Today marks episode number 800 in the APJ series. God has sustained us and our technology and our health and our voices over these 163 consecutive weeks now. I know many of you make the podcast a part of your daily routine, and that is very humbling. Thank you for joining us every day via your podcast app. And if you are new to the podcast you can find and search through every one of those 800 episodes at desiringGod.org/askpastorjohn.
Many of those episodes are responses from you, Pastor John, to listener emails, like this one today from a weary podcast listener named Stephen. He writes in to ask: “Pastor John, please help this tired preacher see the supreme sovereign hand of Christ in the monotony of life, specifically when the kids are crying and bills are stacked up to the ceiling.” How would you encourage Stephen?
Oh, Stephen. I hear four burdens, I think — maybe five — if I read between the lines: weariness, monotony, crying children, unpaid bills and, maybe, since he calls himself a preacher, a sense of guilt or desperation that I am supposed to be a model of believing and heralding the all-sufficient truth and grace of God — and here I am under this cloud.
So there is a financial burden. There is a fatherly burden. How do I handle these kids? There is a physical, mental burden of tiredness, weariness. There is a kind of malaise hanging over the light — everything looks like it’s just the same old stuff, and everything is repeating itself monotonously, and then there is the sermon I have got to get ready for Sunday.
I feel it. I feel it. And, interestingly and hopefully, Stephen asks specifically: Help me see the sovereign hand of Christ. That is a good request. That is a good request. So he is in a good place in his bad place. He could have asked a lot of things that would have been less hopeful than that. So, Stephen, I want to give you three ways to see the sovereign hand of God or the sovereign hand of Christ in your situation. See his hand in his discipline. See his hand in his declarations of sovereignty. And see his hand in his precious promises made to every one of your five specific situations.
First, see his hand in discipline. Hebrews 12:5–6 says, “My son,” — Stephen — “do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary” — Isn’t that interesting? — “when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves, and chastises every son” — every son, not just the bad ones — “whom he receives.” I want to make sure Stephen hears this. This doesn’t mean necessarily that there is a specific sin which your troubles are disciplining. According to Hebrews 5:8 even Christ learned obedience through suffering and he never sinned. So God may simply be forcing you in this troubled time to be more reliant, more fully reliant, more heavily depending on him and his sovereign grace in your financial and physical straits. But — and I say this cautiously and earnestly — it is wise in every hardship to search our hearts and our lives for sins or for acts of carelessness that may account for God’s putting us in this situation.
Is there inordinate spending behind the unpaid bills? Is there careless financial planning? Are you living beyond your means? Is there simple negligence in not putting first things first and not getting checks written that need to be written first? Now maybe not, maybe not. I don’t mean to accuse. Maybe there has been a crisis and the money was just all evaporated in a medical bill. Maybe the church isn’t paying a livable wage. I don’t know. But all of those questions should be asked in a disciplinary moment where God our Father has brought us into hard times for our holiness.
Second, see God’s sovereign hand in the declarations of his sovereignty over your situation. We see God’s sovereignty mainly in the Word of God declaring God’s sovereignty. Isaiah 46:9–10 says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” Ephesians 1:11, “[He] works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” James 4:15, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” — pay our bills or whatever. Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”
When these kinds of declarations combine in the human heart with earnest faith in God’s wisdom and goodness, a great stability, a great endurance is given in the midst of suffering — even the suffering of monotony.
Lastly, third, Stephen, see the sovereign hand of God, the good, gracious, wise, sovereign hand of God in his promises to you concerning your specific troubles. So here they are. I just look for promises that relate to your five burdens:
1) In your weariness, he promises, “My grace is sufficient of you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). He has a purpose for this season of tiredness, and he will be made glorious in it as you count on his strength when you don’t have your own.
2) In the crying of your children, he promises — yes, he does and you must believe this in your heart, even if your heart gets broken by it — “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:5). These children, these crying children, these children who can grow up and break your heart, are a blessing. Don’t judge as the world judges. 2:00 in the morning, a kid won’t sleep. Don’t judge as the world judges. The world will not call these crying children a blessing. You will. God does. And this is a matter of faith and he promises they are a blessing.
3) Your financial stress. “I will supply every need of yours” — needs, needs, yes I will — “according to my riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (see Philippians 4:19). That was the ground of Paul’s contentment when he was brought low, like you have been, and when he was brought high (Philippians 4:12).
4) Your monotony. I thought a lot about this, because I don’t like monotony and yet I love monotony. I love saying this. I want to be in the study in my desk with everything exactly the same every time I am here. Don’t bring anything into my life. I have got work to do. I love sameness. But I know what it is. I know what it is to do a church, to do a family, and feel like: Will there be any breakthroughs? Will there be any fresh days? Will there be any new thing that comes about? Now in Peter’s day there were people who were mocking the monotony of time as Christ did not come. They said, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning” (2 Peter 3:4). Same old, same old, same old. And there is not going to be any breakthrough into this world with a great new day of the second coming. That is just a lot of mythological pie in the sky, monotony, monotony, monotony, to which Peter answers: “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8). Translated into your situation, Stephen, that means God does not count monotonous repetition the way you do. He has a perfect plan for you and new things, inspiring things, encouraging things, breakthroughs will come in his time. Your patience and your endurance are being tested. Don’t fail the test. Get up. Do what needs to be done every day. The breakthroughs will come at his appointed time.
5) And finally, with regard to preaching, he promises: “[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). Don’t preach your experience. Preach the meaning of biblical texts. They stand now no matter how you feel. Yes they do. Don’t claim to be what you are not. Don’t put on any airs. Admit your weakness. But never underestimate the power of the Word of God. You may be bored with life. God is not bored with your life, and he is infinitely excited about what he is doing in you and in this church and in the world. He is never boring, and his Word is not boring. It is infinitely interesting and infinitely powerful. So preach it, Stephen. He will lift these burdens in due time.