Tag Archives: providence

Have You Experienced the Miraculous?

What have you done for me lately?

This is not a question we should be asking God, but it seems we do. What better explains an inconsistent prayer life? We get excited and thankful when God answers our prayers, certain we will remain connected to our Creator. Then we drift. This comes up, then that. We become too busy, too self-sufficient, too satisfied with life without Him.

We’ve gotten what we want. We don’t have the time or inclination to want what God wants. So we don’t ask. We quit praying.

But, then we need God. Not to accomplish his will, but ours. So we pray.

When I read in Exodus 32 the account of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they had made, I am astonished at how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them and commanded of them, and how quickly they forgot their promises to obey him. But I shouldn’t be. I sometimes act just like they did.

Now, I haven’t experienced deliverance from slavery because God sent plagues on my enemies. Neither has he led me by a pillar of cloud or fire.

I haven’t witnessed tangible, miraculous events like the Israelites did. Or have I?

Miracles or Providence

Not long ago, I heard a new Christian describe events of her life as miraculous. They didn’t sound miraculous to me, at least not in the sense we normally think of miraculous. Instead they seemed to be instances of Providence. They were improbable circumstances that could not be explained by chance but only by God’s intervention.

But is there really that much difference? The miracles performed in Egypt were obvious. The providential hand of God in the life of Esther was evident only to those aware enough to recognize it.

However, I think the main difference between miracles and providence is frequency, not power. What we usually describe as miracles are events rarely seen that require supernatural intervention and power. Miracles are highly improbable and extraordinary. Providential events, also extraordinary, are often less dramatic and more common. However, they require no less supernatural power.

What could be more powerful than God working together the events and free will choices of us and the people around us (many of which oppose God’s plan) to accomplish His purposes? The Bible, is filled with stories that defy logic, disprove the idea of coincidence and prove God’s providential care of his creation. Yet, when we examine our own lives we discover that God has exhibited this same power.

If we want to avoid idolatry we must do more than recognize God’s demonstrations of power in our lives. We must remember them, rejecting fear and worry. We must pray, believing God will always do what he has promised.

As Christians we have witnessed the miraculous working of God in our lives. If we pray “Thy Will Be Done” and serve God’s interests over our own, we will witness even more.


When the Task Seems Too Hard

street in coloocan

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, 
 too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:5-10


When God Hems You In – Rejoice In His Presence

Have you taken note of God’s presence and his leading wherever you go? Can you echo the thoughts David expressed in Psalm 139?

When I am on vacation I don’t usually seek out a local church to attend, but instead read my Bible. I probably have missed out on a lot because, as essential as reading the Bible is, God seems to delight in speaking to me through other Christians. When I have gone on short-term missions trips or have spent extended time away from home and do attend church, I have discovered that God doesn’t miss a beat. Either the sermon picks up where my home church pastor’s last sermon left off or the sermon is extremely timely and relevant for my life in a different way.

Such was the case last November while visiting my wife’s family in Coloocan, Philippines. We walked with my mother-in-law and brother-in-law to a service at their local church situated among houses in a residential neighborhood. The church, with a flat metal roof, would probably escape your notice should you drive by it on a weekday morning. Open on three sides, with numerous fans to keep churchgoers reasonably comfortable in the tropical heat, contemporary Christian songs rang out into the neighborhood to be heard by believer and unbeliever alike. Here, thousands of miles from home, a message prepared for the benefit of others encouraged and strengthened me just when I needed it most.

A Little Background

Have you read testimonies of people who were content with success as the world defines it only to be compelled by God to quit their job and embark on a different path? Perhaps you have experienced such a dramatic life change yourself. As I sat down in church that Sunday, it had been over two years since I quit my job in obedience to God’s calling yet I had not finished the work God had placed before me. I was beginning to think I would never finish. Sometimes I even entertained the thought that I had misunderstood God and had taken a wrong turn. In this context, God met me on the far side of the sea and spoke to me through one of his servants.

The Message

The sermon that Sunday was a forward look into 2016, acknowledging the evil times we are in while encouraging the congregation to exhibit the kind of obedience and perseverance that Noah did. In the sermon, the pastor made some observations about Noah that were apropos to our times and to my situation. (I have placed quotation marks around his comments below).

“Noah lived in the midst of evil.” Noah was 600 years old when the floodwaters came making him 480 years old when God declared his drop-dead date for humanity (Genesis 6:3; 7:6). Imagine how long Noah must have lived in a world full of violence (Genesis 6:11). Noah lived blamelessly among wicked people for possibly hundreds of years before God spoke to him and then Noah obediently built an ark over a span of decades believing God would bring about an event that defied probability. By comparison, my task and the obstacles I faced were miniscule. Why should I be discouraged?

“Noah warned his neighbors about things not yet seen.” I felt God’s hand hemming me in as the pastor spoke these words. Though not the primary reason for quitting my job, a call to warn others about things not yet seen provided the impetus to write my book. In this moment, God’s guiding hand did not feel heavy or burdensome – it felt exciting, as if the only misstep I could take would be to remain silent.

“Noah was obedient to a hard task appointed to him.” Now, as I listened, I felt convicted. I wanted to give up when the going got really tough. Or, take the easiest path forward. Writing the book was not easy, but getting it published was more daunting as it meant developing skills I didn’t care to learn or utilize. “A man of faith is a man of action.” Ouch! Inaction, procrastination and complaining had to stop. I had to press on.

“God remembered Noah and he will remember you.” I love promises, especially when combined with the conviction that God is ever-present and guiding me. He will remember to provide what I need and he will enable me to complete the task he has given me.

“God is always on time.” God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and his ways are not my ways. I must trust him.

Held Fast In God’s Hand

Even now as I recall this message, in the midst of the temptation to once again shrink back from the task ahead, God’s call compels me to persevere in obedience.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. Hebrews 11:7

God still gives his people hard tasks. Some are unique; some are common. In some cases our obedience will benefit many people; sometimes it only affects one person. In either case, when God guides us, when he hems us in – it is wondrous. Proceed in awe and with a holy fear for you are in the hand of Almighty God!

The Saddest Words of All

In John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem Maud Muller, a poor maiden and a rich judge, upon a happenstance meeting, imagine how different and better their lives would be if they left their own situations and lived like the other.  But their chance meeting was soon over, with neither having voiced their imaginations, as the judge closed his heart knowing his family would oppose him accepting a lower station in life.

He married rich; she married poor.  Years later, each recalled their youthful dream in an effort to escape the reality of their lives – the judge to escape the chains of responsibility and riches, the maiden to escape the drudgery of ordinariness and poverty.  The poem’s narrator concludes:

God pity them both! And pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.


For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Salvation Is Not Accomplished Via a Do Over

It’s no wonder that stories of time travel are so popular.  They represent a universal desire to be able to fix the past thereby erasing both the consequences of our decisions and the resulting regret.  In these stories, missed opportunities need no longer cause us sorrow as a second chance is offered. In them, the consequences of sin and evil are removed or altered via a sort of cosmic “do over.”

Time travel stories are appealing because in our imaginations we identify with a protagonist armed with knowledge of the future, pursuing a noble cause and having sufficient power to accomplish his purpose.  But these stories are vastly inferior to the real story unfolding throughout history.  They are vastly inferior to God’s story in which sinful people are redeemed and not merely rescued from the consequences of past actions.

Feelings of Regret Are a Poor Substitute for Thankfulness for Providence

And this is why words of regret are so sad. Regret searches for relief from our circumstances by dreaming of an alternate reality, one that might have been but cannot be. They are sad because they reveal a lack of understanding of God’s plan and his Providence. Surely we grieve and regret our sins against God that harm others and ourselves, but the Christian has the healing balm of forgiveness in his arsenal. Regret extended far beyond repentance and forgiveness paralyses us, preventing us from moving forward and assuring us of further failure.

Words of regret are sad because they don’t recognize and appreciate what God has given us.  They blind us to God’s redemptive and sanctifying work. Words of regret reveal a lack of contentment and they block our path to resting in Jesus.

We are tempted to kick ourselves over lost opportunity, but that only perpetuates the problem. Fretting over lost opportunities clouds our vision of God’s providence in the past and for the future. God is sovereign over our missed opportunities as surely as he is sovereign over those we capitalize on. He is in the business of making everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). He is a God of second chances, but not of the sort imagined in time travel tales. God is in the business of making things new (Revelation 21:5).

There Is No Greater Contrast Than That Between Regret and Salvation

One should not presume there will always be a second chance or a better opportunity when it comes to faith in Christ.  Today is the day of salvation.  Dying having missed the opportunity to believe in Christ results in the greatest regret of all, one that lasts for eternity.

For Christians, our sorrow over sin brings repentance that leads to a salvation without regret (2 Corinthians 7:10).  Let’s encourage one another to forget what lies behind and press on toward our heavenly calling (Philippians 3:13).


When Fragile Hearts Break

The human heart is fragile. It can be broken and crushed (Psalm 147:3). This same fragile heart is the one with which we are to love God passionately along with our mind and soul and strength (Luke 10:27). The fact that God “inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds, and His hands also heal (Job 5:18)” makes this conundrum even more baffling.

This is the dilemma that Naomi faced as she journeyed from Moab back to Judah. It didn’t get any worse in Israel than to be a childless widow past the age of childbearing in that male-dominated society. Her hope in God was tempered by the reality she faced. Her heart had been broken and her spirit crushed. Unable to protect and provide for Orpah and Ruth, she bid them return to Moab where God might show kindness to them. But Ruth remained with Naomi.

Naomi left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons but returned without them. She left Bethlehem full but returned empty. She left Bethlehem with a pleasant heart consistent with her name Naomi, but returned with an embittered heart and a desire to be called Mara. Naomi was sure that God’s hand had gone out against her; He had afflicted her and brought misfortune upon her. (See Ruth Chapter 1)

She knew this was God’s doing.

Isn’t God’s Providence Supposed to Be a Good Thing?

Intellectually we may know that God causes all things to work for our good, but our hearts struggle to see God’s goodness in the midst of suffering. Unable to see the end from the beginning, we focus on the loss and the pain we experience and perhaps, like Naomi, become embittered.

When God withdraws his mercies, it is a reminder that they are his mercies. The bad times are in his hands as well as the good. “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) Our fiery trials are not unusual; God has a good purpose in them (1 Peter 4:12,13).

What Naomi didn’t know was what lay ahead. Was it more trouble or God’s mercy1? Did she hold a glimmer of hope that God would extend his mercy he was showing to Israel to her (Ruth 1:6)?

When Do We Move and When Should We Stand Still?

God did not despise Naomi’s broken heart and he doesn’t despise yours or mine (Psalm 51:17). But sometimes, just when it seems we are in the midst of deliverance; God gives us another trial. What are we to do when this happens?

Recall the Israelite’s Exodus from Egypt. God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would pursue them. Suddenly, as the Israelites camped by the sea, they became fearful as Pharaoh’s army approached. They forgot about God’s Providence, the miracles he had performed and the promises he had made. What were they to do? Moses told them to stand still. The Lord would fight for them and deliver them and bring glory to himself.

In his providence, God does expect his people to act, but there comes a point when we must be still and let him deliver us. He expected the Israelites to slaughter a lamb and place blood on the door frames of their houses but it was the Lord who passed over their houses (Exodus 12:27). He expected them to ask for gold, silver and clothing from the Egyptians but it was the Lord who made them favorably disposed to give it to them (Exodus 12:36).   God expected the Israelites to leave Egypt and camp by the sea but it was there that God would bring final deliverance from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13-14).

It wasn’t yet time for Naomi to stand still before God; she had a journey to make. She chose to act on the news that the Lord had come to the aid of his people and return to Bethlehem.  “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  What would God do with Naomi’s broken heart?


  1. Of course, trials and suffering could be considered a form of mercy if they protect us from straying from God. However, the Psalmists typically view mercy as an alleviation of suffering, even if the suffering is the result of one’s own sin.

Christian Journaling: Seeing God’s Providence In Your Own Words

Are you ever surprised by how quickly you forget what God has done for you or what he expects of you? I am not just referring to something you heard in a sermon you thought was interesting. It could be something that touched you so deeply that, at the time, you would never believe you would forget it or fail to act on it. But you did.

You are not alone.

I keep a journal because it helps me remember. When I am hurting it helps me remember God’s tender mercies in times past. When I seek God’s leading, journaling helps me see step by step the path he has guided me on to get to the place I am now.  Or it shows me where I took a wrong turn. It helps me recognize all the providential care through the years so that I don’t doubt his providence in the present moment. When I am discouraged, it reminds me of God’s consistent instruction and grace. My complaining is stopped dead in its tracks by reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

If only I was more consistent. Just this morning I opened my 2016 journal to discover that I hadn’t entered anything for nearly a month. It showed  For the past week I have been discouraged, complaining, anxious, impatient, not wanting to follow through with God’s clear leading. I have been somewhat apathetic about listening to Jesus. Of course, the reason is not because I didn’t journal, but because I didn’t remember to obey. I didn’t remember what God had told me through reading the Bible, reading devotionals, listening to sermons or any of the other means he uses. But there they were in my recent journal entries, staring me in the face – rebukes and encouragements addressing each of these attitudes. I couldn’t help but be simultaneously ashamed of my forgetfulness and amazed and encouraged by God’s love, mercy and providence.

Characteristics of a Christian Journal

What makes Christians’ journals different?  I believe that our journals should say more about God than they say about ourselves. A journal can stand as a witness to God’s faithfulness, his leading, his love, his presence, and his redemptive power in our life. And you and I need such a witness because we are prone to forget.

I keep a journal because, when God speaks to me, I really don’t want to forget what he says. I don’t want to forget what he has done. My journal helps me remember answers to prayer. It helps me remember with concrete examples that God does what he promises. It helps me remember God amid distraction or turmoil.

Seeing God in the Details of Our Lives

God never leaves us or forsakes us. But sometimes we don’t recognize his providential hand until we look back and see a sequence of events that can only be explained by divine intervention. The book of Esther shouts God’s name without mentioning it because the story could only be the result of God’s working. Your story and mine can only be explained by God’s providence. Nothing happens by chance.

That is where journaling comes in. Journaling is not a replacement for reading the Bible. It does not replace meditating on God’s Word, prayer, fasting, or memorizing Scripture. But it sure is a great way to recognize and remember God’s providence. Journaling helps us see God in the details of our lives.

I am not encouraging anyone to journal so they can make decisions based on their circumstances but, instead, to journal to help them recognize and follow God’s consistent leading. Opportunity is not synonymous with God’s will. I once had an opportunity to continue down a path of secure and comfortable prosperity but God clearly wanted me to trust him instead of money. Had my focus been on circumstances and opportunity instead of listening to God I would have made the wrong choice.

You may be surrounded by great winds of political upheaval, by economic earthquakes or by the fires of war yet God does not speak to you through them (see 1 Kings 19:11-13). But there may be a gentle whisper in a sermon here, a devotional there, the rebuke or encouragement of a friend or an answered prayer that all contain the same message for you from God. Write them down so you don’t forget. Write them down so you can see that these events cannot be explained by coincidence but only by God’s providence. Then act on God’s leading. Do what you know to do.

Journaling Tips

Journaling may not be for everyone. But, if you don’t journal and are prone to forget what you would otherwise remember had you written it down, maybe you should give it a go. As you journal, pay particular attention to answers to prayer. How often you write in your journal is a matter of personal preference.  However, avoid writing just to be writing or failing to record something you know God wants you to remember. Having too much in your journal will make it hard to profitably review. Having too little defeats the journal’s purpose.

If you already journal, please share with a comment how it has influenced your walk with Jesus.


A Comfort Beyond Measure

My times are in God’s hand.  I find great comfort in this fact particularly because of three things that are true about God – he is good, he is omniscient and he is omnipotent.  If he is not good, I have every reason to fear his sovereign power.  If he is not omniscient, then his plans might be misguided or have unintended consequences.  If he is not omnipotent, then he is unable to do all that he has promised and my times are not really in his hands.

Evil and God’s Will

This is especially important when confronted with trials or threatened by evil.  God’s providential care is a rock that believers have anchored their faith to for centuries.  However, God’s providential care is in jeopardy if sinful creatures’ actions are outside of his will.

But this is exactly what I have heard some Christians say.  Attempting to defend God’s goodness and armed with the knowledge that God is not the author of sin, they say that it is not God’s will when evil befalls us.  Not only does this contradict Scripture, but I don’t see how it is comforting to diminish the power of the One we are counting on to deliver us from evil.

In fairness to those who make such a statement, most are probably not trying to imply that our freedom to choose is on a par with God’s sovereignty, but it might sound that way to the seeker or to a new believer.  If human freedom holds such power, then all that goes on around us in this fallen world is a threat to us.  On the contrary, according to the Bible, God’s sovereign control of his creation is not threatened by the free will choices of his creatures.

I think the problem arises when we try to define a good God as one who does not allow evil that he has the power to prevent.  This is not the definition used in the Bible which proclaims repeatedly that God is good despite the fact that he allows evil as part of his will.  We need look no farther than the book of Job or Jesus’ crucifixion to see that God’s plan and his will include suffering and evil that he could prevent if he wanted to.  How else could Jesus say of his impending crucifixion – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done”?

God is not the Author of Evil

Certainly God is not the author of evil.  Just as certainly, though, God is not wringing his hands wondering what to do when it occurs.  An inclination to defend God’s goodness may stem from a misconception of all that omnipotence entails.  Consider this from Millard Erickson:

We must recognize here the amazing nature of divine omnipotence.  If God were great and powerful, but not all-powerful, he would have to originate everything directly, or he would lose control of the situation and be unable to accomplish his ultimate purposes.  But our omnipotent God is able to allow evil men to do their very worst, and still he accomplishes his purposes. (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Copyright 1983, 1984, 1985, Baker Book House Company, p 400)

So, when we claim anything is not part of God’s will, especially evil, we are actually making the point we are trying to avoid – that we cannot know with certainty that God can protect us (should he so choose) from the evil free will choices of his creatures.  We have placed a limit on his omnipotence, one that is not warranted by Scripture.

Our Comfort Requires God’s Total Sovereignty

But you might protest and say that God is able to turn the evil intent of sinners into something good as he did with Joseph (Genesis 50:20) and certainly with Jesus (Acts 2:36).  There is a problem with this idea that God’s sovereignty as it relates to evil is reactive rather than proactive:

“… some will simply say that all Romans 8:28 means is that God will turn this evil thing, a thing that he could not help from happening, into some sort of good for us.  They present a God suddenly sovereign enough to reverse the situation, a situation he wasn’t sovereign enough to stop in the first place.” (Dave Zuleger, Desiring God, Can a Good God Bring Pain)

I don’t find much comfort in the providential care of a God who is a part-time, semi-sovereign deity.  There is no guarantee that the creation will not spin out of control with evil getting the upper hand creating a situation too dire for God to fix.

God’s plan is not an afterthought or a work in progress.  When I am in the midst of a trial I don’t find comfort in the fact that God is smart enough to come up with a plan B that just might work.  I find comfort in the fact that God has been working all things together for good – from the beginning of time.

Everlasting arms that do not grow weary of holding me, hands from which no one can snatch me, a love that endures forever, goodness that leads me to repentance and a mind that knows the end from the beginning are good enough for me. They all come together in a wondrous providence that is a comfort beyond measure.