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Tuesday
Sep062011

Welcome To Providence

The providence of God is one of those Bible subjects that is monumentally important, but perceived to be so mysterious that Christians might be better off ignoring it, lest we be thought like the charismatics. When we study the providence of God, however, miracles play only a small role in the subject, and in fact, we provoke God’s providence every time we pray anyway. It is not only safe to discuss providence, it is necessary to keep us from falling into deism, a belief system that basically portrays God as apathetic and powerless since the morning after creation. In today’s lesson, we shall study about providence and the way that it affected certain Bible characters. We hope that we will come away with a better appreciation for how God answers prayer today, in the wisest way.

 

Discussion

 I. I Will Provide

A. Providence is Providing

1. the mysterious word “providence” is really a very simple derivative of “provide”

2. it does not burst the bubble entirely to come to grips with the fact that providence is nothing more than God answering prayer or participating in the affairs of men by his own prerogative

3. God’s providence remains special and even retains some of its mysterious quality, for he does indeed often work in mysterious ways

 

B. Abraham and Isaac

1. Abraham was a firm believer in God’s providence and he believed even in miracles, even when God told him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise (Genesis 22:9-14)

a. to Isaac’s question about the provision of a flesh sacrifice, Abraham responded that God would provide

b. he was hiding a bit of the truth from his son, for Abraham thought then that he would carry through with God’s strange command and slay his son, but he believed that since God could provide him an heir in his old age, he could also resurrect that heir from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19)

2. God did provide, but not in the way that Abraham anticipated; it was a better way

3. so often our entreaties for God’s providence anticipate one perfect way of fulfillment, but God is able to discover a better way and sometime answers our prayer by that way instead

 

C. Ruth and Boaz

1. the courtship of Ruth and Boaz is all about providence; I believe that many courtships today are the product of providence, too

2. Ruth and her mother-in-law were living in Moab, when Naomi’s husband and sons died, leaving the ladies widowed

a. Naomi decided to return to Israel, but entreated Ruth and her sister-in-law, Orpah, to remain in Moab with their people and religion

b. Orpah stayed, but Ruth insisted on going to Israel with Naomi

c. their lot in Israel was difficult and it was next to impossible for a young foreign widow like Ruth to find a new husband, unless a near-kinsman to Naomi can be found who will accept Ruth as her substitute in carrying on that family’s line

3. but God was watching and listening and poised to act (Ruth 2:1-12)

a. God’s providence made the difference, but you can also see how Ruth’s character played a part in shaping Boaz’s attitude toward her; Ruth was both a tool and object of providence

b. but it is Naomi who first recognizes the divine hand (Ruth 2:19-20)

c. recognizing providence at work can be difficult if we are not paying attention or are intent on having our prayers always answered our way in our time and without any personal effort

 

D. Esther

1. many years later after Israel had fallen to the Babylonians and then the Persians, the new king gave a party in which he called for his beautiful wife to parade herself before his lecherous, drunken friends

a. she refused his immoral demand and was put away for her trouble, leaving the queen’s lesser crown empty

b. King Ahasuerus then planned a great beauty pageant, at which he would select his new wife and queen

c. living in the capital at that time was a crafty Jew named Mordecai, who happened to have a beautiful cousin that he had raised named Esther; he entered her into the beauty contest (Esther 2:16-23)

2. a while later, Mordecai got on the bad side of a high official named Haman, who developed a prejudice against the Jews and persuaded the king to exterminate all of them

a. no one could save the Jews now and so Mordecai called on his cousin in the palace (Esther 4:1-16)

b. reluctant at first, Esther was told that the providence at God was at play in bringing her to the throne for this very day and duty and that she could not refuse to approach her husband

c. sometimes God’s providence requires that we take brave steps and match his grace with our faithfulness

d. she did not perish, but saved her people and Mordecai was elevated in power as well

 

 II. Pursuing Providence

A. Understand That Every Gift Is From Above

1. we daily depend on the providence of God for our livelihoods, even in things like air and water which we take for granted until they are threatened (James 1:16-18)

2. even the unjust are unwitting recipients of God’s grace, for he sends rain and sunshine on them as well as his own people (see Matthew 5:45)

3. we spend so much time wondering what providence is, looking for evidence of it, being disappointed if it is not expressed miraculously and magnificently, that we miss it surrounding us all day every day–we truly cannot see the forest for the trees!

4. providence then is provoked in time of need by effective and fervent and faithful prayer (James 1:6-8; see James 5:16)

a. Abraham believed God would provide and so much we implicitly believe that God will provide, or else our faith is threatened and our effectiveness is diminished

b. it is true that the days of miracles were concluded just after the last apostle went to his grave–manna no longer drops from heaven–but God is not prevented from directing natural means to get his will accomplished

 

B. The Cure For Worry

1. we live in a highly medical age, in which there seems to be a pill to cure everything, or at least mask the symptoms without attacking the cause

a. stress and worry are not modern inventions, but the strange way we deal with them certainly is

b. Christians should try to cure worry and stress before they succumb to the easy way out in treating the symptoms

2. faith in providence means trusting that one can ask God for his necessities and that whatever happens will work toward his ultimate good, even if that goal is obscured in the distance somewhere (Matthew 6:25-34)

a. the trials I must endure will only make me stronger; the thorns in the flesh I must suffer will maintain my humility

b. faith in God’s providence will cure worry, even though it will not necessarily lead to great riches and the satisfaction of every whim spoken heavenward

 

C. Providence Inspires Courage

1. hear Esther proclaim under God’s providential hand: “If I perish, I perish.”

2. the Hebrew writer noted that some early disciples had “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] goods, knowing that [they had] a better and enduring possession for [themselves] in heaven” (10:34)

3. the saints of Asia Minor faced the prospect of being cut off from the marketplace or just plain being cut off at the neck for their faith

4. everyone of them is now safe in Abraham’s bosom for God did provide a solution for them

5. faith in providence gives us courage to do the right thing at any cost (Matthew 10:16, 27-33)

a. much of this passage is specific to the apostles and disciples of a miraculous age and yet the principles of courage still ring true

b. trust that God will provide allows us to answer, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)

 

D. Providence Requires Action and Character

1. Abraham received God’s special providence because he was so faithful that God could say to him, “Now I know that you fear God”

2. Ruth received God’s providence and became a great grandmother of Jesus Christ in the process because she was loyal to her mother, open to Jehovah and willing to work hard in her own interest

3. Esther received God’s providence because she was willing to act with courage and seize the moment, not letting it pass by in hopes of some more convenient time

4. as much as we may pray for providence, it is true, though not said in scripture, that God helps those who help themselves

a. “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat,” the apostle Paul said and this applies to receiving divine providence as well

b. even our own salvation must be worked out with fear and trembling, so, too, the procurement of certain blessings

c. prayer itself is an effort at obtaining what we need, but sometimes securing providence requires that we take leaps of faith and trust in a sure landing

 

Conclusion

Providence is all around us if we will watch for it. Although First Corinthians 13 and experience teach us that miracles have ceased, God is still active in the affairs of men today. When we pray, we invoke his providence.

Questions for Review

  1. How did God provide for Abraham and Isaac?
  2. How did God provide for Ruth and Boaz?
  3. How did God provide through Esther?
  4. What should we do with every gift from above?
  5. What is the cure for worry?
  6. How does providence inspire courage?
  7. How does God help those who help themselves?

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