God’s Providential Care

God’s people suffer, sometimes justly and sometimes unjustly. Either way, they trust in Him to deliver them for further service or to take them to glory.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 38-40; Acts 23:12-35

Selected Verses

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who delight in my hurt!
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”    Psalm 40:13-15

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris.   Acts 23:31

Reflections

The Psalmist endured much pain partly from his own sin and partly from the severe oppression that was mounted against him unjustly.  There is a difference between suffering due to our own sin and suffering due to being God’s servant.  [See First Peter 2:18-25].  But it is often not easy to separate our suffering into such neat, clean categories.  The Psalmist was suffering and in these laments he mixes the two causes and appeals to the Lord for forgiveness and deliverance.  Unlike Job, he recognizes some responsibility for what he is having to endure but also cries out for relief from those who plot against him unjustly (Psalm 38:3-4,11-12, 17-20; 40:12).

The events of Paul’s life show the power of God working providentially to preserve him from unjust suffering and for further service.   Forty men conspire to kill him. His nephew overhears the plot and reports it to Paul.  Paul wisely asks the centurion to take his nephew to the tribune.  The tribune takes immediate action and  rescues Paul  whom he then sends to the governor for trial, and, let us add, to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Imagine how the conspirators were completely “put to shame and disappointed altogether”!

Think about it

Most of us do not suffer such opposition as Paul did, but we do suffer in smaller ways.  Do you know that He watches over you?  Do you know that while you may feel that your iniquities are more than the hairs of your head (40:12) God’s care for you is such that He has the hairs of your head numbered and your iniquities covered by the blood of Christ (Luke 12:4-7; 24:44-47)?  Trust His providential care.  No one can thwart His plan for you. No, not even yourself.

Paul’s Tweet

Our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The godly believer focuses on this as life’s circumstances range from monotonous to terrifying.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 36-37; Acts 23:1-11

Selected Verses

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.    Psalm 36:7-9

It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.  Acts 23:6

Reflections

The Psalms offer an antidote for the tendency to complain, to be bored, restless, overwhelmed, or impatient.  This antidote is to meditate on the Lord, His Word, His steadfast love, and His constant providential care.  On the flipside, the antidote includes a healthy dose of fear of the Lord knowing that He will destroy the wicked.  Do not “flatter” yourself that He can’t see you and bring you to account for your sin.  Instead, run to Him for mercy.  Fear Him. Praise Him.  Love Him.  Delight in Him.

Paul must have understood this as his difficulties grew more and more serious.  He used wisdom, even shrewdness, in addressing the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court composed of members with severe theological differences.  In what we would call today a “sound bite” or “tweet”, he summarized the problem, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”   Paul, by this statement, showed that, despite his imprisonment and the constant threats to his life, his hope was undiminished and his focus on the gospel was undistracted.  His trust in the historic resurrection of Jesus Christ was the basis for his life and ministry.  His words set off an intense and disorderly debate in the court. He was no longer the focus of their attention, but the subject of hope and the resurrection of the dead took center stage.

Think about it

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.[1]   Review this frequently when the circumstances of life are at best monotonous and at worst terrifying.  Are you prepared for this day with its unforeseeable trials or, most likely, its predictable sameness?  Whatever may come, seek to drink from the river of God’s delights.  You are given the task of enjoying Him, today and forever.

[1] Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1.

 

When the Righteous are Afflicted

Isn’t it illogical that the righteous suffer afflictions?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who obey Him never suffer? Scripture enlightens those in the dark.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 34-35; Acts 22

Selected Verses

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
not one of them is broken.    Psalm 34:19-20

Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:22

Reflections

Righteousness does not exempt a person from afflictions, as the Psalmist’s words and Paul’s experience both affirm.  Above all, the only perfect Righteous One, the Lord Jesus Christ, sustained the greatest afflictions ever known.

Nowhere in Scripture does God promise a life free from trials for His people.  He does promise to be with His own and to deliver them out of all their adversities.  But He does not give a time schedule.  It could be soon or it could be after death.  The specific promise of Psalm 34:20, we learn from the Apostle John (John 19:36), was made to Jesus and fulfilled at His crucifixion.

Paul’s life became increasingly difficult.  In Jerusalem, he faced angry mobs of Jews, and nervous Roman authorities who wanted to maintain order.  God was not displeased with Paul, His servant and messenger to the Gentiles, yet God assigned him some very great afflictions which Paul accepted and used as a platform from which to preach the good news of life in Christ.

It may seem illogical that the righteous suffer many afflictions.  Why wouldn’t life be better by living in a godly way?  Why wouldn’t God see that those who honor Him the most suffer the least?  Job certainly asked this question and waited in agony for an answer.  He didn’t know what the Bible tells us about his suffering, that it was to vindicate the name and glory of God before Satan.  Yet Job had no complaints in the end.  He stopped questioning God. He prayed for his friends. And God restored all his losses doubly.

Think about it

Believing reader, are you facing hard times which seem to have no relationship to any failure, foolishness, or sin in your life?  Take rest in God who promises to be near to the brokenhearted and to save the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  He will deliver you in His time because Jesus Christ suffered to purchase your redemption and promised to deliver you from all affliction in His presence forever.

The Limits of Wise Counsel

We must be careful to hear godly counsel while recognizing that even godly counsel is not infallible. Ultimately, we are responsible to obey God.

Today’s reading

Psalms 31-33; Acts 21:15-40

Selected Verses

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!    Psalm 31:14-15

After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.  Acts 21:15

Reflections

Paul had heard from several wise fellow believers that he would suffer arrest and adversity in Jerusalem. He also heard them urge him not to go. They loved him, and they did not want him to suffer and possibly die. Paul was not foolhardy. There were certainly several instances when Paul avoided danger (e.g. Acts 9:23-25; 29-30; 13:50,51; 14:19-20; 17:13-14). Indeed, Luke comments that Paul and Barnabas “shook off the dust from their feet against [Antioch in Pisidia] and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:51) following the policy Jesus had given to His disciples when He sent them out to preach to unresponsive people (Matthew 10:14).

Paul probably remembered the words of Psalm 31 quoted above. His trust was in the Lord. He knew that he had been given a purpose and a ministry to complete. He believed it included going into the lions’ den of Jerusalem where some believers had questions about him and where unbelieving Jews were out to get the former persecutor of the Church. Paul trusted God who had his times in His hands.

So he did not follow the advice of his many well-meaning friends. He got ready and went to Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t tell us how Paul was so sure he needed to do this. He just went. As prophesied, he did begin to suffer almost immediately, but he would remain faithful and use that platform of suffering to glorify God and proclaim the gospel in some very unusual settings.

Think about it

God does not guarantee that His path for us will be easy and pleasant or even “sensible” at all times. Be ready for anything, so that someday you can say:

 Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.  I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Psalm 31:21-22

The Prayer that Never Fails

Do you know the prayer that never fails?  Paul knew it.  David knew it.  Jesus knew it.  It is a prayer that God always answers.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 28-30; Acts 21:1-14

Selected Verses

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!  Psalm 29:10-11

When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”  Acts 21:12-14

Reflections

The prayer that never fails, according to the fictional Father Tim of novelist Jan Karon’s Mitford series, is “Thy will be done.” This phrase was part of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples–the same words He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. Here in Acts, Paul’s friends prayed it also.  [See Matthew 6:10; 26:39-42].

In Tyre, concerned believers understood that Paul would suffer if he went to Jerusalem.  Luke tells us that “Through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (vs. 4). Agabus, a prophet, foretold Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem. Others in Phoenicia urged him not to go. It was hard for Paul to hear this, and it hurt him because it was going to hurt them. Nevertheless, he was determined to go to Jerusalem though it cost him his life. He had settled that matter. He believed it was what God wanted him to do. They resigned themselves with the words, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

But the Lord whose will they sought is One who presides over the chaos and turmoil of human life on planet Earth (not to mention the entire universe). As the Psalmist says, He sits enthroned over the flood. His reign never ends. His will is always done. He is the One who gives strength to His people so they may endure the trials He sends. He grants peace so that even in the face of sure suffering His servants know quietness as they pray the prayer that never fails.

Think about it

Must you see bright skies every day in order to have peace? Do you frantically seek to avoid any discomforting situations, much less, life-threatening ones? Make it your aim to be content as long as His will is done.

Ready to Die; Ready to Live

As a young Christian, I was told, “A man is not ready to live until he has something he will die for.” [1]  Here we meet two men who were ready to live.

Today’s reading

Psalms 25-27; Acts 20:17-38

Selected Verses

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.   Acts 20:24

Reflections

David knew adversity and he knew how to turn to God for safety and refuge. But he also sought to know the Lord even more deeply, to be in His presence at all times not merely when he was facing danger. David loved the Lord. He found Him beautiful and wanted to gaze upon Him. He wanted to learn from Him in His temple. These desires did not indicate that David sought to escape the responsibilities of daily life and retreat into some monastery. He goes on to plead: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies” Psalm 27:11.

He wanted to know God so he could walk in His ways in the midst of all the pressures of everyday life.

Paul understood that “imprisonments and afflictions” awaited him, but he resolved that his life was only valuable as he was able to finish the course God had set out for him and to fulfill the ministry the Lord Jesus Christ had assigned to him. Indeed, Paul would face years of imprisonment and, according to tradition, a martyr’s death.

Think about it

Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). Have you settled this? Are you ready to die so you are ready to live? As Joshua told the Israelites, “Choose this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Be ready to die, so you are ready to live.

[1] This seems to be a variation on a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Click here.

God’s Delight in Your Prayer

God’s children have special access to Him in prayer.  But do you know that He delights in those who are His and who come to Him with their requests?

Today’s Reading

Psalms 17-18; Acts 19:1-20

Selected Verses

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me.  Psalm 18:18-19

And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.  Acts 19:17

Reflections

The Psalms are filled with exclamations of praise to God for His power and goodness to His needy people. Psalm 18 lists many ways in which the Lord delivered David. Appropriate praise is offered, but then we see this curious line, “he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” David grasped something about God that is often overlooked. God is not annoyed with us when we come to Him seeking help, strength, wisdom, deliverance, etc. God is not merely putting up with us. David understood that the Lord delighted in him.  The Almighty is not bothered that one of His children should come incessantly asking for things. God delivered David because He “delighted” in him.

By contrast, there are several incidents in the book of Acts in which unscrupulous opponents of the gospel attempt to obtain the Holy Spirit for money or to invoke the name of Jesus for personal gain. In Ephesus, the seven sons of Sceva attempt to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name.  They fail as the demon overcomes and possesses them. The incident brought a wave of fear to the population. They realized that they may not trifle with the name of Jesus. God does not delight to hear the prayers of those who are not His.

Think about it

You know that God is all-powerful, omnipotent, and sovereign. He controls all things. You probably believe He can do whatever He wishes to do. You don’t doubt that there is no problem too big for Him. Like the people of Ephesus, you grasp the sanctity and power of the name of Jesus. But do you believe that He delights to hear your prayer and rescue you? How confident are you in His loving kindness, His tender care, His infinite love, and His pleasure in responding to your requests? Think about God delighting in you the next time you ask Him for something you desperately need.

 

The Importance of Seeking God

God, who knows the hearts of all, is near to those who seek Him, even when His will for them may include trials and suffering.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 7-9; Acts 17:1-15

Selected Verses

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.  Psalm 9:9-10

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.  Acts 17:11-12

Reflections

David knew suffering and difficulties throughout his life, but he also had learned to count on God no matter what came his way.  He knew how to take refuge in God (Psalm 7:1).  He knew that God would never abandon him or anyone else who was seeking Him.  God was his rock and stronghold no matter whether circumstances were good or bad.

As Paul, Silas, and Timothy continued on their missionary journey through the towns of Asia Minor, they preached about Jesus to the Jews and those Gentiles who adhered to Judaism.  The response was mixed, not everyone believed and some became hostile, but they saw faith everywhere they went, too.  The Jews in Berea who heard Paul were especially diligent in studying the Scriptures to see if what Paul was telling them was really true.  These were people who, no doubt, had been seeking God in His word.  God would not forsake them and He sent them none other than the Apostle Paul to proclaim to them the truth of Christ.

Think about it

How does your daily life reflect a seeking after God?  Are you dependent on success in your activities and business in order to remain confident in the Lord or are you spiritually stable no matter what storm you are in?  Seek the Lord through His word and prayer.  Be alert to His providence in your circumstances.   Let Him be your stronghold.  This was the way of David, the Bereans, Paul, Silas, and Timothy.  Seek Him for He will never forsake those who seek Him.

 

Midnight in a Roman Jail

Those who know the Lord God of heaven and earth have joy and peace unaffected by their outward circumstances because their confidence is in Him alone.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 4-6; Acts 16:16-40

Selected Verses

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:7-8

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.  Acts 16:25-26

Reflections

What do you do while you are held in stocks in a Roman jail at midnight? If you are Paul and Silas, you pray and sing hymns to God. Meanwhile, the other prisoners and, we may assume, the sentries and guards listen in. How can we account for such incongruous behavior? These Christian missionaries have what the Psalmist calls joy that the Lord has placed in their hearts. They have peace that allows them to trust God in a place that, for anyone else, could not be called safe. They pray and sing because that was what they normally did when they had time on their hands. Perhaps they were not comfortable enough to sleep, but they were peaceful and joyful enough to pray and sing.

God answered them in a dramatic way, with a great earthquake. The prison was rocked, the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. Who was running that place? The same One to Whom Paul and Silas prayed and sang. God is in control. He is always in control, at all times and in all places. He watches over His people down through the centuries, in David’s time, in Paul’s day, and right to us in this twenty-first century.

Think about it

Have you learned to have peace and joy no matter what adversity comes your way? Could you pray and sing in prison at midnight? Could you have joy when your grain and wine has run out? Can you lie down and sleep with an army encamped against you? David, Paul, and Silas could. Learn to trust in God, as they did.

Silence before God

It is good and instructive to keep silence before God, to listen to His Word, and to observe His mighty acts. Today we meet some who learned this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 38-39; Acts 15:1-21

Selected Verses

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3

But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Acts 15:11-12

Reflections

Job and his friends have ranted on for thirty-five of the first thirty-seven chapters of the book. The complaining of Job did not relieve him nor vindicate him before his friends. His would-be counselors’ opinions and lectures did not strike home to either help Job or indict him. At last God interrupts the futile discussion and answers Job out of the whirlwind as he seems unable to hear anything soft and gentle. God hurls questions at Job to show him his weakness and ignorance. He can only be silent for he has no answers. He is stilled before the Almighty Creator Who not only knows all things but has made all things.

God was also doing a great work in the days of the Apostles.  Persecution sent the disciples everywhere proclaiming the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Even Gentiles heard and believed. Peter had seen this first. Paul and Barnabas were seeing amazing conversions of Gentiles, too.

What should have been great news, however, was disturbing to some of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem. They could accept Gentile believers but not uncircumcised Gentile believers. The apostles called a counsel to discuss the question and to determine their policy on how Gentile believers should be treated in light of the Law of Moses. Peter was helpful in clarifying the truth of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone for all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas’ report of the work of God made all the assembly fall silent.  Like Job, they learned to be quiet, to listen, to think, and to observe what God had done.

Think about it

As we saw yesterday, there is a time to “stop and consider.” Stop the endless babble of personal opinion and pomposity. Consider what God has done in Creation and in Salvation. As the prophet wrote: “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).