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.

What You See is What you Want

If you’re of my generation you know whom I’m talking about when I say, “What you see is what you get!”  Flip Wilson created his female character, Geraldine, who uttered that famous catchphrase as “she” danced to show off “her” full figure. Vision is a powerful tool to draw people in. Advertisers depend on it. Beautiful women sell men’s shaving cream.  A buff, handsome man in a flannel shirt sells paper towels. One of the most iconic images in advertising is the Gerber Baby whose face sold countless baby food products. That smile and expression grabbed mothers’ hearts, hoping to bring the same to their babies’ faces. They paraphrased Geraldine, “What you see is what you want.”

Satan counted on that too when he enticed Eve to take the forbidden fruit. And, of course, it worked. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Gen 3:6).  What Eve saw became what she wanted and she fell – and took the entire human race down with her. (Adam’s role in this is a whole other post.)

The start of sin for all of us happens when “our hearts are led by our eyes” (Job 31:7, paraphrased). Sin happens in much the same way as advertising: “We see it, we want it, and we buy it.” That’s why advertisers – and satan – put it in such appealing packaging. But sin also happens because we are looking for it.  James pointed out that temptation and sin tap into the evil desires in our hearts.  (James 1:14). Perhaps that is why the Psalmist said that he would “set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalm 101:3). Consider that verse in a world where “vile things” are available at the tap of a finger. If you want vile, you can get it any time of the day.

How do we break that sinful pattern? We “guard our heart” by “letting our eyes look straight ahead and fixing our gaze directly before us” (Prov. 23,25). At what? David knew. “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). If your eyes are always on the Lord, He will be the desire of your heart. And what you see is what you want.

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.

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.

Are You Paying Attention?

This morning I very quickly typed in my laptop’s password – maybe a little too quickly because it was wrong. I tried again and still messed it up. I tried a third time, slowly, paying careful attention to the keys I was hitting. And I got it right that time. God has been impressing those two words on my heart a lot in the past several years. “Pay attention.” In so many areas of my life, I need to pay attention. In my job, at home, in my relationships, in my schoolwork, and in my ministry. And with my granddaughter. It’s not enough to sit in the same room with her and watch TV or scroll through my phone while she plays. No – she wants Nana’s full attention. And I give it to her gladly because building a block castle, rolling the ball across the floor, or helping her wrap up her baby doll is better than anything on TV or my phone.

My password debacle made me think of the discipline several of us are doing, writing out small portions of Scripture every day to eventually write through the entire Bible. We’ve all noted how much we’re discovering because writing forces us to pay attention to every word. For instance, as we’re writing through Job we’re seeing little glimpses – and a few bold declarations – about Jesus that we never noticed before. On the surface, Job is a depressing book and we tend to want to get through it as quickly as possible. But it looks so different at a slower pace.

Now I had a different direction in mind for this devotional and the Spirit just completely re-routed it. So here goes. He pointed out just now John’s proclamation that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1) We know that “the Word” was Jesus (v. 14). By paying attention to every word of the Word, I am paying attention to Jesus. I can’t think of anything better to give my attention to. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you have to take pen to paper and write out every word in the Bible, (but if you want to, I’ll post a link to our group in the comments) – but I am saying that taking the Bible – taking the Word – at a slower pace allows you to see things you’ve never seen before.

Beloved, what are you missing? What do you want to see? How might it change your life if you paid attention to the Word – and the Word made flesh?

When the Heat is On

A woman read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold so she visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious elements. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or impure elements, to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked, “How do you know when it’s ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection.”

You and I are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure. God uses all sorts of “heat” – financial struggles, relational heartache, health problems, emotions, culture, rejection, persecution, consequences, and yes, often spiritual heat to bring the impurities in us to the surface where they can be removed. How do I know this? He’s been cooking some junk out of me for a while. Why would He do that to me? Because, like His friend Peter, some things in me need to be removed before God can use me for His Kingdom and His glory. Remember in Luke 22:31-32 how Jesus allowed His friend to be sifted by satan? He let His disciple go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter (Luke 22:54-62). Afterward, Peter became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:14-41. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

None of us welcome the seasons of suffering and pain in our lives but know that God is at work, purifying your faith and refining you to be His witness to the world. And you can be assured that in this time of intense heat, He is leaning in close and carefully watching over you, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in you. And don’t forget that Jesus is praying for you (Luke 22:32). In the end you, Beloved, will come forth a beautiful vessel for His glory.

Only Words?

How can we rate our faith in God? Listen to your words when your guard is down. Our truest selves come tumbling out of our mouths in our private moments, when life is hard or when we’re weary, anxious, in pain, or taken by surprise. Our unguarded words reveal a lot about us. Let me give you two examples from the Bible. Raw emotions often speak the truth from the deepest part of our hearts.

God had rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and was leading them toward the Promised Land. Moses sent out twelve spies to investigate the area. Their report was both encouraging and frightening. The land was very fruitful but it was also inhabited by fierce giants. The people began to grumble asking, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword . . . [and] our wives and children [be] taken as plunder?” (Num 14:3). Wait. Did they not just walk through the sea on dry ground!? But their words expressed the fear and lack of faith in their hearts. And God was listening. He said “I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell then, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say.’” (Num 14:27-28). That’s a terrifying statement.

Contrast their words with the words of Job, who suffered more in one day than you and I will suffer in a lifetime. He lost his wealth, his children, and his health. Oh, he was very upset with God and was not shy about expressing it. But despite it all, Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth. He said that a day is coming when “I myself will see Him with my own eyes” (Job 19:25,27). Do you hear the heart behind those words? That is faith speaking.

Listen to Jesus’ words about words: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). What you say in those unguarded moments says volumes about what you believe in your heart. And God is listening.  If he did to you the very things He heard you say how would that turn out for you? Beloved, make sure that the “words of [your] mouth and the meditation of [your] heart are pleasing in God’s ears (Ps 19:14).

Pointing Fingers

I’m studying Job in two groups right now – I am sure by God’s provident timing. In the first two chapters of Job, satan comes before the Lord twice to give an account of what he’s been up to. I have a note jotted beside satan’s second appearance before God: “last mention of satan.” This is the last time that ugly face is seen in this book. But it’s not the last time satan himself shows up. You can bet he is the impetus behind what comes next in Job’s story.

You know the story. God gives satan permission to take all that Job has – his wealth, his children, and his health – to prove that Job will never curse the Lord. Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar come to “sympathize with him and comfort him” (v. 11). When they see him sitting on the trash heap, covered in sores and misery, “they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights” and “No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (v. 13). If only they had kept their mouths shut.

I said that satan’s last mention was in chapter two, but he shows up in Job’s “friends” every time they speak. They all condemn Job for what must be grievous sin in his life. Why else would God bring such harsh punishment on him? But they don’t know what God has said about Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8; 2:3). Satan didn’t have to show his face, he just let E, B, and Z do his dirty work. If Job’s friends truly wanted to comfort him, they should have reminded him of God’s faithfulness and love. They should have sang songs of hope, not blasted him with condemnation. Rather than comforting their friend, they added to his suffering.

Here’s my takeaway: Never assume you know a person’s heart before God and God’s reason for their situation. We are called to a ministry of “encouraging, comforting, and urging [one another] to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:12). We are not called to “straighten one another out.” I don’t want to ever be satan’s tool of misery in someone’s life, no matter how “righteous” my reasoning. Beloved, make sure you are God’s messenger of grace, not satan’s sledgehammer.

Tapestry

May be an image of indoor

Our Sunday School class is studying Job and this poor fellow has lost everything including his wealth, his children, and his reputation. He was left with a bitter wife, a few terrified servants, and painful boils all over his body. In his pain, he said, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, they come to an end without hope” (7:6). Beside this verse I wrote, “Unless God is the weaver.”

Years ago I was an avid cross-stitcher. One day, as I was working on an intricate design-a mixture of dark and light colors and metallics, I flipped the fabric over and saw that the reverse side of my work was a mess of knots and tangles and threads crossing from side to side, looking nothing like the picture that was forming on top.

That is when the Holy Spirit revealed a precious truth to me: My life is like that cross-stitch picture. While I only see the bottom of the fabric, with all my imperfections, sorrows, hurts, and trials, God is working on the top, and He sees the beautiful picture He is creating from the master design He has planned. Where I see tangles and knots and wonder why there are so many dark colors – God sees light contrasting against dark and how brilliantly the gold and silver threads of His majesty and glory stand out against the dark places in my life. And isn’t that the purpose of my life – to make much of God, to glorify Him and show His beauty to the dark world?

Your life is a masterpiece in the making and the Master Craftsman is adding light here and shadow there, a splash of joy, broad strokes of wonder, and accents of peace amid dark shades of sorrow and heartache. Oh, Beloved if you could only see – the pattern God is using as He crafts your life is the image of His Perfect Son.

The Weaver

My life is but a weaving

Between my Lord and me,

I cannot choose the colors

He worketh steadily.

Oftimes He weaveth sorrow,

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper

And I, the underside.

Not till the loom in silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas

And explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful

In the Weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern, He has planned.

– Grant Colfax Tullar 

Job, the Devil, and Me

See the source image

“God,” I prayed as I drove home, “every time I think it can’t get much harder, it gets harder. The vice gets tighter. The weight gets heavier.” You get it. I read your posts. I hear your prayer concerns. But as I passed the cotton fields I heard very clearly, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas?” And suddenly I had a glimpse into the unseen world. You probably recognized this as coming from Job, the hard-pressed Old Testament fellow who suffered enormously just to prove satan wrong.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. One day satan came before the Lord who threw down a challenge: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:8). To which satan replied, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (1:10). He then offered up a challenge: take it all away and the man will curse you to your face. Twice God allowed satan to test Job, first taking away everything he had – including his children – then afflicting him with physical pain and misery. The only thing he left Job was his shrew of a wife and his condescending “friends.” And the Scripture says Job “fell down to the ground in worship (1:20) and adds “In all of this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (2:10).

What if satan is still at it? Isn’t he “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10).  And what if God really did say, “Have you considered my servant Dorcas” (God speaks to and of me by my given name). Don’t you see?  Satan continues to accuse and press and annoy and abuse God’s people to prove the same point – we only love Him for what He does for us.

And now we understand why that “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is rooting us on to trust God to our last breath. They are telling us that whatever hardships we face will be worth it in the end. Because our God will never, ever fail us. Oh, Beloved, stand strong with the Lord. Do not curse Him for the hard things you face, but trust in His goodness and faithfulness. Let’s prove the devil wrong to his ugly face.