Three weeks or so ago, I decided to start listening to R.C. Sproul. I’ve mostly tuned in to some seminary sessions of his that cover the Providence of God, which you can find here, if you’d like. He’s an excellent speaker when it comes to anything, but especially Providence. He will make you think, but not so much you walk away with a throbbing headache. He makes deep and difficult subjects understandable, backs them with Scripture, and throws in some scientific concepts that line up perfectly with Scripture.
Well lo and behold, R.C. died just a few weeks after I began regularly listening to his instruction. He would say the timing of his death was Providential. He would also say that me still being here on earth and typing about the timing of his death is Providential. If you’re reading this, he’d say that’s Providential. God knew you’d read it, because He ordained that you would read it.
Providence goes much deeper than the timing of our death, or the words we type out on a blank screen, though. God has His fingers in everything, and the sooner we can wrap our minds around that, the sooner our hearts will follow. But it’s a difficult subject. Not just intellectually, but spiritually and emotionally. Truth is, we want to be our own god. We want control. We want to dictate whether evil is allowed in the world. We want to decide who is healed from cancer, who dies from cancer, or whether cancer exists at all. Most of us would probably say we’d do away with sickness and sin and evil, but God, in His Providence, has decided to allow, ordain, and use those things to bring about good.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28).
And after Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery, he told his brothers …
You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. (Gen. 50:20)
You look at Mary, when she was chosen by God to carry the Christ child. It’s tempting to think Oh, how sweet. She must have been quite the young lady for God to choose her. And how happy that must have made Joseph and the grandparents. Who wouldn’t love to raise a perfectly sinless child? No tantrums. No provoking His siblings to anger. All love. All peace. All success in parenting. But the truth is that the pregnancy nearly lost her her betrothed, her future marriage, her life, and the Baby’s life, which began in a lowly, dirty, cow and donkey inhabited stable. It was a worthy calling, but it was not a joke or a party or even a breeze. It was hard. I doubt it seemed favorable to Mary, but rather impossible and dangerous and confusing.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways are My ways, says the Lord. For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
In the depths of Mary’s soul, she knew God’s ways and thoughts were different, that He had a Providential plan, and that He would use her pain, grief, troubles, and even her embarrassment for her good and His glory. In those days and culture, see, a woman didn’t dare cheat on her betrothed, and she certainly didn’t get pregnant. How embarrassing and scary for Mary, who could’ve at best been “divorced” from her betrothed, at worst stoned to death for whispering yes. Not my will, but Yours be done, Lord.
Rarely will someone in our culture be called upon to risk so much for the Lord. But our yeses are just as important as Mary’s. We still have ample opportunity to recognize the Providence of God, and humbly, joyfully submit to whatever He wills. Not for our own recognition, but because deep down, we are convinced that God’s timing is impeccable, and He has our best interest at heart. That is, our spiritual growth.
After listening to teaching or sermons that hit me deep down, I am often called upon by God Himself to practice what has been preached. So when I was walking the aisles of Wal-Mart this week, throwing Christmas food in my basket left and right, and my daughter called in tears, saying she and my two grandbabies were in a car accident, I felt I had a right to panic and be anxious and question God’s timing. Then when I couldn’t get to her because freeway traffic was backed up for miles due to the accident, I also had a right to be anxious, because … Hezekiah 3:23. Then when she went to get checked at Urgent Care to make sure her neck was okay, and they told her it was fractured, again … time to panic, because again, Hezekiah, and because panic solves everything! And if that wasn’t enough, when I was on the phone with her (whilst trying to care for five children, as my other daughter was at a Christmas party) receiving the news of the fracture, my son hollered up to me from the basement saying he was sick enough he may need to go to the hospital, to which I yelled up silently to the Lord ….
And He impressed these words on my heart:
No, but maybe you need to learn the same things as Job. I’m still in control, Child.
I thought Well, peachy. But I can’t be in three places at once. I can’t take care of children and take son to the hospital and go get the new baby who couldn’t ride in the ambulance with broken-necked daughter, so … little help, please?
From that prayer on, I was able to look at the situation logically instead of emotionally. God was in control. Though my world was spinning, He was on His throne doing the spinning. And if I could trust Him with the eternal destiny of my soul, then I could trust Him with my daughter, my grandbabies, my son, and my (seemingly) ill-timed predicament. I didn’t know what the purpose for all the commotion was, exactly, other than Romans 8:28 (above), but Romans 8:28 became a good enough reason to calm down and deal with the situation by simply doing the next thing.
People will often ask, when hard life happens …. So what are you learning? This was asked in the midst of our farmhouse fiasco, aka The Money Pit 2. That poor house, which we thought would be our dream house, was crumbling before our eyes. The crumbling included a contaminated well that made it impossible for me to get even a few drops on my skin for the entire year and a half we lived there, and yet people asked “What are you learning?” And I was totes like … “I don’t know. Can I take a shower at your house this week?” Because I didn’t need spiritually scrutinized. I just needed many, many cups of warm water.
Honestly, their question provoked me to anger, because who in the actual heck knows what the lesson is smack in the midst of a crisis? The only lesson I ever know when the hard knocks of life are hitting me square in the face is that God is on the throne, spinning me and my circumstances exactly as He wills, for my good and His glory.
That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Three years later, I still don’t know what the lesson from the farmhouse is, per se. I know that God set me on a different path spiritually through it. And I know He taught me how to persevere like a little housewife on the prairie in 1896. And I know He showed me everything from immense kindness to disturbing insensitivity through other people. And I know a lot of things, except for one, big, overarching reason for the entire debacle, which is what most folks were looking for. What’s the reason?
But some lessons … nay, most lessons, I think, are for one thing: to find out that life isn’t all about us. It’s about God. His glory. His thoughts. His ways. And to know deep down in our souls that He is in control — a good thing, in spite of what we may feel.
Mary probably wondered what the actual heck when baby Jesus’ head started crowning. Am I really going to give birth to this Christ child on odiferous hay, with a milk cow staring me in the eye whilst chewing her cud? Did I actually sign up for this?
It wasn’t comfortable. But it was Providential. The plan was that He would come, and come humbly, and so He did.
I’m so glad He came. I’m so glad Mary said yes to what had to have seemed like a crazy idea sent straight from God. As predicted in her Magnificat, I call her blessed. All generations do. Through her yes, He who is mighty did great things for her (and me). Through her yes, His mercy is available for those who fear Him from generation to generation. Through her yes, He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1:46-55)
Blessed be the name of the Lord. For He, through the difficult circumstances of a willing servant, has Providentially made us glad … and is worthy to be praised.