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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Completely Upheld in God’s Perfect Providence
Text:LD 10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-05-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 31:1,2,9                                                                                         

Hy 1

Reading – 1 Samuel 1:1-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-11

Ps 62:1,3,4

Sermon – Lord’s Day 10

Hy 64:1,2

Hy 82:1,2

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


Beloved brothers and sisters, the providence of God is one of the most comforting doctrines of our faith. Talk to a believer who’s gone through times of trouble or sadness, and he might say, “It’s the providence of God that got me through it. No matter what happened, I could trust in his providence.” It’s a doctrine loved by the church because it sets beneath us a rock-solid foundation. Take away God’s providence, and we’re just helpless souls floating in a universe of uncertainty.

But when it comes to providence, we have to know what it is before we can love it. That’s probably why the Catechism asks the question, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” (Q&A 27). If we don’t understand it, we’ll never rest on God’s providence during the dark days of life—or during all the ordinary days of life.

On one level, God’s providence might not be as comforting as it should be, simply because of its size as a word. It’s one of those big theological words that every Reformed believer recognizes—like covenant or sanctification or atonement—but a word whose exact meaning is often a bit foggy in our minds.

On another level, God’s providence might not be as comforting as it should be, because of its size as a concept. “What do you understand by the providence of God?” Someone recites: “That is God’s almighty and ever-present power, through which He upholds and governs all things.” Someone else sings, “It means He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

These things are definitely part of the providence of God. He did create the entire universe with the word of his mouth, and He maintains it with the same. And certainly, everything is under his control: governments and nations, seasons and disasters, planets and stars, years of war and years of peace. The doctrine of God’s providence is a huge, even infinite, concept. Yet it’s also very applicable to our small and ordinary lives: our past, present, and future. In Lord’s Day 10, let’s take comfort and find strength in God’s providence.

Our life is wholly upheld in God’s providence. We can be:

  1. patient enduring adversity
  2. thankful enjoying prosperity
  3. confident facing the future

 

1) patient enduring adversity: We just said that the doctrine of God’s providence is no obscure or vague concept. For after it explains what providence is (Q&A 27), the Catechism asks: “What does it benefit you to know that God has created all things and still upholds them…?” (Q&A 28). And with the answer we go straight to the ground level, “We can be patient in adversity.” When it comes to living out the doctrine of providence, this is addressed before anything else: the adversity we must endure.

For even if we have little else in common, we all share adversity. It’s the nature of our existence. Romans 8 says the whole creation groans as in the pains of childbirth, wracked by the torment of sin and its results (Rom 8:22). It’s an anguish that at times seems unending.

As a church community, we can certainly attest to the adversities of this life. Together we could make quite a list of the sorrows and challenges that we’ve had to endure, or still have to endure: cancer, and diabetes, and MS; chronic pain, depression and anxiety disorders; there are unbelieving children, and concerns about money; there is trouble with the law; there has been divorce, tragic accidents on the road and at work; there is addiction and abuse, family conflict and breakdown, and much more. Adversity is no stranger in our midst.

Under God’s gracious protection, some of us have led pretty sheltered years so far. Some of us might even feel there is little they can count as adversity in their lives: no major illness, much material and spiritual blessing, a happy disposition and a bright future.

Yet not one of us can close our eyes to the brokenness of life. Look closely, and you’ll see that even our healthiest and strongest relationships are tarnished in some way, even our best motivations and desires are impure, and a new worry is always just underneath the surface, ready to pop up and trouble us.

As sinners living on a groaning earth, we’re all joined in adversity. But in our adversity, whatever form it takes, we can be patient. True Christian patience—patience as a fruit of the Spirit—is a God-given ability to wait with hopeful expectation. In patience we can endure something for as long as God makes it last.

Being patient is waiting on the Lord. We abide by his clock and trust in his timing. “Wait for the LORD” says David in Psalm 27, “be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (v 14). We wait, not because God is slow, or because He’s forgotten us standing outside in the rain, but because we trust He’ll always do what is best. That is God’s providence: He knows perfectly what we need, when we need it, and God our Father is fully able to bring it about.

Hannah, whom we read about in 1 Samuel 1-2, is a beautiful example of patience in adversity. She was one of the two wives of Elkanah, and though she was loved dearly by her husband, the LORD had closed her womb. In being childless, she suffered greatly. This was no small adversity for her, but you might even say it dominated her life like some suffering does: she would cry and not eat (1:7); she was downhearted (1:8); she wept in bitterness of soul (1:10).

Yet Hannah was patient. She turned to God and waited on him. That certainly doesn’t mean she resigned herself to her lot in life, gave up and shut down. We see that she fervently prayed for a son (1:11), agonizing over the Lord’s will for her. Yet in all Hannah’s petitions, she knew that the matter was fully in God’s hand. She confessed that God had every ability to change her miserable situation.

Consider how she prays, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your maidservant and remember me, and not forget your maidservant…” (1:11). That she calls on the name of the “LORD of hosts” is full of meaning. For what are the “hosts” of the LORD?

There are some texts which show God as the head of human armies. For example, in 1 Samuel 17:45 David confronts Goliath with these words: “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.” Other texts say that the LORD’s hosts are heavenly creatures, the powerful angels. A prophet in 1 Kings 22 describes this scene in heaven: “I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven around him” (1 Kgs 22:19).

Clearly, the idea of the title “LORD of hosts” is that God is sovereign over all the powers in the universe. He is the Lord of powers visible and invisible, chief of great armies human and non-human. This is why some Bible translations render the name as “LORD Almighty.” He is the God of supreme strength and perfect ability. When we pray then, is anything too hard for the LORD? Will the arm of the LORD ever to be too short?

In prayer and faith Hannah waited on her God, the LORD of hosts, year after year. And for a long time the pain remained: she still had no child. Notice how it says her grief dragged on, “year after year” (1:7). Of course, we know how Hannah’s adversity was finally resolved. She received a child from the LORD as she prayed for. Her son was even to become a great servant of God. Her pain and bitterness had been real, yet hers was a happy ending.

So is that the lesson of God’s providence? Can we expect a happy ending for all of God’s praying children? If we wait long enough, do we get what we hoped for? We know reality to be different. Even when we accept adversities in humble patience, this doesn’t mean the suffering will stop. Healing isn’t always given, though it’s requested constantly of the Lord. Sometimes no child is granted, though God is pleaded with, year after year. Our trouble might not go away, though we’re sure we could serve God better if He’d only answer.

Has God then forgotten us in our trouble, overlooked our prayers? God our Father never forgets. Sometimes He makes us wait and wait, as Hannah had to wait. Sometimes He makes us suffer and cry for years, as Hannah had to. But in his providence, in his mighty power and unfailing love, God holds us fast and He hears our voice.

Sometimes God answers us with rich blessings and gifts, even the very things we asked for. Or He answers in a way that we quickly see is much better and wiser than anything we imagined. Or God answers in a way that is much harder, in a way we struggle to understand.

Even so, providence is never about God giving us things, though God could give us the world. Providence is about God giving us himself; it is about the Lord being “our faithful God and Father” through Christ. Even if adversity remains, even if his answer is most difficult to accept, we know that there is “no creature [that] shall separate us from his love” (Q&A 28). Resolutely looking to him, we can always be patient in adversity.

 

2) thankful enjoying prosperity: When things are going badly, we’ll quickly turn to God in prayer. And so we should. But when all is well, it’s also a fact that God is often quickly forgotten. We might even dare to take the credit ourselves for success. When we prosper in our career, we say it’s because of our hard work and intelligence. When we prosper as family, we say it’s because we’ve read a lot of good books on parenting. When we enjoy good health, we say it’s because we eat well and get our exercise.

Such human pride is an offense to God. Remember this truth: “All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move” (Q&A 28). We cannot even move apart from God’s will. So who are we to claim any credit when we enjoy blessings? No matter how much we sweat, or read, or plan, or love, or pray, every moment is directed by God! And so we must be thankful.

Listen to how Hannah confesses the total providence of God in her prayer in 1 Samuel 2: “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up” (1 Sam 2:6-7). She is saying that God sends it all, both the bad and the good. He sends both the crippling disease and the successful operation; He sends both the bankruptcy and the profitable business deal. So if we prosper in any way, it’s only because God is blessing us in his providence. As Paul asks us point blank in 1 Corinthians 4: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (v 7).

Hannah wasn’t able to open her own womb, like we can’t give ourselves good health, or even purchase a loaf of bread without God’s generous provision. So Hannah says, “Talk no more so very proudly; let no arrogance come from your mouth” (1 Sam 2:3). And again, “For by strength no man shall prevail” (2:9). You’ll never be effective or productive by your own ability. Instead of being proud, be thankful when God provides.

So notice that when Hannah receives the long-awaited answer to her prayers, her first instinct is to give thanks. In her unexpected good fortune, she knows the God from whom all blessings flow. The first thing she does in gratitude is name her son “Samuel,” or “God has heard” (1 Sam 1:20). The name of her son would be a constant reminder of God’s grace, it would be a lasting monument to his goodness.

What’s more, Hannah sings a beautiful song of praise, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the LORD” (2:1). Her thankfulness in the LORD overflows. For when a person loves the providence of God, their longing will always be to give thanks to him in word and deed. We want to acknowledge the LORD who gives every single good thing that we have. We’re not only “patient in adversity,” we are “thankful in prosperity” (Q&A 28).

As it did for Hannah, such thanksgiving should fill our prayers to overflowing: “Loving Father, thank you for the gospel. Thank you for life, for food, for a loving family, for godly friends, for my home, for school, for the church!” Even if you thank God for everything you can possibly think to mention, you still won’t be done thanking him. This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5, “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20).

Give thanks, and be thankful! Thankfulness isn’t just the pleasant feeling brought on by a good meal, or the satisfaction we have after a good day at work. A feeling like that might arise on a day when things are going well, but such a feeling can also quickly fade. All week long we can gaze at our life and possessions and say, “Boy, am I thankful…” But what does it mean to be thankful? How do we show that we’re thankful for our prosperity?

Gratitude begins in our prayers, we said—it’s the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us. But then thankfulness must stream into every corner. As Scripture says, our whole lives must be sacrifices of thanksgiving: everything given wholly to God, offered to him purely and freely and lovingly. Your money, your home, your opportunities, your talents, your family, even your faith—they’re all gifts of God! So in his service we don’t hold anything back from the one who gave us all things.

Think again of Hannah. She didn’t just name her child as a passing gesture of gratitude, nor did she just pray one quick song of praise. In 1 Samuel 1 we see that she commits her son entirely to God and his service. The son she wanted so badly she gave right back to the LORD, as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Let’s remember that Hannah had no idea that she’d receive more children. Later on she was blessed with other sons and daughters. But her gift at the tabernacle doesn’t depend on what God might or might not do in the future. Now that she’s been blessed, she’ll give in generous gratitude to God. Samuel is her first and best portion, presented to the LORD.

It should be no different for us. Giving God our first and best portion is a sure sign of our how thankful we are. Not how much we give, but in what spirit we give it. And we’re not just talking about giving money out of your monthly pay. Consider the gifts and talents God has given you—a thankful person will contribute these to God’s service. Look at all the time God has given you—a thankful person will use these hours to work in God’s kingdom. Let it be heard in your prayers and seen in your life: How thankful are you?

We don’t read that Hannah was sad as she handed Samuel over to Eli at the tabernacle. But don’t think of Hannah as less than human, without emotions and feelings. She had a deep attachment to this child whom she had finally received. Surely she did cry as she walked toward the tabernacle grounds, holding little Samuel’s hand. It wasn’t easy for Hannah to let him go!

Let it never be thought that serving God is meant to be easy. Yes, Christ says his burden is light. It is light because our eternal reward is so great in comparison! But being thankful to God—and showing our thankfulness—can mean that we give things up. God might move us surrender things we’d prefer to keep for ourselves, like our precious time, or our sense of security, or our possessions. But because it’s for our loving God and faithful Father, we are willing. We are thankful in all circumstances, and we are…

 

3) confident facing the future: In our prosperity we must be thankful. But prosperity of the earthly kind will not last forever. Your body, like a tent, will slowly fade and fray. Our treasures on earth will be destroyed by moth and rust, or will be stolen by thieves. Even our loved ones will each meet the last enemy and they will die. The blessings of this life will certainly pass.

As we look ahead to tomorrow at school, or as we look ahead to our work schedule for the next two months, and even to the uncertainty of the coming years, we may have a world of reasons to be anxious. And it’s true that no matter what blessings we’re allowed to enjoy today, anxiety can sap our enjoyment of life. Anxiety can paralyze our gratitude.

But here too, we rest in the providence of God: “With a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father” (Q&A 28). As the saying goes, we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future! The providence of God means that “with his hand [God]… upholds heaven and earth and all creatures” (Q&A 27).

This is what Hannah knew also. In the past God never ignored her, and in coming years God would never forsake her. To be sure, Samuel’s future as a judge in Israel was going to be difficult. Israel’s future as the LORD’s people was going to be ugly. Hannah had her own struggles in Elkanah’s household. But Hannah is confident in God: “No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides you, nor is there any rock like our God” (1 Sam 2:2).

Underline that word of immense dependability: like a rock, God is dependable. God cannot be shaken by the things that shake us. God cannot be worn down by the things that wear us down. He is a Rock! The fullness of his strength will never decrease, nor will the sureness of his grace. We can build on God our Rock in faith, and count on this Rock in confidence, even as the years pass and storms beat down.

For just a moment Hannah too, looks ahead to the future in 1 Samuel 2:10. She looks toward the coming king, to God’s anointed: “The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

As she looks into the future, who does Hannah see? She gets to see the Messiah, the Christ. Because through this little boy Samuel, the way of Christ will be prepared. Samuel is going to anoint a young man from Jesse’s house, David, who will be a mighty king with an everlasting kingdom. And David’s greatest son will be Jesus Christ, the eternal King. Our future as God’s people is totally secure because Christ is on his throne.

What then is tomorrow? What then is next year? We can be confident, for “neither the present nor the future”—even the future with all of its worries and fears and uncertainties—“will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-38). In his providence, God will never forget us but uphold us always. Beloved, know that we are right where God can see us: we are in his hands today, tomorrow, and forever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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