God's "providence" is the fulfilling of His promise to "provide" for His faithful people in all of their needs: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:20,21). In the outworking of His purposes, much of what God does in the world is beyond the scope of our knowledge or comprehension. But just as I do not need to know how my cell phone works in order to benefit from its use, we do not need to know the details or the mechanics of God's providence to be encouraged by His promises. It is enough to know that He is active in the world and that all will be well in the end.
This confidence makes a difference in the way we think, obviously, but it should also make a difference in the way we live. If we couldn't be sure that God will provide, we would bog down in a sea of uncertainty, helplessness, and fear -- but armed with trust in the goodness of God and His power to govern the world, we are able to take the simple steps that lie before us each day. Between where we are right now and where we will be in eternity, the path may take many unexpected turns, but it is enough to know that He is waiting for us at the end of the journey, and in the meantime He will provide.
Our Work in the Lord
All of us are involved in the Lord's work in one way or another. Each of us has something to do in the body (1 Cor. 12:14-20), and we ought to have no higher priority than to serve faithfully in the work that is ours to do, whatever that may be. But most of us are plagued with questions about our individual work in the Lord. Will I be able to do what is expected? What if my abilities are too small to meet the need? What if the responsibility is greater than I can bear? Will the nature of my responsibilities change in the future? All of these questions, and many more, are answered by the promise of God's providence.
Paul would have had the same questions that we do, but his confidence was exactly what it should have been: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). There will never be a time when we are faced with an impossible task in the Lord's work. Whatever He expects us to do, that is exactly what He will enable us to do. We may not know how He will do so or be able to predict the source from which the help will be provided, but our trust in His providence keeps us working, one day at a time.
In this world, broken as it is by sin, problems come in many shapes and sizes. On an average day, we spend a great deal of our time doing things that wouldn't need to be done in a problem-free world. Some of these problems are trivial ("The hot water heater is leaking"), but many of them are of great consequence ("My son is lost and alienated from God"). We could make a long list of words that describe what we have to deal with: difficulties, troubles, dilemmas, complications, sorrows, pains, heartaches, obstacles, temptations, persecutions, etc. The list is long, and we wouldn't disagree with Eliphaz the Temanite who said that "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7).
We have only two basic choices: (1) bury our heads in the sand and pretend the world is in better shape than it is, or (2) deal with the brokenness of the world honestly. But if we choose to deal with it honestly, how can we keep from being overwhelmed with despair? Individually, we don't have what it would take to solve these problems, and if we're realistic, we have to admit that the human race is not solving these problems either. For every step forward we take, we create several problems that weren't there before. All things considered, the world is getting worse.
But, as the song says, "though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet." This is our Father's world, and He is guiding it toward an ultimate conclusion that will be the fulfillment of His love and wisdom. Even now, He is working toward those purposes as He guides the course of human events providentially. Based on His proven trustworthiness in the past, we trust that what He is doing will overcome the threat of His adversary, Satan, and solve every problem that has ever arisen. If we are found in Christ at the resurrection, we will see that our personal problems were solved along with the problems of the world around us. This is our confidence and our hope. This is how we face our problems.
Most of us demand a good deal more predictability from life than God ever promised we would have. We want to know what tomorrow will be like, but all that we have is today. As for tomorrow, Jesus said, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Mt. 6:34).
The thing that we call "worry" is usually nothing more than the fear of what might happen. When there is uncertainty, there is fear -- fear that what is going to happen might be painful, unpleasant, or difficult. But God's answer to our fears is not to tell us exactly what is going to happen so that we can make human preparations to deal with it. Instead, He promises that He will provide. That is, He will work providentially in the world and in our own lives to bring about the very best ultimate outcome. It is our trust in the providence of God that takes the worry out of our uncertainties.
All of this should make a difference in the way we pray. As I grow older, I find myself making fewer specific requests of God and more often simply praying that He will do whatever is best -- and that He will help me defer to His wisdom in the accomplishment of His purposes.
As a Father, God certainly wants us to make our heartfelt requests to Him, and it is a wondrous thing that, at times, He yields to our requests and says, "Yes, My child, I will grant your request. I am willing for the problem to be solved in the manner that you desire. I grant your wish." But more often, I am learning to pray, "Father, I might have my preferences about what will happen, but more than that I simply want You to be glorified. I trust Your wisdom and Your power to guide everything to the goal that You desire. My prayer is that You will intervene in the situation that I am praying about, and overrule the sinful designs of Your adversary, Satan. I will give thanks for whatever outcome You deem is best."
If we did not believe in the providential activity of God in the world today, as some do not, petitionary prayer would be pointless. For my part, I trust that God is at work in the world today, even though I know little of what He does or how He does it. This confidence encourages me to keep doing what I can in the Lord's work, it helps me put this world's problems into a larger perspective, it releases me from worrying about the uncertainties of tomorrow, and it makes a huge difference in the way I pray.
"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24,25).