Here are two words that we have lost the meaning of, and we are so much worse for wear because of it. How can we so lose sight of God, and we do not understand this concept? What was the last time that you heard a sermon preached on Divine Providence?
Yet, the heroes of the Bible understood this. Look what Joseph had to say to his brothers that had treated him so poorly.
Genesis 50:20 (New King James Version)
20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Have you ever driven in a car and had no idea what was over the next bend? If you really can't see into the distance, there is always the possibility of making a wrong turn, having an accident, or driving past your desired destination.
God is above our earthly view, and he can see around the curves and hills. From his vantage point, he can help us "tune our driving" so that we don't make mistakes. It is his perspective that allows him to direct our path with divine providence.
However, the lack of understanding of divine providence is something that has plagued the church for a long time.
To quote Wesley from Sermon 67:
"There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation[ie divine providene], which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood. Let us endeavor then, with the assistance of God, to examine it to the bottom; to see upon what foundation it stands, and what it properly implies."
As Wesley pointed out in his sermon, the subject of providence is not limited to Christians, and indeed, the idea was found much more firmly inside of Greek thought rather than inside of Christian thought.
However, the Greeks based providence is one of fatalism. They believe that we are powerless to change anything, and the threads of fate will cause us to be swept along with nary an objection.
However, for those of a Wesleyan theological bent, we see the following out of the scriptures:
1. God has a plan for our lives
2. He is weaving all of those plans together
3. We can see the events in our life as signs from God
4. Our free will is captured in how we will internally respond to God's guiding hand
5. However, God's will cannot be changed. If we are not willingly be conformed to the divine providence of God, then we will be destroyed.
My nephew recently told of a story of forgetting something, and then rather than being disappointed in forgetting this item, we went back to get it and accepted that God wanted a delay in his schedule. Because of this delay, we was able to meet a friend that he would have either wise missed.
Where was his "free will" exercised in this event? If you looked at this, you might say "he had no free will, because God was manipulating the circumstances to have him meet his friend." This is not true. The freewill came when he reacted to the change in schedule. This is where he has the ability to impact the outcome:
a. He could have been all ticked that he had forgotten something
b. He could have thanked the Lord for the delay and looked for the reason why
In this case, he said that we wondered what God was up to. Received the delay with a good heart, and he was delighted with the results of this delay. This is his exercise of free will to accept the plan that God has laid out for him on that day.
God has a cycle that he takes us through:
1. Get a set back
2. See how we react to it
3. Depending on the out come of our reaction, he leads us in two different paths
Let's look at my life. I have had 3 major issues in my working career that looked like major setbacks because of "bad events" that happened to me.
In each of these "bad events," I got an extraordinary physical blessing. Here is a list of extraordinary good events that happened after these bad events (and each case was tied to the bad event through a clear chain of events):
a. My salary was doubled
b. I received almost a years worth of salary on top of my current salary
c. I received a massive amount of stock
These three separate events were years apart, so it it wasn't just one big miracle.
Even more importantly, all of these events happened without me contributing. The only reason why I list them here is because it was so obviously completely and total beyond my control, it was clearly a miracle that I had absolutely, and I mean absolutely nothing to do with.
Now, I don't believe God because he has blessed me.
Although I don't like to think about it, God can decide to test me at anytime: even as a righteous man ala Job. However, the above events are just so strange and wonderful that they have become a touchstone of faith in my life. The children of Israel had the parting of the Red Sea. I have my three financial events.
Out of the events above, in sheer joyous response, I have been able to fund a couple things that is in the Lord's work. Now, I want to be clear. I hate, absolutely hate the idea that if you give God money that he is obligated to give you something back. I did not give back to the Lord because it was going to "keep the cycle coming." The idea that you give money to the Lord to get back money on earth is horrible theology. However, if God does miracles in your life and you are not gracious and thankful something is fundamentally broken inside of your Christianity.
The next time something good happens in your life say, "Thank you God, let me be gracious and accept this perfect gift from your divine providence." And, like our spiritual forefathers in the Old Testament make an offering to the Lord for the goodness that he has given you. Write the good event down and remember it.
The next time something bad happens in you life say, "Thank you God, and although this bothers me tremendously and I cannot sleep, I know that you are behind this all, and your divine providence is guiding all of this. I will trust and love you despite the bad things in my life. Please delivery me quickly and safely through this time of trial."
Understand Divine Providence and this short vapor of a life will be all the more rewarding.