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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God's Providence in the Bits and Pieces
Text:LD 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 90:1,2                                                                                

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Ps 91:1,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 10

Ps 31:1,2,9

Hy 54:1,2,3,8

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, say there’s a big disaster somewhere. An earthquake in Italy maybe, or a terrorist attack in France. The results are horrific: villages destroyed, or hundreds left dead. While we’re shocked and saddened, we might also say something like, “That’s God’s providence. This too is in his hands.” For God’s providence is his perfect government over everything. It’s actually an enormous concept. It boggles the mind: nothing at all in this universe is outside of his control!

We’ll confess that, how God governs the biggest and most important events in this world. But when it gets personal—when it’s knocking at our own door—this confession is harder to make, or it’s harder to be really sure of: “God can manage the whole universe, but is He actually watching the details of my little life? Doesn’t always feel like it. Feels like someone’s put me on auto-pilot, and I’m just drifting along.” There are times when we feel disconnected from God’s “almighty and ever present power.”

So notice how Lord’s Day 10 talks about God’s providence with concrete examples from regular, ordinary life—with the things of our life. It says that God so governs all things, “that leaf and blade, rain and drought…health and sickness, riches and poverty…come to us not by chance but by his Fatherly hand.” With all those matching sets, the Catechism wants to show how real and personal is God’s providence: it’s even in the bits and pieces, the odds and ends of our everyday.

It’s interesting to see how the Heidelberg Catechism in this way is like a couple of other confessions from the Reformation period. Martin Luther wrote a catechism too, and there he confesses this about the LORD’s faithful care: “God gives me clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home, wife and children, fields and cattle, and all my goods.” There’s also something called the Geneva Catechism, written by John Calvin. And there Calvin wrote that God’s providence includes “rain and drought, tempest and fair weather, fruitfulness and barrenness, health and sickness.” A few of these appear almost exactly in our Catechism.

The point is that God’s care misses nothing, but all creation—and our lives too—are entirely in his hands. In recognition of this same fact the author of Ecclesiastes once wrote, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” This is our theme,

To everything God our Father has given its season:

  1. the good in its season
  2. the bad in its season
  3. the comfort in this truth


1. the good in its season: The text we read from Ecclesiastes 3 is well-known, popular even among those who aren’t Christians. These words often get quoted at important events like weddings and funerals, “To everything there is a season… A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted” (vv 1-2).

It’s a favourite text, but it’s found in a most unhappy book. You probably know how Ecclesiastes has a dismal refrain. It’s the first thing the author declares in chapter 1, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (v 2). Other translations put it just as darkly, like the NIV: “Meaningless, meaningless.” And it continues from there, chapter after painful chapter. For the author wants to teach us that in some respects, this human life is empty and vain. 

The author knows of what he speaks. As the king of Israel, he says in chapters 1-2, he had been a wealthy man, wise and powerful and ambitious, one who did whatever he pleased. In his prime, he had all the riches and opportunities that a person could ever dream of. Yet even having lots of wealth and wisdom and women, he found no peace. At the end of the day, he wasn’t happy—because he’d forgotten something very important.

By chapter 12 and the end of the book, the author tells us what was absent from his life: he was missing God! Not that God had ever gone away, but he had moved. He’d tried to live apart from a relationship with his Creator. And that’ll never be the “good life!” No, a life pursued apart from the true God will be utterly hopeless. You can pour endless energy and pleasure and planning into such a life, but it’ll still be empty. There will still come a day when you ask, “What’s the point of it all?” But a life with God, and a life for God, is greatly blessed. That’s the central lesson the Holy Spirit wants teach in Ecclesiastes.

This is how chapter 3 begins: “To everything there is a season” (v 1). It’s saying that all things in this life have their proper time. There’s going to be an up, and there’s going to be a down. There won’t always be sunny skies for you, nor are those heavy grey clouds going to linger forever. “To everything a season.”

Notice that God isn’t mentioned by name here, but there’s a clear hint in the next half of verse 1: “[There is] a time for every purpose under heaven.” We know it’s the sovereign Lord in heaven who assigns everything its time and place. There’s not a single moment of our life that falls outside of his eternal counsel!

Then we hear what the author means when he says “everything.” For he surveys life and sees everywhere these contrasting moments, good and bad, pleasant and difficult, beginnings and endings. And all of them, without exception, are under the LORD’s control: “A time to be born, a time to die…”

When we look at that inventory in Ecclesiastes 1, we’re reminded that there are many joys in this life. From God’s gracious hand there come many good times, many blessings, many gifts. There’s one included in each of those pairs in verses 2-8; sometimes it’s put first, sometimes it comes later, but the good is always there.

There is “a time to be born” (v 2). That’s a good place to start. For what is more special, more amazing, than the moment of a child’s birth? It’s one of those times when even unbelievers will say, “What a miracle!” We see it clearly: God himself has granted a new beginning, He’s brought a brand new person from the flesh of two others. Sometimes parents will think that having a baby was actually their decision. And the doctors might claim they can predict it almost exactly, but in the end, “the time to be born” is set by God alone.

The same is true for every good thing in the author’s survey. Like “a time to plant” (v 2). Planting is a time for hopeful expectations. A farmer sows the seed in his field, looking for a good harvest. A person might make an investment of his money for the future, hopeful for good returns. A teacher might share a lesson with her students—but it’s God alone who, in his time, provides the blessing on these things. It’s God who causes what we plant to bear fruit.     

And it’s God who gives us reason for joy. Lots of joy, for the Spirit teaches that there’s “a time to laugh… a time to dance… a time to embrace… a time to love” (vv 4,5,8). There is much that is meaningless and sad in this world. And sometimes that’s all we see: the reasons to worry or to have regret. But clearly there’s also much goodness: from the LORD we receive so many gifts, one after another.

Every day we can enjoy his blessings of good food and drink. We get to have time for holidays and leisure. We can gather with close friends and dear family and fellow believers—and we cherish these gifts. We know that all these good things have come to us not by chance, but by his Fatherly hand. For the sake of Jesus Christ, He loves us. And as a perfect Father He delights to give his children good things!

Yet there’s also challenge here. We have to see that all these blessings aren’t the most important thing—they’re not the key to our happiness. There’s a place for your children and your house and money and sports and friendship and education, but on their own these things are useless. They’re meaningless, when this is all there is.

That’s the tough conclusion in Ecclesiastes 3 that most people never read. After all that beautiful poetry, it comes in verse 9, “What profit has the worker from that in which he labors?” That’s a really painful question: What’s it all for? What’s the point? What gain is there, if you’ve received all this goodness from God, but then you’ve forgotten the LORD? What good is it, if you’ve turned all these blessings in your life into worthless idols?

The LORD wants a different response. When we’re allowed to be stewards of God’s gifts, when we are afforded great opportunities for work and education and leisure, we dare not congratulate ourselves or become proud. This wasn’t our doing. This isn’t our hard work. Instead, the Catechism teaches, God’s providence means that we should be “thankful in prosperity” (Q&A 28).

In seasons of goodness, rejoice in God’s gifts. In seasons of blessing, don’t forget how undeserving you are of all his kindness. When you prosper, don’t squander it on yourself or buy heaps of treasures that will fade. Rather, use God’s gifts to his glory. Care for the poor. Spread the gospel. Promote the kingdom. Then we’ll be prepared to receive the bad in its season.


2. the bad in its season: We said that the author of Ecclesiastes had tasted from the overflowing fountain of God’s goodness. But something else he experienced was the bitterness of human life. For along with all the good, there’s disappointment, and waste, and frustration. This life knows a full inventory of sorrows. Those contrasting sets in verses 2-8 tell the story of a fallen mankind and a groaning creation. For while there’s a time to be born, there is also “a time to die” (v 2). Those four short words say so much about the shortness and the weakness of this human life: “a time to die.”

A bit later in this chapter, the author meditates on how nobody escapes death: “For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity” (v 19). Humbling, isn’t it? You and your dog are both going to die. It’s the fate of both man and beast. We’re only made of dust, so to dust we return. Our life can be extinguished in a moment.

And it’s not just at funerals that we see this. The Catechism says there are times of drought, and times of sickness, and times of poverty. Ecclesiastes tells us more about this brokenness. There is “a time to pluck what is planted” (v 2)—that doesn’t mean harvesting, but uprooting something and ending it, because it’s no longer useful. In this life there is also “a time to kill” (v 3), when bombs have to be dropped, and when police have to take out their guns. And in God’s providence there is a “a time to break down” (v 3): a home crumbles, a city is destroyed, a friendship is broken. God says there is also “a time to lose” (v 6). The good things you once had can be lost—lost through your own foolishness, or through the wickedness of others, or through disaster. “To everything a season.”

All of this means that while our life has its joys and gladness, there is also “a time to weep” (v 4), and “a time to mourn” (v 4), and “a time to refrain from embracing” (v 5). In every corner, we see it. There are really difficult things: tension between husband and wife, or tension between parents and children. People under discipline in the church. Struggles at school, temptations at our work, to say nothing of the wars and disasters among the nations—in all this, there’s weeping and mourning.

But just as with the good, these are the purposes that have been given “under heaven.” These things too, are under heaven’s watch! Just as with the good, all these bad moments “come to us not by chance, but by [God’s] fatherly hand.” It’s from him. And that makes all the difference in the world.

We see this in verse 14. Listen: “I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.” That verse says God has a purpose in all that He does, and it’s a purpose that “shall be forever.” Because it’s perfect. There are ups, and there are downs, and there are long, flat stretches in between. Yet Scripture says there’s a beautiful harmony in everything God brings into our life: “Whatever God does, it shall be forever.”

God wants us to see this and understand it—for what reason? “So that men should fear before Him” (v 14). “Fearing Him” doesn’t mean being terrified about God’s going to do next. It doesn’t mean being intimidated by a God who is cruel and unpredictable. No, “fearing Him” means we give God humble honour for whatever He does, both in our weeping and laughing, in war and in peace. We stand in awe of his almighty power, and we trust in his faithful care.

As the Catechism teaches so beautifully, God’s providence means “we can be patient in adversity” (Q&A 28). In your seasons of adversity, remember the perfect wisdom and power of your God. In seasons of trial, don’t forget how much God loves you in Jesus Christ, and how He has proven that love at the cross. In times of hardship, don’t forget that God disciplines all those whom loves, to nurture our faith in him. Rest yourself in the sure promises of the Father, and find comfort in the truth of his perfect providence.


3. the comfort in this truth: We said that Ecclesiastes can be a dark book—that the light doesn’t really shine until the last chapter. But we see a glimmer in verses 12-13, “I know that nothing is better for [man] than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labour—it is the gift of God.”

In those words, the Spirit calls us to receive this life for what it is: the precious gift of God. Embrace it. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it—because it’s been given by God. Make the most of your time here, and do good while you have life—all to the glory of the LORD our Creator and Saviour. That’s our purpose, and nothing is better! For our life is his.

This was also David’s confession in Psalm 31. He wrote Psalm 31 about a time he was on the run from his enemies, fearing for his life. Yet listen to what he confesses to the LORD, “As for me, I trust in you, O LORD; I say ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (vv 14-15). “My times,” he says: the good times, the bad times, every time in between—“my times are in your hand.”

And notice how David says it. He doesn’t say to God, “My times are sitting on your shelf.” He doesn’t say, “My times are stored away in boxes, in your heavenly shed.” No, “My times are in your hand!” Right there, where He can see us! Our Father isn’t a distant CEO, someone who manages our lives without really caring. He doesn’t put us in a place where He forgets us. His power is ever-present, his grace is ever-near: “My times are in your hand.”

Whether it’s a time for a little baby to be born, or it's time for elderly sister to die. Whether it’s a time for friends to weep together, or a time for them to laugh. Whether it’s a time to keep, or a time to throw away… God holds our times in his hand. With perfect wisdom, He leads our lives. With perfect strength, He lifts us. With perfect mercy, He gathers his children to himself. This is the truth that gives our greatest comfort: the hands of the Father will always hold us tight. Even when we suffer and we grieve and we lose, God is there. Yes, even when we die, God is there.

For ultimately, there’s far more to life than what we see today in the “leaf and blade, rain and drought…health and sickness, riches and poverty.” There’s much more to life than this. As the Spirit says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has put eternity in our hearts.” Eternity in the heart—God has given us a built-in reminder that already today, we’re bound for glory. Already today, we’re getting ready to move into the Father’s house. This is why the Catechism says that “with a view to the future, we can have a firm confidence” (Q&A 28). Because of God’s promises, we can always have one eye on the future. Tomorrow. Next year. Forever.

Because God has given everything its season, this is how we can face the future: With a firm confidence. With a steady faith. With a loving trust in the providence of God, who is our Father in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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