What Difference Does Providence Make?
What difference would it make in your life if you saw God’s providence as true and biblical and beautiful, something so incredible you could build your entire life on it? Would it change your life? Pastor John is betting it will, and so we want to focus on those implications for a season here on APJ.
As you know, Pastor John’s big book Providence releases this March. It’s seven hundred pages long and has over three thousand Bible citations. But over the course of the next several weeks, we want to look at the so-whats of the doctrine — and show you how some of the most important, key life-application points are relevant for your busy life.
So for the next several weeks we are putting our sermon clip Wednesdays on hold in order to focus on the immediate implications of providence. Today is week number one, an introduction, with ten episodes to follow. Here now is Pastor John to introduce our new Wednesday series.
Tony, let me give at least three reasons why this feels so right to me, so urgent, to build eleven sessions on providence into the flow of Ask Pastor John.
Seeing and Savoring All-Pervasive Providence
First, what is in this book on providence and in these episodes is the foundation of every single answer I ever give on this program. If people understand what I mean by the providence of God and its benefits, it will inform and deepen every single answer that they ever hear on this podcast. That’s reason number one.
Second, since God’s providence is all-embracing and all-pervading, it relates powerfully, meaningfully, immediately to every situation in every person’s life. Nothing is outside the providence of God. His design in his providence at every moment of our lives is relevant for how we live and how we respond to everything that comes our way.
“God’s design in his providence at every moment of our lives is relevant for how we live and respond to everything.”
This would be another reason why it feels so fitting to put the series here: I really want our listeners to have this book on their shelf as a reference book for a hundred issues in their lives and ministry. I know and you know, Tony, that most people do not read seven-hundred-page books. But they do put them on their shelves if they have three thousand Bible references in the index that enable them to find the issue they’re dealing with and see how the providence of God relates to it. I am jealous that our listeners — our listeners, especially — have access to those thousand passages of Scripture that bring the providence of God to bear on their lives.
So, Tony, I love this family of listeners to Ask Pastor John, and I wouldn’t press the providence of God into our ordinary flow of question-and-answer if I didn’t think it would be really worth everybody’s time.
Somebody asked me how long it took me to write the book on providence, and I said, “Oh, about fifty years.” Of course, what I meant was that this book is the consummation or the capstone of all the most important things I have ever discovered about God and his ways and his goals in the Bible. This book is the most comprehensive statement of the things in Scripture that I regard to be most important for worshiping and living and dying.
What we want to do in this series of Ask Pastor John is draw out ten effects, ten real-life implications of seeing and savoring this vision of God’s providence as real and beautiful. In other words, what difference would it make in your life if you saw this vision of God’s providence as true and biblical and beautiful — if you embrace it and build your life on it? So, that’s where we are going: ten powerful effects of seeing and savoring the all-pervasive providence of God.
Purposeful Sovereignty over All
But in this first session, I think it is absolutely crucial that I make clear what I mean by the word providence, the reality of providence. What’s the definition? What’s the extent? What’s the nature? What’s the goal? That is the whole book, and we’re going to do it in just a few minutes. And then following are ten sessions that bring out ten real-life implications of embracing this reality.
So first, by providence I mean God’s purposeful sovereignty — purposeful sovereignty. In other words, the difference between God’s sovereignty and God’s providence is that his sovereignty is his right and power to do all that he pleases; his providence is the exercise of that right and power purposefully. Providence is God’s use of his power and his authority to bring about an ultimate purpose for the universe that cannot fail.
How Far Does God’s Providence Reach?
What, then, is the extent of his providence? How far does it reach? How detailed is it? What does it include? My answer from Scripture is that God’s providence is all-pervading and all-embracing. There is nothing — nothing in the universe — that lies outside God’s meticulous and infinitely far-reaching governance.
In Ephesians 1:11, Paul refers to the predestining God as he “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
The climax of the book of Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
In Isaiah 46:10, God says that part of what it means to be God is this: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”
“Providence is God’s use of his power and his authority to bring about an ultimate purpose for the universe.”
So, he governs all things. All his purpose is achieved. No purpose can be thwarted. And that is true, Jesus said, of the smallest details, like a bird falling from the sky (Matthew 10:29). Isaiah said it was true of the biggest things, like placing the stars in place and calling them all by name (Isaiah 40:26). And Luke said in Acts 4:27–28 that this providence even governs the sinful actions of Christ-killing Herod, Pilate, Jews, Gentiles — all of us, basically. The extent of God’s providence is all-pervading and all-embracing.
How Does God’s Providence Happen?
What about its nature? What I mean by that is, Does he govern by coercion? Is that the nature of it? Does he take away the meaningfulness of human volition as he governs all things and all people? No, the nature of God’s providence is formed by his wisdom and justice and mercy.
Daniel 4:37 says, “All his works are right and his ways are just.”
Psalm 104:24 says, “How manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all.”
Genesis 18:25 says, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
No angel, no demon, no human is ever treated worse than they deserve — none. The nature of God’s providence is infinitely wise and always just.
To What End Does God’s Providence Work?
Finally, what is the goal of providence? If providence is purposeful sovereignty, what’s the ultimate purpose of it all? Creation, history, redemption — where’s it all going? When I first started to write this book, I thought it would be a book about the nature and extent of providence — period. That’s all: just those two. As I began to write, I realized I can’t speak meaningfully about God’s governing all things and his doing it in a just and wise way without talking about how God makes his wise choices — billions and billions of them — unless these choices are made to take the universe somewhere, rather than being whimsical or being made willy-nilly. So, the goal of providence now takes up one-third of the book.
Here’s my one-sentence summary of those 250 pages: the ultimate goal of God’s providence is to glorify his grace in the spiritual and moral and bodily beauty of Christ’s undeserving, blood-bought bride — the church, the redeemed from all ages — as she enjoys, reflects, and thus magnifies his greatness and beauty and worth above everything in the new heavens and in the new earth.
Now, perhaps, we are ready to turn, with some understanding, to those ten real-life effects of embracing this all-pervading, all-embracing, infinitely wise, infinitely just providence of God as he pursues the glory of his grace in the joy of our souls in him. I’m looking forward to it.