Trust Promises, Not Providences

This morning my assistant, Bryan DeWire, found out his father, who 24 hours ago seemed in fine health, didn’t make it through emergency heart surgery. This afternoon, my wife called me in tears to update me on a very difficult day trying to raise and teach 5 young children. Very different, yet real and painful experiences of God’s providential reign in lives of Christians I love.

Also this morning I read this sentence in a pamphlet titled, “Honey Out of the Rock,” by Puritan Thomas Wilcox,

“Judge not Christ’s love by providences, but by promises.”

Experiences are very powerful. They often feel more powerful than promises. So it's tempting to interpret prosperity and ease as God’s blessing and tribulation as God’s displeasure. And sometimes they are. But often they are not.

Actually, what we see all the way through the Bible is the Lord training his disciples to trust his promises more than providences. Think of Abraham and Sarah waiting for Isaac, or Jacob losing Rachel, or Joseph in slavery and prison, or Job’s suffering, or David running from Saul. Think of Lazarus and the heartbreak of his death and the constant tribulations of Paul. And of course Jesus set the ultimate example by looking to the joy set before him as he endured the cross (Heb 12:2).

Strange, isn’t it? In the Bible pain is often the path to unspeakable joy and prosperity is often an obstacle to it. What’s going on?

Simply, God wants us to treasure what we can’t see more than what we can.

“For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18).

And we find out that it’s pain more than prosperity that makes us look for what our eyes can’t see, and long for a satisfaction that doesn’t exist in this world.

So Thomas Wilcox’s advice is worth heeding. For those of us who are experiencing a bitter providence, Wilcox goes on to say,

Bless God for shaking off false foundations, for any way whereby He keeps the soul awakened and looking after Christ; better sickness and temptations, than security and superficiality.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.