Always Thankful For Everything

Text: Ephesians 5:20

One of the evidences of being filled with the Spirit is a heart overflowing with thankfulness. Specifically, buy more about we are told to ‘give thanks always for everything’ – words which have massive implications concerning God’s providential rule in our lives. Here’s why…

Interpreting Providence

storm8Thomas S. Kidd is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University, and the author of books including George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, Jonathan Edwards was confident in his ability to discern God’s purposes in earthly events. For example, during a 1736 drought, he explained that God was chastising New Englanders for the “corruption in our hearts.” Similarly, during a plague of crop-destroying worms in the 1740s, he suggested that the people’s neglect of the poor had precipitated the infestation.

This kind of assurance about God’s intentions has become passé among most conservative Christians today. But not everyone across the American religious and political spectrum has given up on such close providential readings. I was reminded of this fact recently when I became a minor player in a kerfuffle with radio host Glenn Beck over presidential politics. Beck is a Mormon, an ardent supporter of Ted Cruz, and an opponent of Donald Trump. He said recently that evangelicals who support Trump are not “listening to their God.” God has made it clear, Beck says, that Cruz is the chosen man for this election.

Asked to comment on this story by Breitbart News, I replied that “the Bible certainly offers principles on how to think about government and politics. The Bible does not, however, tell us which individual candidates to vote for…There are many reasons why devout Christians should hesitate to vote for Donald Trump, but God has not revealed Ted Cruz as the divinely anointed alternative, either.” In reply, Beck said on his radio program “To you, Dr. Kidd. To you. To you God hasn’t revealed Cruz as divinely anointed.” But Beck believes that “Ted Cruz actually was anointed for this time.”

In the midst of this brouhaha, I happened also to read Gerald McDermott’s fascinating book chapter “Jonathan Edwards and the National Covenant: Was He Right?” In that piece, McDermott examines Edwards’ confident readings of worms, droughts, and other instances of how earthly events reflected God’s disciplining hand. Today we associate such prophetic readings with the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and now Beck, who may have a more natural openness to the idea of God’s ongoing revelations because of his Mormonism. Whatever their individual merits or personal beliefs, contemporary figures like these have nothing like the theological or intellectual chops of Edwards. What has changed? Why has the interpretation of God’s purposes in current events become theologically marginal, in a way that it was not in the eighteenth century? Have we lost courage in explaining God’s ways to man?

Over-readings of God’s providence were relatively easy targets of ridicule for the new skeptics and deists of the eighteenth century. For them, Edwards’ kind of interpretation raised obvious questions with no easy answers. Does an absence of drought or worms mean that people are without sin? What did it mean when non-Christians around the world enjoyed abundant harvests, and heavily Christian regions went without? And what of Matthew 5:45’s statement that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”? Many traditional Christians abandoned close providential readings of current events because, with all due respect to Edwards, those interpretations are easier to defend when no one is asking difficult questions about them.

Yet Gerald McDermott suggests that we also lost good things when we gave up on providential readings of history. Christians certainly believe that God is the Lord of history, and that all things have meaning and purpose within God’s economy. No ruler comes to power, and no nation falls, without God’s sovereign permission. Providential interpretations of a nation’s suffering and turmoil remind us that we stand under universal moral standards. No matter how powerful and wealthy, no nation (perhaps especially those with high rates of professed Christian faith) can expect to provoke God forever with no consequences. Continue reading

Unstoppable Providence

Acts 27:39-28:16

Shipwrecked, exhausted, cold and wet, Paul is then bitten by a snake. All of this is under God’s providential rule, and through these events, Malta is reached with the Gospel.

The Peace of Providence

Acts 23:12-25

After 40 men swear an oath not to eat until Paul is killed, God intervenes by means of Paul’s nephew over-hearing of the plot and alerting Paul. The passage bears great testimony to God’s providential rule in the affairs of men.

Meticulous Providence

decree“Whether God has decreed all things that ever come to pass or not, own that He knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident that if He knows all things beforehand, He either doth approve of them or doth not approve of them; that is, He either is willing they should be, or He is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them” – Jonathan Edwards

In an article entitled “How Involved Is God in the Details of Your Life?” Jon Bloom writes:

Why does God give us more details about Joseph’s life than any other individual in Genesis?

Genesis has an interesting structure. It zooms over the creation account like a rocket (about 3% of the book), soars over the millennia between Adam and Abraham like a jet (about 15% — dropping speed and altitude over Noah), and cruises over Abraham (21%), Isaac (8%), and Jacob (23%) like a helicopter, hovering here and there. Then it sort of drives down the road of Joseph’s life, devoting to it nearly 30% of its content.

God is always intentional in his proportionality. More does not necessarily equal more important in God’s word economy. The epistle to the Ephesians is much shorter than the narrative of Joseph’s life, but it is not less important. However, more does imply take note. There are crucial things God wants us to see.

God has many reasons to drive us through Joseph’s life, some more obvious than others. Let’s look at one perhaps lesser obvious reason.

Sightings of Sovereignty in the Life of Joseph

On this drive, if we’re paying attention to the scenery out the windows, we see a startling and unnerving level of God’s providential involvement in the details of Joseph’s life. Here are some of the scenes (warning: some of these scenes you may find disturbing).

Joseph’s place in the Patriarchal birth order was part of God’s plan (Genesis 30:22–24).
This means Rachel’s agonizing struggle with infertility was part of God’s plan (Genesis 30:1–2).
Jacob’s romantic preference of Rachel and therefore his (probably paternally insensitive) favoritism shown to Joseph was part of God’s plan (Genesis 29:30, 37:3).
Joseph’s prophetic dreams were (obviously) part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:5–11).
His brothers’ jealously (note: sibling rivalry and family conflict) was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:8).
His brothers’ evil, murderous, greedy betrayal of him, and Judah’s part in it, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:18–28, 50:20).
His brothers’ 20-plus year deception of Jacob regarding Joseph was part of God’s plan.
The existence of an evil slave trade at the time was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:26–27).
Potiphar’s complicity with the slave trade and his position in Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 37:36).
Joseph’s extraordinary administrative gifting was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:2–4).
Joseph’s favor with Potiphar was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:4–6).
Potiphar’s wife’s being given over to sexual immorality was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:8–12, Romans 1:24).
Potiphar’s wife’s dishonesty was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:14–18).
Potiphar’s unjust judgment of Joseph was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:19–20).
The particular prison Joseph was sent to — the one that would receive the cupbearer and the baker — was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:20).
Joseph’s favor with the prison warden was part of God’s plan (Genesis 39:21–23).
The high-level conspiracy and its exposure resulting in the imprisonment of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:1–3).
Joseph being appointed to care for them was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:4).
The dreams the cupbearer and baker had were (obviously) part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:5).
Joseph’s compassionate care for their troubled hearts was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:6–7).
Their trusting Joseph’s integrity enough to confide their dreams in him was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:8–20).
Joseph discerning the meaning of their dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:12–13, 18–19).
The Egyptian judicial processes that exonerated the cupbearer and condemned the baker were part of God’s plan (Genesis 40:20–22).
The cupbearer failing to remember Joseph for two years was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:23–42:1).
The timing of Pharaoh’s dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:1–7).
The inability of Pharaoh’s counselors to discern his dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:8).
The cupbearer remembering Joseph and having the courage to remind Pharaoh of a potentially suspicious event was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:9–13).
Pharaoh’s being desperate enough to listen to a Hebrew prisoner was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:14–15).
Joseph having discernment of Pharaoh’s dreams was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:25–36).
The miraculous amount of immediate trust that Pharaoh placed in Joseph’s interpretation and counsel was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:37–40).
Joseph being given Asenath (an Egyptian) for a wife was part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:45).
Joseph’s two sons by Asenath, Manasseh and Ephraim, were part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:50–52, 48:5).
The complex confluence of natural phenomena that caused the extraordinarily fruitful years followed by the extraordinarily desolate years, with all the resulting human prosperity and suffering, and the consolidation of Egyptian wealth and power in Pharaoh’s hands were part of God’s plan (Genesis 41:53–57; 47:13–26).
The threat of starvation that caused terrible fear and moved Jacob to send his sons to Egypt for grain was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:1–2).
The brothers’ safe journey to Egypt and Benjamin’s non-participation was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:3–4).
The brothers’ bowing to Joseph in unwitting fulfillment of the dreams they hated was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:6).
Joseph’s whole scheme to test his brothers was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:9–44:34).
Simeon’s being chosen to remain in Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:24). Jacob’s refusal to release Benjamin to return to Egypt causing the delay of the brothers’ return and Simeon’s bewildering experience in custody was part of God’s plan (Genesis 42:38).
The relentless threat of starvation that prompted Judah to make his personal guarantee of Benjamin’s safe return and forced Jacob to finally allow Benjamin go to Egypt was part of God’s plan (Genesis 43:8–14).
The success with which Joseph was able to continue to conceal his identity and pull off the framing of Benjamin for thievery and all the anguish the brothers experienced as a result was part of God’s plan (Genesis 43:15–44:17).
Judah’s willingness to exchange his life for Benjamin’s out of love for his father, and thus initiating his own sale into slavery like he initiated Joseph’s sale into slavery, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 44:18–34).
Joseph’s timing in revealing himself to his brothers was part of God’s plan (Genesis 45:1–14).
Jacob being told by his sons of Joseph’s survival and position in Egypt (and the exposure of his sons’ 20-plus-year deceit with all the accompanying pain) was part of God’s plan (Genesis 45:25–28).
God directing Jacob to move to Egypt was (obviously) part of God’s plan (Genesis 46:2–4).
The relocation of the entire clan of Israel to Egypt, where they would reside and grow for 430 years and eventually become horribly enslaved, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:13–14, was part of God’s plan (Genesis 46:5–47:12).

If we wished, there are more sightings we could include from this drive. But these give us a lot to chew on. Continue reading

If God Wills

Providence: God rules over nations and empires as well as each sparrow that falls to the ground. In the good and the hard things of life, God is working out His eternal purposes, for the good of His people and His glory.

Acts 18:12-28

The Providence of God

Transcript

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Now one of the things that jumps out at me about this verse is the strength of conviction that the Apostle expresses when he writes these words. You know, patient it wasn’t that he said, “I sure hope that everything is going to come out well in the end.’ Or, ‘I believe that things will work out according to the will of God. But he says, “For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and are the called according to His purpose.” I mean, he’s speaking here with an apostolic assurance about an idea that is so basic and so fundamental to living the Christian life, that I think that we can from this passage derive great comfort.

But I’m also afraid that in this day and age the strength of conviction that is expressed here by Paul is very much absent from our churches and from our Christian communities. And there’s been a striking change in our cultural understanding of the way in which our lives relate to the sovereign government of God.

Some of you in recent years had the opportunity to see the series on television, the mini-series on the Civil War. And one of the most moving segments of that series was when the narrator read letters that have survived from soldiers of both sides of the conflict in the war between the states. As they would write home to their loved ones, to their wives, or to their mothers or fathers on the eave of a battle, and they would talk about their concerns, and about their fears and their apprehensions. And yet they would say frequently in these letters, ‘But my life is in the hands of a good, benevolent, providence. And to Him do I trust myself body and soul.’

There was a time when people settled this country and they would name a city Providence, like the town in Rhode Island. But who in the world would do that in our culture today? The whole idea of divine providence has all but disappeared from our culture, and that’s a tragic thing. I think if any way in which the secular mindset has made inroads into the Christian community, it’s with a worldview that assumes that everything that happens out there, happens according to fixed, natural causes. And God, if He is anywhere doing anything, is above and beyond it all, and He’s just a spectator up in heaven looking down and perhaps rooting us on and cheerleading for us, but He has no immediate control over what happens here.

Whereas the Christians of the church of all centuries have always had an acute sense that this is our Father’s world, and that the affairs of men and nations, in the final analysis, are in His hands.

God’s Providence

by James Montgomery Boice

There is probably no point at which the Christian doctrine of God comes more into conflict with contemporary worldviews than in the matter of God’s providence. Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world’s Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs. Many think that miracles do not happen, that prayer isn’t answered and that most things “fall out” according to the functioning of impersonal and unchangeable laws.

The world argues that evil abounds. How can evil be compatible with the concept of a good God who is actively ruling this world? There are natural disasters: fires, earthquakes, and floods. In the past, these have been called “acts of God.” Should we blame God for them? Isn’t it better to imagine that he simply has left the world to pursue its own course?

Such speculation can be answered on two levels. First, even from the secular perspective, such thinking is not as obvious as it seems. Second, it is not the teaching of the Bible.

A Universe on Its Own?

The idea of an absentee God is certainly not obvious in reference to nature, the first of the three major areas of God’s creation discussed earlier. The great question about nature, raised by even the earliest Greek philosophers as well as by contemporary scientists, is why there is a pattern to nature’s operations even though nature is constantly changing. Nothing is ever the same. Rivers flow, mountains rise and fall, flowers grow and die, the sea is in constant motion. Yet, in a sense everything remains the same. The experience of one generation with nature is akin to the experience of generations that have gone before.
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