The Providence of God

I caught myself the other day thinking, “If I could change one thing about my past…” The problem is I found a lot of things. Choices. People. Places. Priorities. Desires.  I’ll bet you can finish that sentence with a few thoughts of your own. Who hasn’t lamented something in their past? For some, the choices were huge and life-altering. For others, they were moments, that while not quite as monumental, we wish we could do over. I have spent so much time living with regrets, living in the “if only’s,” and wishing I had made wiser decisions, or that circumstances had turned out differently. I have discovered that when I live in constant regret I set myself up for a very sad life.

But I am learning to trust in the sovereign providence of God. Those are words we don’t use much in our contemporary religion, but they are powerful. In the original Hebrew, the word combination has a rich and significant meaning. The word “sovereign” speaks to God’s rightful authority as Creator over nature, nations, mankind, and individual lives. Likewise, the word “providence” is speaking to God’s charge over everything He has made – including you and me.  The root word means “to pay attention, to care for, to be in charge of.” This is His tender, loving oversight as our Good Shepherd and Heavenly Father. God has pledged to pay attention to you, to care for you, and to be in charge of your life – not as a dictator – but as One who seeks always and only what is best for you. Job 10:12 expresses this duality beautifully. “You gave me life and showed me kindness, and in Your providence watched over my spirit.” The combination of terms tells us that God is always looking out on your behalf, knows what you need and He has the authority to move heaven and earth to accomplish all things for you – because He loves you.

If you have grieved over your past, know that Your sovereign, providential Father has been watching over and caring for you all along. In His hands, the very thing that caused you the most pain can be the seed for a whole new life. Beloved, God loves you too much to waste the struggles of your life. He has a plan. He has a purpose. And He has you in the palm of His great hand.

The Voice of the Lord

My voice is naturally loud, especially if I’m excited – like when I’m teaching about the Bible. Sometimes I want to type in all caps when I’m writing a devotional so I can pump up the volume. Voices communicate more than words. Our inflections reveal what’s happening in our hearts. The tone and timbre of my voice change when I talk to Joy depending on what I’m trying to relay to her. If we’re playing together, I will use a silly, happy voice. If I’m comforting her my voice is soft and gentle, and if she has picked up the cat for the third time, my voice is firm and somewhat sharp.

In Psalm 29 David was meditating on “The voice of the Lord.” He said the Lord’s voice “thunders over the mighty waters” (v. 3), it is “powerful” and “majestic” (v. 4). “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars” (v. 5), “strikes with flashes of lightning” (v. 7), shakes the desert” (v. 8), “twists the oaks and strips the forest bare” (v. 9). Those are frightening images of the fierce power of God’s voice.

But God also speaks with a softer voice. The prophet Elijah was at his lowest point, running from the wicked Queen Jezebel who wanted to kill him. He was worn out and worn down. He told the Lord, “I have had enough” (1 Kings 19:4). He was hiding out in a cave when God called him. Elijah listened for the Lord, expecting to hear Him in “a great and powerful wind,” an earthquake, and a fire. But God was in none of these. He came to Elijah in a “gentle whisper,” in “a still, small voice” (vs. 11-13).

I have not always walked faithfully and obediently. I have made some big, ugly mistakes and fallen into sin. God has never once yelled at me or spoken to me in anger or disgust. He has always spoken in a gentle voice, especially when I am broken. Just as He speaks to you, Beloved. Even if he has to chastise you He speaks with grace. Those harsh voices that shout at you are never God. If you listen closely you will hear that the voice of the Lord is always the voice of love.

Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher in the early 6th Century wrote the classic, “The Art of War,” From which we have taken the phrase “Know thine enemy.”  Paul cautioned believers with similar words saying that satan will not outwit us if we are aware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11 paraphrased). We need to know our enemy to the degree that we recognize his evil hand in situations we face.

I thought of this yesterday as I was writing out a passage from Job. “God has found fault with me;” Job 33:10. This is one of Job’s detractors summarizing Job’s lament. Yet in the very beginning of his story, God said of him: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). The truth is, God didn’t find fault with Job. Satan did.

One of Satan’s favorite schemes goes like this: he presents a temptation, dangling the carrot of pleasure or power or wealth before us, enticing us until we bite. And as soon as we do he changes his tactic from temptation to condemnation. “Look at you! You call yourself a Christian? God is disgusted with you! He will never love you after what you’ve done!” Pretty soon we’re crying, “God has found fault with me.”  Sound familiar?

You and I need to know the difference between satan’s guilt trips and the Spirit’s conviction. When the Spirit speaks to us about our sin he does so with the goal of restoration. Conviction from the Holy Spirit brings “godly sorrow [which] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. But satan brings “worldly sorrow [that] brings death”  (2 Cor 7:9-10). Satan just wants to tear us down and bury us under a load of shame. Here’s how you can recognize one from the other. Satan’s attacks turn our attention to ourselves and what horrible creatures we are. The Spirit will always turn your attention to God and His mercy, forgiveness, and grace. And love.

In heaven, satan is called “the accuser of [God’s people], who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). But God’s not buying it. And neither should you Beloved. If you are in Christ, God sees His Son when He looks at you. Not your sin. And so should you.

Hard Things

“He is the God who breaks down walls!” “He is the God who conquers your enemy!” “He is the God who parts the seas and makes the sun stand still and calls the universe into existence!” “Impossible? No not for God! Nothing is impossible for Him!” The speaker was pacing the stage, calling the women in the arena to faith. Hearts were being stirred. “If God is asking the impossible from you, it is because He intends to do the impossible through you! He is the God of the Impossible!” Women were on their feet, hands raised in the air, shouting their agreement. Except for one who sat near me. She wore the face of a weary soul. Sad. Tired. Longing to believe, but too exhausted to hold on. I knew her and I knew her story. I knew about the harsh struggles she faced each day. God pricked my heart for her, so at the break, when everyone ran to the bathrooms and the merchant tables, I walked over and sat beside her.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked her. “Oh, yes!” she said, “It’s all very hopeful and encouraging.” “You don’t look very encouraged,” I gently said. Her hands fell into her lap as she dropped her smiling mask. She sighed. “God hasn’t asked me to do the impossible, just something that’s very hard. Something that requires so much physical and mental energy every single day.” I hugged her and said, “Sweet friend, He is not just the God of the impossible, He’s also the God of this-is-so-hard.”

Some things we face in life are not impossible, but just really difficult. They are the things that wear us down and wear us out. It may be a person – big or small. It may be a demanding job or strained finances. It might be long-standing grief and deafening silence. It may be a physical issue, a nagging disappointment, or an overload of responsibility. It’s not parting the sea or taking down giants. But it’s hard. Every. Single. Day.

Maybe you don’t need the impossible – you just need some strength to get through the next day. God’s got you, Beloved. Genesis 18:14 asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” I can assure you, on the authority of God’s Word and personal experience, that the answer is “No.”

A Day of Life and Joy

Exactly four years ago today, we came back home about as low as we could get. All our worldly goods were crammed in a U-Haul and discouragement and anxiety were piled high and heavy on our shoulders. And I was seriously ill and in tremendous pain. We were both jobless with very little in the bank. My husband had become disabled. I was nearing 60 and struggling to find a job.  We didn’t know what we were going to do, how we were going to survive – or even if we were going to survive, We were broke and broken.

In a few months, God opened a door to the best job – my dream job at a small Bible college, and the opportunity to continue my education. I’m still there and I’m still studying. In the months between He provided as only He can.  We never lacked anything. He continues to do it today.

Then exactly one year to the day from the worst day of our lives came the best day of our lives when Joy De’anna Andrews stole our hearts. Today is her third birthday.  May 29th has become the epitome of Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and Joy.” That verse has been a lifeline to me for more than thirty years. It was the verse I clung to through seven years of infertility until our son was born. I’m holding on to it still as I pray for him to surrender to Christ. It is one of my “go-to-verses” when life gets hard. Let’s just say I go there a lot. It reminds me to never give up on God.

I say the same to you – if things are hard today, do not give up. God has been so faithful and good to us and I know with all my heart that He will do the same for you. Beloved, as long as your heart is beating – even if it’s broken – God is not done with your story. I’m living proof. He turned this once sad day on the calendar into a day of Joy! Hold onto hope. Hold onto God. Life and Joy are coming.

Waiting for the Sunrise

Psalm 130 is a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word, I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (v. 6). This is not just aimless waiting, it means “to hope in, to look for, to expect.” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sunrise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who put his hope in the word of God while he waited. He was confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment. If you know his story (Genesis 37, 39-50) you know that while he waited he served and ministered wherever he was – in Potipher’s house and even in prison. He knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise.

What has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more wonderful than you ever imagined. God never forgets His promises, Beloved. He is forever faithful, and even more dependable than the sunrise.

You can be Free from Shame

If your life has always been sunshine and rainbows, you can skip it today. But if you have scars on your body or on your heart, if you carry a backpack of sorrow and shame, please stay. God has a word for you.

Isaiah prophesied the coming Babylonian captivity. Why was all this happening? Because they were a “sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They [had] forsaken the Lord; they [had] spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him” (Is 1:4). They were steeped in sin and idolatry. Judgment was coming.

Can you relate? I sure can. I have a past filled with regret and shame. I have been places, done things, and been with people I should have given a wide berth. I have made some foolish, disastrous decisions. I hurt people. I hurt myself. You may be nodding your head right now. You understand. You’ve done the same. Maybe you’re still doing it.

But maybe your past wasn’t your foolish actions, but someone else’s. You were abused, misused, rejected, stepped on, then stepped over. I understand that too. Mixed in with my own sin is the stain of others’ sins. A counselor once told me that my actions were a reaction to others’ actions against me. If you hear, “You’re so stupid!” enough you start to act stupid. If you’re treated like you’re worthless you believe you’re worthless and you act like you’re worthless. This is my life story, but I bet I’m ringing some bells.

However you got your backpack of shame, I want you to listen to God’s words: “Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth” (Is 54:4). “How?” you ask, “it’s a huge, heavy burden”. Jesus. Jesus is how you can be free from shame. Because Jesus took it all to the cross. And to the grave. And when He rose to life three days later, He left it all in the ground. God declared, “The former things will not be remembered; nor will they come to mind” (Is 65:17). In Jesus you are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). That’s your story now, Beloved. Set your backpack down and go live like who you are. Forgiven and free.

Holding onto Hope

I had hoped in a dream that I believed was God’s plan for me – it was exciting and I was filled with anticipation.  But when my life turned in a different direction, I set my backpack full of dreams down and shuffled off on this unwanted new path.

The Bible mentions several people who stood at the same crossroads.  Moses, Elijah, and Naomi come to mind.  Peter and several of the disciples, uncertain of where their lives are going after Jesus’ death, dejectedly went back to fishing (John 21).  And then there are two of Jesus’ followers walking on the dusty road to Emmaus when they encounter a stranger.  They tell him about Jesus (isn’t that a kick), sadly saying, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They saw their lives going in a completely different direction than they expected.

Part of the problem is our understanding of the word “hope.”  We say, “I hope it doesn’t rain out the picnic today.”  “I hope he asks me to the prom.”  “I hope you feel better soon.” – but these are spoken like “wishful thinking.”  The Bible portrays hope as “an attitude of confidently looking forward to what is good and beneficial.”  It’s not a hope in circumstances. It’s a hope in God. A hope that we can carry with us no matter what twists and turns life takes.  Better yet, it’s a hope that carries us no matter what.  That’s the kind of hope you and I need.

Remember Peter and those disciples on the road to Emmaus – the ones who had lost hope? Their stories didn’t end there.  At the end of that fishing trip was breakfast with the risen Jesus and restored hope for Peter.  At the end of the Emmaus road was the joyful realization that the stranger in their midst was the resurrected Lord Himself. 

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true at last there is life and joy.”  I believe this is an assurance that our God-given dreams don’t get cast aside when life takes an unexpected turn.  Because God expected that turn, even if I didn’t, and somehow the dreams He planted in my heart will make the turn too. And when He brings them to reality, they may not look exactly like I envisioned, but they will be full of life and Joy.  And hope.

Give Careful Thought

Tucked away in the latter part of the Old Testament is the tiny book of Haggai. It is only two chapters, a total of 38 verses but it has a lot to say. Rather, God has a lot to say in this little book. Haggai prophesied after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. They started returning home after Cyrus’ edict around 538 b.c. They came back to a ruined Jerusalem, and most heartbreaking of all – a destroyed temple. At first, they were devoted to rebuilding the temple but neighboring nations and their personal issues interfered so they abandoned that work and settled for building “paneled houses” (1:4) for themselves.

Isn’t this how it happens for you and me? We start this Christian walk with enthusiasm and determination, but “trouble and persecution” and the “worries of this life” (Matt 13:21-22) cause us to lose our motivation and desire for the things of God. Before long we’re sleeping in on Sundays and turning our focus on ourselves.

Haggai exhorts the Jews to finish the temple work more than twenty years after it was begun. And he gives them the Word of the Lord. A repetitive word. Five times God says” “Give careful thought . . .” (1:5, 7; 2:15, and 18 twice). The word combination has the idea of taking hold of one’s thoughts – not gently – but by force. This reminds me of Paul’s message to the Corinthian church: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

There are a lot of things that we cannot control, but you and I can – and must – control our thoughts. That includes everything from the sinful imagery we replay to angry conversations we imagine to self-exaltation, self-condemnation, and self-pity. It’s all in our hands – or rather in our minds. I’m preaching to myself here – this is one of the hardest battles I face. It is so easy to let my thoughts run my mind and thus my heart. The problem is, they always run me into a ditch of apathy, doubt, discouragement, and fear. So, I’m taking my mind – and my heart – back. I’m going to give careful thought to my thoughts and bring them into submission to Christ. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. What about you, Beloved? Are you ready to take your thoughts – and your life – back?

When Life Ain’t Fair

Life is hard. Whether you’re a Christian or not, life is hard. The truth is, life is often harder for believers. I know it. You know it. So did the writers of the Psalms. Check out Psalm 73. Asaph is devoted to God, but he looks around and sees that the wicked have it so much better. They enjoy prosperity and good health and have no worries about following all the rules while he struggles with ill health, loss, and the burden of the Law. It just wasn’t fair.

Our Sunday School class has been studying Job, and he speaks of that often. The ungodly live a seemingly carefree life while the godly are oppressed, harassed, persecuted, and disparaged. I get it! But I don’t get it. I don’t understand the disparity, do you? We’re God’s people. It should be easier than this. I think Asaph expressed it well: “When I tried to understand this, it was too painful for me (v. 16 HCSB)” The Message says: “When I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache.” Can you relate? Headaches and heartaches seem to be the believer’s lot in life. “Well,” I hear you thinking, “this is all so cheery and encouraging.” Just wait.

After Asaph takes a BC powder, he gets a new revelation.  Verse 17 is the hinge verse: “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood . . .” Translation: It’s not about this life, it’s about eternity. It’s about the bigger picture. The days of struggle we experience on planet earth are “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17) in light of eternity. Yes, it’s hard here, but it’s glorious there – and the glory lasts forever while this life is just one tick on the clock of forever.

You and I must learn to look at our troubles – all of life in fact – with an eternal mindset. You may live in a tiny rented trailer today, but you will have a mansion for eternity. My husband struggles through debilitating health problems right now, but he will have a perfect body forever. My head (and my heart) hurt a lot these days, but I know I will experience endless Joy. Beloved, take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and be encouraged. This life is not all there is. Eternity is waiting, and it’s going to be perfect. Forever.