increase as the other.
Some may think this is strange doctrine; and it is to be feared, that not many will so far believe it as to give to the poor with as much cheerfulness as they sow their ground. However, it is the very doctrine of the Word of God, 2 Cor. 9:6, 7, 8, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly: and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”
It is easy with God to make up to men what they give in charity. Many but little consider how their prosperity or ill success in their outward affairs depends upon Providence. There are a thousand turns of Providence, to which their affairs are liable, whereby God may either add to their outward substance, or diminish from it, a great deal more than they are ordinarily called to give to their neighbors. How easy is it with God to diminish what they possess by sickness in their families, by drought, or frost, or mildew, or vermin; by unfortunate accidents, by entanglements in their affairs, or disappointments in their business! And how easy is it with God to increase their substance, by suitable seasons, or by health and strength; by giving them fair opportunities for promoting their interest in their dealings with men; by conducting them in his providence, so that they attain their designs; and by innumerable other ways which might be mentioned! How often is it, that only one act of providence in a man’s affairs either adds to his estate, or diminishes from it, more than he would need to give to the poor in a whole year.
God hath told us that this is the way to have his blessing attending our affairs. Thus, in the text, Deu. 15:10, “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and all that thou puttest thine hand unto.” And Pro. 22:9, “He that hath a bountiful eye, shall be blessed.” It is a remarkable evidence how little many men realize the things of religion, whatever they pretend; how little they realize that the Scripture is the Word of God, or if it be, that he speaks true; that notwithstanding all the promises made in the Scripture to bounty to the poor, yet they are so backward to this duty, and are so afraid to trust God with a little of their estates. Observation may confirm the same thing which the Word of God teaches on this head. God, in his providence, generally smiles upon and prospers those men who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.
From Jonathan Edwards on Christian Charity
The peace and productivity of life have been shattered once more by another computer crash. After nearly two happy days of apparently trouble-free computing, the whole thing died this morning. All normal efforts to restart produce a splendid variety of error messages, and we are so far narrowing it down to ‘a driver issue’. How sweet. Anyway, the long and short of it is that this is puppy is not going to play ball in the foreseeable future, so I am back to the borrowed laptop and hoping that I might at least be able to get the main computer up and running, even if I cannot get online. While disappointed, I am not overwhelmingly frustrated (although I am sure that I will be at times). The deacons here have told me to do what needs to be done to get going as soon as possible, which is exceedingly helpful, but we are wondering if that might mean starting over. Until the Christian technician who provides these things can make time to get here, I will be somewhat limited. As before, it looks as if the (now almost entirely backed-up) data is safe, which is a mercy. There are no indications of any viruses or anything, which is also good news. It is now just a question of getting on with those things with which I can get on. Again, as you have a moment, your prayers for the swift and complete resolution of these difficulties would be appreciated.
You know I said I believe in entropy?
Well, the car is in the garage with the cylinder head gasket keeping it off the road. And the mechanic who is always so efficient and helpful went down with a serious health problem the day I took it in and is on very light duties.
The computer screen has just malfunctioned and I am helpfully informed that, under warranty, I will get a replacement in no less than five days. The fact that I rely on the computer for my work changes things not a jot. So I am writing this from my father’s house; please expect little in the way of online labour for a few days.
I am going home from this borrowed computer, joyfully anticipating the plumes of smoke I am likely to see as the house returns to dust and ashes.
Then, I looked in the mirror again this morning. That news gets no better.
And, God is in his heaven, and he is my Father and I am his child, and all this is his perfect and righteous plan, and I lack nothing truly needful, and I am learning to be content.
Death is in the headlines. Michael Jackson seemed to think he was God. Bobby Robson was, in his time, as much the Geordie Messiah as Kevin Keegan. At a Swiss clinic, Dignitas clients play God with their own lives. And, up and down the UK, and in many other countries (some far less equipped to deal with the problem), disease runs rampant, and men panic over the pursuit or lack of God-like control over their health.
In a culture increasingly obsessed, at least in popular media, with doomsday scenarios, the swine flu statistics and reaction can be bewildering. The country is generally described as “unprepared” (sometimes the adjective “woefully” is thrown in for good cheer). The government seems to veer between crying “We’re coping” on the one hand, and “We’re doomed” on the other: the net effect is the agitated cry of a frantic Corporal Jones: “Don’t panic!”
In a climate of fear and uncertainty, of panic and ignorance, how should a Christian respond? God’s voice cuts through the white noise of conflicting cries for attention and tells us how to think clearly and prepare properly.
Firstly, remember that the Lord God remains in control of all things (Eph 1.11; Heb 1.3; Ps 135.6). This may be general and basic, but it is still true and needful. God’s knowledge and power are absolute on the grandest and most minute scales. Isaiah 40 is true in every regard even when – like Jeremiah when ordered to buy a field in the face of the advancing armies of Chaldea (Jer 32.16-25) – we remain ignorant and confused. Even unbelievers who would never bless God when receiving mercies are quick to blame him when trouble comes (Rev 16.9, 21) – their fallen hearts still know that someone is in charge. God’s absolute control includes all disease and plague (Ps 39.10). He remains the sovereign, gracious, merciful and compassionate God of Jonah 4.10-11: nothing is an aberration from his plan, there are no surprises to him, and he makes no mistakes.
Secondly, know that the Lord God has sovereignly determined the spread, effect and toll of this disease. Scriptures often show the Lord employing disease to accomplish his purposes. The common thread running through every instance is his absolute control over it (see Ex 6.6-7; 7.5; 9.16; Num 16.41-50; 25.1-9; Dt 28.21, 61; 2Sam 24.13-25). Whether among peoples or with regard to individuals (Jb 2.1-10), God sets the bounds always. His actings and permissions are absolute. His knowledge of and control over all aspects of life is total (Ps 139.15-16). All the days of our lives, and all their experiences, are appointed for us. Disease is God’s creature, and he holds the reins.
Thirdly, rejoice that the Lord God in mercy and goodness has provided means to promote and secure the health of his creatures. It is a demonstration of God’s fatherly care (Mt 5.44-45). It is an instance of common grace. God has put certain means of health within our hands to be gratefully received and trustingly employed. So, in Isaiah 38 we find Hezekiah granted fifteen extra years of life, but the divinely-appointed ends are accomplished by divinely-appointed means (v21). Had Hezekiah despised or ignored the means of securing his health, it would not have been restored to him. Christians sometimes demonstrate what is imagined to be a super-spirituality. In doing so, some neglect God’s means: “This is all in the providence of God!” True, but so are the physicians who have concocted medicines, and so is its availability to you, and so may be the fact that your life will be secured by the use of them. Others despise God’s means: “God can heal or preserve me without resorting to medicines!” Yes, he can, but he also often uses regular means for the accomplishing of his sovereign purposes, and you will be the sadder for despising them. Without overreaction to, obsession with, or idolisation of the means God provides, use them soberly, seriously, wisely, diligently and appropriately as the divinely-appointed route, in most instances, to the promotion and securing of health.
Fourthly, consider that the Lord God has particular regard for his people, and is able to preserve and protect them by any means he chooses. Our use of means is never a reliance on men, but must be joined with trust in God alone. It is God who provides and blesses those means, and apart from him the doctors can accomplish nothing in us (2Chr 16.12). God cares for his own (Ex 12.13; Ps 91.10). Our times are appointed by him (Ps 31.15). To the Lord belong escapes from death (Ps 68.19-20) whether those escapes are immediate and vivid or slow and unremarkable. This is no guarantee of health or healing to all or any of God’s children (2Cor 12.8-10; 2Tim 4.20). It may require the believing and responsible use of less usual means (Jas 5.14-15). It certainly is not a call to a foolish fanaticism that tests God by demanding his care for an irresponsible and unrighteous walk (Mt 4.6-7). It simply means that, in the believing, trusting, wise, careful and legitimate use of means for securing our health, we can go about our God’s appointed business without crippling fear. Our times are in his hands, our days appointed by him, and our end secure with him: our present and final confidence lies in the God of our salvation (Rom 14.8). In the Black Death that devastated Europe during the 1660s it was a noticeable fact that when many others fled London, many faithful preachers remained to serve the sick and dying, and some enjoyed a preservation of life and health inexplicable apart from God’s superintendence of them.
Finally, remember that the Lord God will glorify his name in this, whether or not we ever understand how. Who can trace his intricate designs and multiplied purposes? Who can counsel God as to the warnings, punishments, callings, testings and proving that this pandemic will accomplish? When we can answer God’s questions in Job 38-41 then we can challenge his wisdom in governing the world he has made. We do know this: that whether in life or death, mercy or judgment, sickness or health, gratitude or anger, God will be glorified. His power will be demonstrated (Ex 19.6); his love will be proved (Dt 4.37); his sovereignty will be manifest (1Chr 29.11); his people will be stirred up (Ps 78.34-25); his enemies will be cast down (Ex 11.6-8). His name will be made known. One way in which that will occur is through the gracious living and believing dying of his saints (Mt 5.16; Is 43.2-3, 21).
Think clearly, then, and – in the light of these things – prepare properly.
Prepare to live. Be ready to serve (Eph 2.10), especially those who may be lonely and needy in the face of sickness (see Ps 38.11). Whom others neglect, the Christian remembers. When others run from danger, the Christian runs to the endangered, not taking our life in our hands, but putting it in God’s hands. Like Christ, we are to go about doing good. It is an opportunity to demonstrate true discipleship (Gal 6.10). Be ready to preach. Let your deeds be matched and explained by words. Be unashamedly Christian as you care for others, and do not deny God even when you cannot explain all his ways. Many may be on the brink of eternity, many might listen now when otherwise they would have scorned: declare Christ as the only one who can secure life forever. Speak of Jesus as the one name under heaven, given among men, by which sinners like us can be saved. Be ready to pray. Begin now. Pray for God’s glory, man’s blessing, and your own faith of body and soul. Come to God for the grace and strength you will need to serve him in these days. Ask that he might be honoured in your life and in your death. Pray for the salvation of many. Be ready to shine: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). Plan for, pray for, prepare for, and pursue God’s honour in all these things.
Prepare to die. John Donne wrote, “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Take these things as intimations of your own mortality. Heed them as a call to readiness. Your time may be at hand; your days are expiring: learn to number them, that you may gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90.12). The wise man will turn to and walk with Jesus as the Christ of God when he considers these things. There is no other sure preparation for death (Ps 49.5-15). Sooner or later all will die and afterward face judgment (Heb 9.27). If not today, perhaps tomorrow; if not tomorrow, then soon. If not this disease, then something else will quickly snatch you away. Life is brief, and eternity beckons. That eternity will be spent by every one of us either in the hell where all sufferings here will appear light by comparison with those imposed there, or in the heaven where all sufferings here will be past, and no sorrow, pain nor tears can come, where Christ is its light, and where the exceeding weight of glory will far surpass whatever trials and tribulations the world has laid on us.
The gospel writers tell us of a woman who came sick and full of suffering to the Lord Jesus. She reached out a trembling hand and merely touched the hem of his garment. When Jesus turned and spoke with her, he assured her of this: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” There is an affliction far worse than any disease, the affliction of sin. The one who touches the Lord Christ’s garment in faith shall indeed be made well. That is preparation both for life and for death.
Listen to a sermon on this topic here.
From A Good Start by C. H. Spurgeon, Chapter 1 (“A Young Man in Christ”).
A man in Christ is manly because he is trustful in Providence. If he be what I mean by a man in Christ, he believes that whatever happens here below is ordered and arranged by his great Lord and Master; so that when anything occurs which surprises, and, perhaps, perplexes him for the moment, he feels that it is still not an accident nor an unforeseen calamity beyond the Divine control. He believes that his Lord has a bit in the mouth of the tempest and reins up the storm. He is sure that Jesus, as King of kings, sits in the cabinets of princes, and rules all the affairs of mankind. Therefore he is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. If he live as a Christian should live, when others are seized with sudden panic he can wait, for he knows that there is no panic in Heaven, and that all things are rightly arranged and ordered by the powers above; and committing his present case into the hand of his Lord Jesus, he both patiently waits and quietly hopes. He is thus enabled to become master of the situation, for he I cool and calm when others are confused. He is a match for any man in the hour of perplexity, for he has flung his burden off his shoulder and left it with his Lord; and now he can go forward with a clear and placid mind to do his business, or to leave it undone, as the peril of the moment demands. A Christian man, because he trusts in the God of providence, quits himself like a man, and is not afraid.
And he is manly because, being a Christian, he does not wince when he is opposed, for he expects opposition. That man who, being in Christ, never meets with any opposition, must either be very happily circumstanced, or he must somewhat conceal his religion; for from the first day until now it has been found that those who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution. The man in Christ, being a true man, does not fret about that. If a joke is passed off at his expense, he knows that it breaks no bones. There is a little laughter over a story, more witty than true, and perhaps a sneer or two caused by a very nasty sarcasm; be he bargained for that, he discounted that matter, when he became a Christian. Nay, he has by degrees become so accustomed to it that if it pleases other people it does not annoy him. And, now and then, when a sting does go rather near the heart, he is accustomed to sing to himself very quietly -
“If on my face, for Thy dear name,
Shame and reproach shall be,
I’ll hail reproach and welcome shame,
For Thou’lt remember me.”
And so he gets to be a man all round; and it frequently happens that, as he pursues the even tenor of his way, those who at first despised him come to respect him. Men trust him, and finding him upright, they honour him, yea, and honour him for his fidelity to his convictions; for even with those who care not for Christianity, there is something which makes them reverence the man who is truly what he professes to be. We have seen it so in others, and may each one of us live long enough to experience it in our own persons. Let but the Christian live on and live well, and he will live down opposition; or, if the opposition live, he will live above it and flourish all the more.
Another piece of good news, and another one of those series of human frustrations that proves that God’s providence does indeed govern all thing
As regular readers will know, I have recently lost track of some of the young people who were hanging around the park late on Fridays and Saturdays. Week after week I went out looking for them, often in company with others, and yet there was no sign of them.
Earlier this week I was in London for the Westminster Conference, and returned by train on Wednesday night, hoping to buy a little food and prepare for the prayer meeting in good time. Trouble started brewing at Victoria Station in London, with the clear-sighted and forward-thinking announcement that the train due to leave at 1742 would depart just as soon as it had a driver. As the minutes ticked by I wondered about diving for another train. In the end, an announcement was made that I might be able to get on one heading for East Croydon and Gatwick Airport at another platform. In common with a good couple of hundred other people, I made the switch from one train to another. In God’s goodness, my ‘standing room only’ on the first train became a seat on the other, and I got out some paper and began to scratch out my preparations for the prayer meeting.
We drifted fairly slowly down the track, and arrived a few minutes late, if I remember, at Gatwick. Mine is the next station, Three Bridges, and the train was not stopping there. I got off. It was about 1835. I headed over to the next platform to pick up the 1846 or something which would stop at Three Bridges. Bad news: the 1830 to Horsham had just been cancelled. I got sucked into a few pages of a book, looking up to wonder why the 1846 had not arrived by the appointed time. One board suggested 1852. Then 1854. Then 1856. I crossed back to another platform to get the 1852 which should have been going to Three Bridges also. It was due to arrive sometime after 1900. Groovy. A dash back to the other side to get the “reconstituted” 1830 to Horsham, stopping at Three Bridges. It arrived shortly after 1900. We arrived at Three Bridges at just after 1910. Thinking I might just have time to make it to Maidenbower in time to grab a bite to eat and finish my preparations, I set off on foot at a fair lick. Hurtling down ice-slippery back paths, I reached the Maidenbower shops much later than I had hoped at about 1925. And there, standing outside the Co-op, was one of the lads (we will call him A). A had just been chucked out of the shop for allegedly spitting in a magazine. Eventually his three friends joined him on the pavement outside, not entirely willingly. Having established that I was willing to buy them neither cigarettes nor alcohol, despite the fact that one of them would certainly have done so if only he had had his ID card with him, we got chatting.
Not only did I have almost 30 minutes to begin explaining the gospel to them, but I also found out that they are hanging out at another local shopping parade where there is someone selling liquor who is not too fussy about checking their ages. So, as a bonus, not only is there a degree of warmth where they stand, but they can also get drunk. At least I now know where to find them. I spoke with A and his friends for a good while. Not only did they acknowledge that they knew in their hearts that there is a God (he’s the one they wish would help them when they are really in trouble), but A also asked, eventually, how it was possible to be right with God. Unfortunately, one of them generally has a diversionary question just as the others get interested, but it was still a double-whammy for me: a renewed gospel opportunity with at least one fellow I had spoken with before, and finding out where the others hang out on a Friday night. We have a long-standing engagement for friends to come over on Friday night, but they don’t often stay too late, and I might head out after that to see if I can track down my young friends, and obtain another opportunity to speak about the Lord Jesus, their only hope for salvation.
And the prayer meeting? Well, due to a series of providential blows to various families (an unusual number of sick and those kept late at work, a school play to superintend, one family locking themselves out of their home), there were very few people present. We therefore had a brief and stripped-down prayer meeting for which the usual preparation would have been quite superfluous. Of course, thanksgiving for our gospel opportunities and prayer for the souls of these young men and women was high on our agenda. God is good, and we look to him for glorious answers to our prayers.
Or so it felt this weekend.
Despite my intentions to get out on the square on Friday or Saturday and speak to the youngsters who gather, I was not able to do so. I was all lined up for Friday, but my eldest son is having some bedtime challenges at the moment, and – with William taking up a lot of my wife’s time – I did not think it was reasonable to leave her unsupported, especially as Friday night was particularly intense.
I woke up on Saturday morning to discover that part of the fence at the back of my home had been ripped out and carried off. Admittedly, it was pretty shaky, but it still meant the garden and back of the house exposed to anyone walking past, and required an emergency visit to the nearest place selling fence panels, followed by a comedy balancing act as I tried to get a 6′x6′ fence panel home on the roof of my car. I was pushing it already with preparation for Sunday, but managed to get enough of the sermon under my belt to spend forty minutes or so digging, hammering, and nailing so as to secure the house.
I then disappeared to London where I was preaching at the 119th anniversary of Hope Baptist Church. I preached on the love of God from 1 John 3.1, and then had a tea before heading home to weigh in on the great bedtime challenge. I was back on the road at 8.30am the next morning to preach in the same place, where I looked at the care of God from Job 23.10. In this regard, we simply noted that God knows the way that we take; that our testing in the way is imposed and controlled by God; that the testing will have an end; and, that it has a gracious and glorious purpose – we shall come forth from the testing as gold, the precious metal of our faith both approved and improved by the painful process.
I enjoyed a meal and a delightful conversation about God’s dealings with his people (and some chat on parenting) with a few of the families from the church before getting back on the road to come back to Crawley. I had enough time to complete my sermon before getting out for the evening service, where we had a good congregation, including one visitor along for the first time. I preached from Zechariah 13.1 on The cleansing fountain. Pausing only to note that the realities of this text are not restricted to the Jews, we looked first at the filth that needs to be cleansed. The prophet identifies it as sin (judicial guilt) and uncleanness (moral impurity). This covers the sins committed by us, around us and against us, the taint from within and without that renders us obnoxious to God’s justice and odious to his holiness, and – in the awakened conscience – foul and filthy in our own eyes.
This took us on to the fountain opened for cleansing. I answered a series of questions:
What is opened? A fountain of living water, dwelling particularly on the accessibility and permanence implied by its being open.
For what is it opened? For pardon and purity, the complete purging demanded by sin and uncleanness.
When was it opened? It is opened, absolutely, in the day of Christ’s dying, when his blood was shed for the cleansing of his people. It is opened, relatively, in the day of gospel preaching, when Christ’s saving work is made plain and pressed upon the consciences of sinners. It is opened, experimentally, in the day of repentant hearing, when we humbly approach the cross to be made clean.
For whom is it opened? From Romans 11.11 and Isaiah 49.6 we conclude that the blessings of this verse are not restricted to the Jewish nation alone, and see here three pictures: all classes and kinds of people (cf. Zec 12.8); the most wicked of people (cf. Zec 12.10); and, ultimately, all God’s elect.
I closed by urging people to employ the fountain (whether for the first time, or in the light of fresh defilements and new transgressions), and to extol the fountain, pointing to and proclaiming Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
I went home weary, and – unfortunately – did not have the best of nights. Today is a catch-up and admin day, so I should catch up and start administering (or should that be administrating?). Anyway, I have stuff to do.
Just before Christmas last year my dear wife miscarried. I can still remember sitting in the room for the scan with a big foolish grin on my face (my wife was ahead of me, and knew better what to look for, and had already reached her own conclusion) as the nurse looked at me and said, “I am afraid I have got some bad news for you.”
No amount of professional poise or genuine sympathy from the hospital staff makes that news easy to bear. I went home, and pulled down John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence. I don’t think I actually finished re-reading it, but I needed time to be reminded of those basic truths of God’s good and gracious government of all things, and to have them pressed upon my soul.
I know that Christians of different stripes take their comfort differently under these circumstances. I found mine primarily in the character of my God, in his righteousness and in his mercy:
Far be it from you to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Gen 18.25)
But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not laboured, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?” (Jon 4:10-11)
Last night, God was pleased to bring into this world William Latimer Walker, also preserving his mother through labour and delivery. We were always conscious of the frailty of life. I am more conscious of how grateful I must be for the health of my wife and myself, and for the continuing health and preservation of William’s “big bwuvver,” Caleb. I am much more conscious of how thankful to God we must be that this baby has survived and seems so healthy.
I am also conscious that William is the son that would never have been born had God not been pleased to take the second child from us. We do not know from what God spared that baby, or us, by taking him or her when he did. But William is, in a distinctive way, the child the Lord intended for us. We shall look forward with excitement and a little trepidation to learning what that might mean.
Yesterday my wife, due to give birth in a few weeks’ time, had a midwife’s appointment at a place a few miles away. I was working in the garden beforehand, and – working up to the limit before taking a shower – we left with only just enough time to get there.
We were trying a route that was meant to be a little faster (one of various dry runs for the real thing) and I had forgotten to take account of the school run. We were getting badly held up in the more built up areas. Then, as we hit an open stretch of road, we got stuck behind a massive and slow-moving lorry carrying concrete. We were behind it (and about eight other vehicles) for several miles. I was getting edgy. Even on our promised faster route, time was running out.
When the concrete lorry finally turned off, I discovered that the cars behind it had not been slowed down, but were voluntarily keeping it company, for all were being driven by people with nowhere to go and all afternoon to get there. I worked hard to keep the irritation under control. I pushed to overtake a couple of vehicles where it was safe to do so, and eventually turned off toward the hospital. Once I had negotiated the random traffic-lights helping some blokes mending something at the top of the telegraph pole, I made it to the hospital some scant minutes late. Resisting the temptation to push my heavily-pregnant wife out of the still moving vehicle to save her a few minutes, I screeched to a halt and we rushed in.
Anyway, out we came, having had a good meeting with the midwife, and with Lump the Baby apparently in good order.
Then the journey home. With a little more time at our disposal, and with a powerful thirst building because I had not had time to down a pint of water after my earlier work in the garden, I first considered going to a local farm shop to see if there was (a) anything to drink and (b) any treats that my wife and son might appreciate (besides seeing the goats and playing on the tractors – that’s my son’s treat, by the way). As it transpired that my wife wasn’t too fussed by any of the delights on offer, I decided to give it a miss and head for home. There’s a lady in the church whose birthday is coming up. I had shoved her card and my bank paying-in book in my bag as I ran out of the house, and I decided to try and cover that territory on the way home. My wife recommended that we drop off the card first. I figured I would go to a local branch of the bank, because they might be shutting by 5pm, and it was already 4.30pm. I pushed it to get there as quickly as possible. The boy wanted to come to the bank with Daddy. We pushed on the door at 4.34pm, before observing that this smaller branch shuts at 4.30pm. Doh! OK, so we will do the card. Only five minutes away, so we get there, push it through the door, and we’re off again. Maybe, I think, we can make the main branch of the bank in town, and save my wife a journey out tomorrow. So we head into town. For the last couple of miles I am behind someone who seems to have an inhibitor on his accelerator programmed to catch every red light in sequence. My sense of urgency is increasing, my reserves of patience expiring. We are obliged to follow this turkey (as I was by then inclined to describe him) every foot of the way to the bank. Finally, I pull in and dash into the bank. It is 4.56, and the bank closes at 5pm, but I scrape in and hunch over my paying-in book and scratch in the figures. I breathe a sigh of relief as I notice that they have now shut the doors to incomers, and observe one or two people looking at the crazy lady gesticulating outside the bank. Crazy lady? That’s my wife – she should be in the car with the Boy Wonder because it’s liable to get a ticket if we leave it there. She’s got the boy . . . why is she waving? Ah (my brain clicks into gear), she wants me to come. I wander, befogged, toward the door. It opens to let me out – I have the presence of mind to thrust the paying-in book into her hands as she dashes in and tells me that one of our church members who suffers with epilepsy has just collapsed on the other side of the street. I leap into action (honestly). Within a minute, he’s on his feet, but zoned out. I am checking facts with a bystander who is helping, and trying to collect my friend’s scattered things. Meanwhile, he wanders into the first open door, a stationery shop, through the store and to the staff entrance at the rear, where he is now trying to get through and into the store rooms. “Hello, Jeremy!” Thanks be to God – it’s Dipesh, the fellow who runs the store and who knows me well (I often shop there for the church). “He’s with me, Dipesh, and he’s just had a fit.” My friend sits down on a stool, and it soon becomes plain that an ambulance is required. Within a few minutes it is there, and he is whisked off to a local hospital for further checks and whatever care is necessary. My wife has driven off to find a safe parking spot, and there is my son running toward me, deeply distressed that the “amberlunce” has driven off before he gets to climb inside with Daddy. We go home.
What is the point of the above stream-of-consciousness recollection, much of it mind-numbingly boring?
Simply this: from the first, time-sensitive step of this journey, through all the felt delays and necessary duties, God was in control. At points I made responsible decisions: not to do this, but to do other things, and to do them in a certain order. My decisions had consequences, with further built in delays and duties. Often I thought I was running late. Often I was frustrated as I was ‘held up’ by concrete lorries and drivers who brake for roads. At times my plans were looking badly threatened, and I ended up careering through an afternoon’s travel and chores with very little sense of direction at times. I ended up in a place I had never intended to be at a time far later than I would have wished, ten yards away from where my friend was within seconds of an epileptic fit, which would take place right in my wife’s line of vision.
How often do you say of something more spectacular, “Oh, that’s the providence of God”? It is all the providence of God. Every moment, every second, every delay, every ‘mistake’, every decision – it is all superintended by him. That should keep us from frustration and irritation. It should make us intelligently thankful for the ‘coincidences’ that occur when we need them. It should keep our eyes open for the opportunities and duties that God in his mercy sends to us (Ephesians 2.10) as we make our way through his world.
“Those whom God brings into a wilderness he will not leave nor lose there, but will take care to lead them through it; we may well think it was a very great satisfaction to Moses and the pious Israelites to be sure that they were under divine guidance. Those needed not to fear missing their way who were thus led, nor being lost who were thus directed; those needed not to fear being benighted who were thus illuminated, nor being robbed who were thus protected. Those who make the glory of God their end, and the word of God their rule, the Spirit of God the guide of their affections, and the providence of God the guide of their affairs, may be confident that the Lord goes before them, as truly as he went before Israel in the wilderness, though not so sensibly; we must live by faith.”
 Matthew Henry on Exodus 13.
There are many things that will demonstrate either the presence or the absence of an awareness of God, a sense of being in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, a consciousness of being creatures, sinners, and servants. At least some of them are:
Giving thanks for our food. Of course, many of us will do so when we sit down for a family meal; it’s fairly easy to remember in a more formal setting; certainly if we are with those with whom a reputation for holiness would be desirable. But what about eating on the hoof? What about fast food? What about the snatched piece of toast in the morning? Am I conscious then of my dependence on God, of the fact that without him I have nothing, expressive of my thankfulness for his daily mercies?
Diligence in the workplace. If I am to do everything heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, conscious that I serve the Lord Christ and the he will give the reward (Col 3.23-24), then that will change the way in which I work, my awareness of time, my determination to finish a job well and quickly by working diligently at it.
The voice of conscience when tempted to sin. If I know that I am God’s creature and his child, then I will recognise that my heavenly Father’s eye is upon me when I am subject to temptation, and that will prove a powerful preventative. Like Joseph, I will ask, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39.9). An awareness that the Christ who loved me and gave himself for me is looking on will not only make conscience buck, but should actually prevent me from sinning!
A calm and believing response to a crisis. If I know that the Lord is my Shepherd, then I will not incline to panic or terror in a crisis or challenge. I may need to remind myself of God’s presence, but if I know that the God of my salvation is always near at hand, I need not fear even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Thankful recognition of God’s control in things both good and bad. How often we talk about ‘the providence of God’ as if it were something that brought us good but was powerless in the face of bad. We obtain a blessing, and we thank God for his providential care, and so we should. We receive a blow, and we ask, “Lord, why did you let that happen to me?” God did not let it happen. God caused it to come to pass, ordering it for his glory and our good. Even the evil that men intend God means for good (Gen 50.20). Do I ever thank God that things are not worse? Do I ever praise him for my afflictions, because by them I learned his statues (Ps 119.71)? Am I persuaded that God is as close – if not closer – in the times of woe as in times of weal? If I am aware of God’s presence, I will gratefully acknowledge it at all times and under all circumstances.
Abiding peace and joy. Not as the world knows peace and joy – the peace of imagining that I am in control, the joy of thinking that I am dealing well with life – but the peace of knowing that my heavenly Father governs all things and is smiling upon me, his redeemed child; the joy of sins forgiven, of knowing that Jesus does all things well, and that God is working all things together for good. This is peace and joy that is entirely consistent with grief and distress. The world imagines that these things are mutually exclusive: the God-aware saint knows how often they travel hand in hand.