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 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.

 

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).

Holy Desires Amidst Trying Times

The faithful Christian desires to please God and to glorify Him. We have examples of two men under pressure. One succeeded.  The other failed.

Today’s Reading

Job 31-32; Acts 13:1-23

Selected Verses

For I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty.  Job 31:23

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. Acts 13:13-14

Reflections

Job recited his claims to a righteous life. He lists many sins but swears before God that he is innocent of them. What motivated him to live such an upright life? He was in awe of God. He thought of the majesty of God and what it would be like to be in His glorious presence. Job still has much to learn about God, but on this point he is right. God deserves all obedience and reverence.

When Saul (now Paul) and Barnabas were sent out by the Holy Spirit and the church in Antioch as missionaries they invited John, also called Mark or John Mark, to assist them. John saw how God had led in the decision to send these men out to preach. He had been on Cyprus when Paul confronted an evil magician named Elymas whom God had struck blind. John had been there when the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, had sought to hear the word of God and had been transformed by it. Despite all this, John quit the mission midway and went home to Jerusalem.

Why did he do this? We are not told, but certainly Paul and Barnabas must have known something about John’s decision-making process. The two missionaries later disagreed so sharply about taking John on another missionary journey that they parted ways (Acts 15:37-39). John had failed them. Barnabas, known for compassion, wanted to restore John. Paul did not. John may have demonstrated a lack of fear of displeasing God or passion to glorify Him. There was no doubt about his failure to follow through. The question was whether or not to give him a second chance.

Think about it

A desire to please God and a longing to glorify Him will keep us steady and faithful when our service for Him leads through times of trials. Job had it.  John did not, although he would later show he matured over time (2 Timothy 4:11). You will not perform perfectly, but in the final analysis you will stand before God’s majesty accepted, not for your performance, but for Christ’s on your behalf.

Glory Stealing Can Be Fatal

It is a dangerous thing to receive praise from people and fail to give God the glory He deserves. Here are two men whose lives demonstrated this truth.

Today’s Reading

Job 29-30; Acts 12

Selected Verses

I chose their way and sat as chief, and I lived like a king among his troops,
like one who comforts mourners.  But now they laugh at me, men who are younger than I, whose fathers I would have disdained to set with the dogs of my flock. Job 29:25-30:1

And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.   But the word of God increased and multiplied.   Acts 12:22-24

Reflections

Job remembered a time when he had been at the top of the food chain. Everyone was in awe of him. No one questioned his decisions.  He had the final word. Now that has all gone. He is the laughingstock of his former kingdom. Now the people of low status look down on him.

King Herod played to the crowds but lacked any reverence for God. He found that executing James brought him popularity, so he arrested Peter. The Lord sent an angel to release Peter, but Herod just blamed the disappearance on the sentries and had them put to death. He left town for Caesarea. Meanwhile, the people of Tyre and Sidon sought reconciliation with Herod. His accepting their praise of him as a “god, and not a man” brought God’s wrath and his immediate death.

The difference between Herod and Job is that the latter attributed his prosperity and success to God. His losses were, to him, evidence that God had withdrawn His favor from him.  Job never stopped seeking God. Herod never began to seek God. Death was the last chapter in Herod’s life.  Suffering was only the mid-point of Job’s life.

Jesus asked the disbelieving Jews, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).   God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned?  My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11).

Think about it

Don’t be clueless like the egotistical Herod or the faithless Jews who basked in the glory of man. Job knew that God was the source of all blessing, and he would learn that God’s ways and wisdom may not be questioned. Walk humbly giving Him all the glory, because glory stealing can be fatal.

Two Truths in Focus

Two truths must be kept clearly in focus at all times if we are to not lose sight of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Do you know what these are?

Today’s Reading

Job 23-25; Acts 10:24-48

Selected Verses

How then can man be in the right before God?  How can he who is born of woman be pure?  Job 25:4

And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 10:42-43

Reflections

Bildad sees some things very clearly. God is holy, and man is sinful. But he misses the mercy and grace of God, so he asks, “How then can man be in the right before God?” This pessimistic view is not common in western society today. We are apt to hear more words extolling the greatness of humankind. “How enlightened we are! How noble are our works! God? Who’s that?” We pray to whomever, but only in times of extreme desperation. Then we revert to faith in ourselves and “confidence in confidence alone,” as Julie Andrews sang in “The Sound of Music.” (Although to be fair, I suspect that the real Maria Von Trapp would have sung “I have confidence in God.”)

Peter’s message to Cornelius and his company shows this accurate understanding of the holiness of God and the promise of forgiveness through faith in Christ. Cornelius had been a devout man, but devout men are depraved like all others, corrupted by sin in every part. He sought God and God provided for the centurion to hear the gospel from Peter himself. Not only that, but God sent His Holy Spirit on that group as they listened to the Apostle. Peter was getting the picture. God had sent him to preach to Gentiles. They believed. God sent the Holy Spirit upon them, and Peter immediately baptized them. The Gentiles were being saved. Jesus did die for the world.

Think about it

An accurate understanding of the gospel will keep in focus both the holiness of God that will result in Jesus’ judging the living and the dead, and the grace of God which manifests itself in Christ’s redemption of all who believe in Him.

Be sure you keep a clear vision of the holiness of God and the grace of God. By so doing, you will not lose sight of both the need of humanity and the power of the gospel for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and to the Gentile. Remember: Jesus is both Judge and Redeemer.

The Christian and Personal Piety

While no one is saved by good works or personal piety, those who are saved demonstrate their love for God through good works and personal piety.

Today’s Reading

Job 21-22; Acts 10:1-23

Selected Verses

 They say to God, “Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.
 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” Job 21:14-15

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.   Acts 10:1-2

Reflections

Job describes the wicked who prosper as those who tell God to “get lost,” have no passion to know Him or His ways, and won’t serve God or pray to Him. Instead they ask, “What’s in it for me?”   If we want to know what the godly man or woman looks like, we can just reverse these descriptions.  The godly seek God’s presence. They draw near to God and find that He draws near to them (James 4:8).  They want to know Him and His ways.  God’s people serve Him and pray to Him without hesitation and know that it is a privilege to serve Him and pray to Him. Nothing else is needed or desired but to know Him.

Cornelius, a Roman military officer, would seem to be an unlikely candidate for the roll call of faith.  Not so.  He was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” Undoubtedly, his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ was lacking, but God saw his heart and sent Peter to him to proclaim the good news.  Cornelius was not saved by his piety, but it did show his passion to know the Lord and God heard him.  He led his family toward the Lord and had a soldier who was devout (Acts 10:7).  It would seem that Cornelius’ fear of the Lord impacted his personal life, his family, and his professional life.  By the way, we see included here the virtue of the fear of God, a quality notably lacking among people today.

Think about it

How do you view your devotional life?  Is it a joy?  Do you anticipate being in the Lord’s presence?  Is prayer merely for personal benefit or is it communion with your Savior?  Is reverent fear of God a characteristic you seek to develop?  Think about it.  Make attitude adjustments as needed.

Surprise! Role Reversals from God

God in His Providence is able to surprise people by a switch in places either actually or figuratively for their growth in faith and godliness.

Today’s Reading

Job 16-18; Acts 9:1-22

Selected Verses

 I also could speak as you do,
    if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
    and shake my head at you.
 I could strengthen you with my mouth,
    and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.

“If I speak, my pain is not assuaged,
    and if I forbear, how much of it leaves me?  Job 16:4-6

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  Acts 9:13-16

Reflections

Job is weary of his trials which have only been increased by the harsh and hurtful criticisms of his friends. For a moment he imagines switching places with them. He says essentially that if he were in their shoes he could either be critical (as they have been) or he could use his words to strengthen and comfort them. It seems Job is claiming that if given the chance he would not do what they do, but seek to be encouraging to them. Later in Job’s story, we will learn that he does switch places with his friends and he has the opportunity to bless them.

Saul, who supported the stoning of Stephen and helped launch the persecution against the Church, had obtained arrest warrants for the believers in Damascus. On his way to bind others, he himself is stopped and bound in blindness by Jesus Christ. Saul changes immediately and follows the instructions the Lord has given him. Ananias in Damascus seems to know that Saul is coming to arrest them, but God tells him to look up Saul at a certain address and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight. Ananias is understandably nervous and hesitant. But the Lord assures him that Saul is His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Ironically, the man who was going to lay hands on Ananias to arrest him, had Ananias’ hands laid on him. What a reversal of roles that was!

Think about it

God’s Providence may have peculiar turns, but all is under His wise and sovereign will. You may get a surprise so be ready to trust and glorify God no matter how unexpected and bizarre those role reversals seem to be.