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.

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.

The Best Encouragers

A friend who knows how to encourage is always a wonderful thing.  But do you know what kind of person makes the best encourager?

Today’s reading

Psalms 22-24; Acts 20:1-16

Selected Verses

 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him. Psalm 22:22-24

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. Acts 20:1-2

Reflections

Sufferers make the best encouragers because they are more in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven than others whose lives are more comfortable and secure.

The writer of Psalm 22 expresses great agony and great trust in the Lord through all of his sufferings. He never loses sight of either his pain or his God but shows that godly perspective which sees the here and now and the “there and then.” The words of this Psalm were on Jesus’ lips on the cross and, no doubt, comforted Him as He suffered and died.

Paul was certainly a suffering encourager. He had just endured jail time in Philippi,  ridicule in Athens, and the riot in Ephesus. The Jews were working on a plot to assassinate him (Acts 20:3), yet he went about encouraging the believers. What could stop the progress of the gospel ministry through Asia and Europe? Not riots; nor assassination plots; nor beatings and imprisonments. Nothing. Paul was in a unique position, as the lightning rod for the gospel, to reassure the saints that the preaching of the gospel could not be stopped. Adverse circumstances would not change the truth of the gospel nor the mandate of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19,20).

Think about it

If you would be an encourager, learn God’s word and be ready to suffer. God is able to strengthen you for that ministry which is always in great demand.

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).

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.

Can we have a Barnabas or two?

Here we meet a man who demonstrated that wise words spoken by one filled with the Holy Spirit can be used by God to accomplish great good for His glory.

Today’s Reading

Job 26-28; Acts 11

Selected Verses

Then Job answered and said:

 “How you have helped him who has no power!
“How you have saved the arm that has no strength!
“How you have counseled him who has no wisdom,
and plentifully declared sound knowledge!”  Job 26:1-3

They sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.  Acts 11:22-24

Reflections

Job complains again about the ineffectiveness of his friends’ counsel and advice in the face of his great and obvious need.  He has no power or strength and no answers as to why he is suffering.  He needs to hear truth, but they accuse him and ply simplistic views based on “recrimination theology” that God judges without mercy and grace giving to each his just desserts, no more, no less. Wisdom is a treasure not found in this conversation.  He ends today’s reading with the observation, “ Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (28:28).

Barnabas goes to Antioch to check out a report that Hellenists (Greek-speaking, uncircumcised Gentiles) were being converted.  They had heard and believed the gospel from the refugees who had been scattered by the persecution.  In contrast to Job’s friends, Barnabas, full of the Holy Spirit, exhorts and encourages them “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” As a result, “a great many people were added to the Lord.”  Despite Peter’s testimony to God’s work among the gentiles, the church is in uncharted territory with this spiritual awakening among non-Jews.  They want to understand how God is at work in new ways.  Barnabas is a man who had shown, by his openness to the converted Saul, that he is a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  His mission to Antioch is eminently successful, blessing the church there and bringing glory to God.

Think about it

If we are to be used by God with our words, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.  We need to be people who fear God, holding Him in awe and reverence.  Pray that you will be a “Barnabas” for the world in which you live. Job needed one and so do we.