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Why is it that we so often look to ourselves or to friends first to find a solution to a problem or situation before we turn to God and seek His help? Over the past several decades we’ve been fed so much “self-help” advice in our culture (and even through our churches) that we practically spew it out in our sleep. Here’s a sample of what it entails: “Concepts and terms originating in self-help culture and Twelve-Step culture, such as recovery, dysfunctional families, and codependency have become firmly integrated in mainstream language” (quote source here). However, self-help concepts and Biblical principles are often at odds with each another, but they have become enmeshed in today’s church culture, and too often “self-help” concepts trump biblical principles.
On several occasions, I have discussed my current housing situation that I honestly don’t know how to resolve at this point in time (re: living in a hotel while trying to find low income housing for almost four years now on a very low income) with a Christian friend of mine who always answers with the same advice. The advice I get from my friend is that I am “not a victim” (and I’ve never said I was a victim nor have I ever used the term in reference to myself; however, it is frequently used in the “self-help” culture language), and my friend also said that I could make any changes I wanted to make regarding my housing situation if I really wanted to change my situation bad enough (which is another “self-help” concept implying that I don’t want to change my situation). I humorously told my friend to send me lots of money and I could resolve my housing situation immediately. Not once has this friend ever mentioned seeking God’s help in my housing search (however, I do seek God’s help all the time).
The details of my housing search for the past almost four years can pretty much be summed up in my most recent experience at a senior apartment complex I inquired about regarding an ad I found stating low income apartments were available at their complex. When I arrived to inquire about their low income apartments, I was told that there were no low income apartments available nor would there be for at least a year, and they already had a waiting list started if I wanted to place my name on it. When I asked to be placed on the waiting list I was told that a $250 deposit had to be paid upfront in order to be placed on their waiting list. Also, there was no guarantee that I’d secure an apartment in the foreseeable future, so I declined. My housing search has been a never-ending cycle of going nowhere fast.
For a Christian (or anyone seeking the God found in the Bible), it is paramount that we seek God’s help first in every area of our lives and not just in the tough situations. And fortunately, the Bible doesn’t take a “self-help” approach to situations we find ourselves in that we can’t help ourselves get out of on our own. In fact, Proverbs 3:5-6 states the following:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
And that’s the antithesis of “self-help.” So let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about God’s help and provision because we sure aren’t going to find it from the culture-at-large.
When you put your faith in Christ, God commissions himself to protect, provide, and care for you (Philippians 4:19). God always provides for his children, though often it is not in the way we expect or hope.
The challenge is for us to see his provision and care, even when it is different than we expect. Because God is God, his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). But he graciously gives us insight into what he is doing in the Scriptures.
John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, but you may be aware of three of them.” Over and over again, Jesus’s disciples missed what he was doing right in front of them. They missed the point of the miracles. They missed the lessons. Which should give us hope for our own lack of clarity today. Here are four important encouragements about how God provides and cares for you.
1. God May Provide Differently Than We Expect
The Israelites escaped captivity in Egypt only to face the challenges of the desert. One of the biggest challenges for such a large group of nomads was enough food to eat. Over and over again God provided supernaturally for his people. If God could provide for many thousands of Israelites in the middle of a desert, he can surely provide for you and your family’s needs. One of the precious testimonies of Scripture is, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread” (Psalm 37:25).
But even with God’s supernatural provision, the Israelites still complained and grumbled in the desert. They longed for the food they left behind in Egypt. God was literally providing bread from heaven — enough for each day — but they wanted his provision a different way. They wanted it their own way.
This lesson has spoken to me over the years. Ask God to provide for you in whatever way he deems fit. Don’t grumble against God’s supernatural, unexpected ways.
Maybe you are at a job and doing work different than what you had expected or hoped for. Don’t always wish for something different. Don’t constantly dream about being somewhere else, doing something else. Be present. Give your all to your current job, and always be thankful (1 Thessalonians 5:18). This doesn’t mean you can’t move towards the job of your dreams, but it might inspire the faith to stop complaining about the way God has provided for you in the current moment, and instead invest yourself fully wherever you are.
2. God Provides More of Himself
Our greatest need is for more of God, and this is something he gladly gives us. [Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount]:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9–11)
Scripture tells us to make the pursuit of God the primary function of our lives. Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
John Piper has asked, “What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you?” God graciously guides us into a greater realization that our ultimate need is for more of his word, more of his ways—more of him.
3. God’s Ultimate Provision Has Already Been Given in the Gospel
We ask God for many things, but the greatest thing we could ever receive from him has already been given. What God has given us in the gospel is light-years ahead of every other provision and care we could ever seek from him. When we trust in Christ, we have decisively secured for us every ultimately good thing from him. It’s just a matter of time.
James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Every truly good thing in our lives comes straight from the Father. The ultimate good he provided us, through whom much of the other good things come to us, is Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate treasure.
4. God Provides Finally in Eternity
Hebrews 11 gives us two different perspectives on God’s provision and care for us. Some, by faith, came through this life victorious, while others lost their lives. Both are commended for their mighty faith.
God does not always provide and care for us in ways we might expect in this life. The Bible does not promise this. Peter, James, John, and Paul gave their very lives for the gospel. They viewed the gospel as a treasure not to be lost at any cost. They suffered gladly because they had something in the gospel that had far more worth.
This life is fleeting. This life is fragile. This life is but a vapor’s breath. The next life, the age to come, is where all God’s provision and care for us will ultimately make sense and come together as a whole.
We may not receive healing in this life, but we will receive perfect healing in eternity. We may not see answers to our greatest prayers in this life, but we will receive fully in eternity. Some days God’s provision and care may seem distant, but it will be ever-present in eternity. We long for our world to stop raging and be at peace, but ultimate peace will only come in eternity.
Our hearts ache under the pressures of this life, but it is only because we were made for another world. We are sojourners and aliens on this earth. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). (Quote source here.)
The following article is a personal account of God’s provision titled, “Divine Provision–God’s Way or Mine?” by Dr. Jolene Erlacher, wife and mother, author of “Millennials in Ministry,” speaker, college instructor, and founder of Leading Tomorrow:
My husband and I had been married two-and-a-half years. During that time, we had been separated for 18 months due to military training and a deployment. We had also experienced two interstate moves, finished a doctoral dissertation and a Master’s thesis, bought a house, and had a job transition. Our hearts felt taxed by the separations, change, and stress. Now, eight-months pregnant with twins, we learned that my husband was most likely losing his job. He had confronted an unethical situation in his unit and was being punished. The stress of the past several years began to engulf me and in my tired state, I did not have the energy to fight back.
We prayed. No, actually, we begged God with tears and anguish to save my husband’s job. After all, he had done the right thing. He had sought to honor God and others and now he was experiencing injustice. We were about to welcome two little people into our family. It was not the ideal time to be without an income. Worry plagued my waking and sleeping hours. I felt it like a dark cloud, sapping the joy out of life. Despite the many times I had seen God’s hand at work in my life, I felt doubt. Would God prove faithful? Would He provide? Friends and family tried to encourage me that God was in control and His ways are best, but there was no solution acceptable to me other than God rescuing my husband’s career.
The weeks passed; our babies were born. We had two beautiful, healthy girls. My life became a haze of sleeping for 60-90 minutes between feedings and diaper changes. As my husband came home from work each day, I barely had the energy to hear the latest update. Hope for his career faded daily. Finally, when the girls were two-months-old, he came home from work with the boxes containing his belongings. He hung up the uniform he had worn for almost 18 years. At first, it seemed surreal. My definition of God’s faithfulness and provision could not bear the weight of our reality. I had a choice. Would I cling to my view that God should have rescued my husband’s job, or would I just let go and trust? I had to let go.
My husband began applying for other jobs. As we waited, we spent our days holding babies, talking, reading, praying, watching movies, and sleeping. Peace, even joy, began to seep back into our hearts and minds. Even as every potential job opportunity seemed to slipped away, we recognized and appreciated the gift of time together, something we had longed for in the first months of our marriage. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. Our spending habits changed, our savings grew thin. Still we waited. I watched as my husband fell in love with our daughters. I grew to appreciate the help with two little ones. We worked on writing and home improvement projects. Then, after five months of unemployment, we received the call. Funding had been approved for a civilian job at my husband’s old headquarters. The department head, knowing his skills, was requesting him for the position. They were going to bypass the interview process. If he wanted the job, it was his.
God had provided. It was not my way or in my timing. No, indeed, my way would have deprived us of quality family time. It would have robbed my husband of an invaluable opportunity to bond with his infant daughters. My definition of God’s provision would have left my husband in a stressful job, rather than giving him time to recover from a discouraging season and placing him in a role where he is fulfilled and appreciated. My definition of God’s provision needed redefining. The girls just turned one. As I reflect on this past year, I am grateful for the gift of learning once again that God’s ways ARE higher than mine. The truth of Psalm 37 is alive; our God does provide for His children… in His own and perfect ways. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with a verse I quoted above from Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . .
In all your ways submit to him . . .
And he will make . . .
Your paths straight . . . .
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
As I’ve gotten older and especially during these past five and a half years of long-term unemployment, I’ve discovered a sad fact in the Christian community. We don’t often carry one another’s burdens. We do give a fair amount of lip service to others carrying burdens by saying thing like “I’m praying for you,” or “I’m sure God will come through in some way,” and often accompanied by a look on our face that says we really don’t care all that much. But to offer meaningful help?
Not so much . . .
Listening to trite answers from folks who call themselves Christian who are supposed to be helpful in meaningful ways is absolutely worthless (and so are the ulterior motives that are sometimes behind those trite answers). I’m certainly not implying that all folks who call themselves Christians are that way, but in the past 5 1/2 years, it’s been discouraging to see just how many have been and seem to be. Unfortunately, we are really good at judging others we don’t know or understand and gossiping about them behind their backs (and, again, watch out for those ulterior motives) instead of helping them in their time of need. And even if we can’t help, we should at the very least be genuinely concerned. Fake is easily discerned. So is a total lack of empathy.
So, how about we step up to the plate and be what Jesus Christ told us to be if we truly follow after him (see Luke 6:27-36). Loving our neighbors and our enemies and anybody else we don’t happen to like is not an option, not if we call ourselves Christian. And if we can help someone with something other than trite answers and cutesy Christian catch phrases that we rarely follow through on (like the infamous one–“I’m praying for you”–while exiting the conversation as quickly as possible), we should be doing it. If we don’t, who will? When was the last time we actually put ourselves in someone else’s shoes even for a few moments to try to understand their plight instead of only caring about our own. And I’m not talking about those folks we hang with or like. I’m talking about strangers in our midst, too.
’Nough said. See the reblogged post below from “The Daily Way” titled, “Carry Each Other’s Burdens.” Nobody wants to fight a battle alone, but we let them do it far too often and make way too many excuses for doing it, too. We need to stop judging and gossiping about others, especially those we don’t know or understand, and help them instead of given them trite answers that mean nothing.
It’s time to stop . . .
And if we genuinely don’t care . . .
It’s time to stop calling ourselves Christian.
Photo credit here
Moses sent Joshua to fight against the Amalekites. Then he, along with Aaron and Hur, went to stand on top of a hill overlooking the battlefield. As long as Moses prayed with his hands held up, the Israelites would gain ground and win. However, whenever he lowered his hands, they began to lose.
Have you ever stood with your hands lifted up for any extended time? It is tiring. Your arms become heavy and your hands begin to feel tingly. Imagine Moses standing with his hands held high and then lowering them as he struggled under their weight. He couldn’t do it. He needed help, so Aaron and Hur placed a stone for Moses to sit on. Then they held up his hands—holding them steady until the sun set and God granted the nation of Israel victory.
How many times have you tried to fight a battle by yourself? You…
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I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had a mother who, while not perfect, loved the Lord with all of her heart, mind, and soul, and taught me about Jesus Christ from the time I came out of her womb. She was born in 1928, married at 19, bore three children (me and my two brothers), was divorced in her mid-30’s, and never remarried. She died from complications caused by diabetes in 1983 at the age of 54.
My mother was poor by society’s standards but rich in ways that don’t even compare with any material standards that this world offers. It was because of her love for the Lord that I came to know Him personally as my Savior and Lord at the age of ten. Her life was not easy and her struggles intense at times, but she rarely failed to start every morning meeting with the Lord, reading from her favorite devotional booklet (Our Daily Bread), underlining verses in her Bible that specifically spoke to her, and praying, especially for her children. She wasn’t perfect–none of us are–but right up until her death, she knew her life was in the hands of God.
The foundation that was laid by my mother when I was very young has been a part of my life all of these years–in the best of times and the worst of times. I still miss her very much, yet she is still a part of me. One of her favorite verses is 2 Samuel 22:31: “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.”
Success in our culture, many times, is defined by our outward trappings–materialism, prosperity, successful careers, and the list goes on. But success is not defined by what we have. True success is having a humble heart and serving God through Jesus Christ in whatever circumstances He brings into our lives. Hebrews 11 is the great “hall of faith” chapter in the Bible and it is written to give us encouragement to press on in faith by giving us so many examples of those who have gone before us and paved the way. The last two verses of Hebrews 11 states: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (vv. 39-40). “Something better for us” came through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Him, you can learn about Him by reading the Gospel of John.
I was reading a short devotion this morning in “Open Windows,” a small devotional booklet published by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The title of the devotion for today (July 25, 2012) is “Incomparable!”:
God is incomparable! Man lights a “great white way”; God lights the Milky Way. Man erects a 100-story skyscraper; God fashions a towering redwood and a mountain peak encircled by a halo of clouds. Man paints a landscape on canvas; God paints a landscape on every horizon. Man built the Seven Wonders of the World; God created the world. Look at God. Consider what He has done. God does it so much better.
God challenges us to compare whatever we want with Him. The effort is fruitless; nothing can stand against Him. Everything dims in comparison. God is bigger. He is better. He is stronger. He is longer. He is taller. He is incomparable!
We, the created, are silly to think we can make anything that can compare with the Creator. We will always come up short. We hold no candle to God. He is God. We are not. That fundamental fact gives us comfort. Nothing is beyond Him, nothing can overpower Him, nothing can confuse Him, nothing can distract Him, nothing can beat Him. Aren’t you glad He’s on your side?
Father, Your incomparable nature humbles me yet soothes my troubled heart.
God is sovereign, and He is sovereign over everything that happens in our world. As Isaiah 40:25-31 states:
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
“Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God’?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
I find great comfort in knowing God is in control of our world. He is ever present to bring us comfort in the hard times–those times that come into our lives when we feel out of control and helpless. For those who trust in Him, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). As I look back over these past three plus years in my current struggle with long-term unemployment and all of the challenges it brings, He has been my refuge and help during this time. Had I not experienced it first hand, I never would have known just how much He cares and how willing He is to give us everything we need when we need it–although many times it is not in the way we expect. I expected Him to provide me with another job (which would have taken care of my needs from my limited perspective), but He had something else in mind . . . something far greater. He wanted me to clearly understand that He is the source of everything, and that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).
If you are struggling with something right now and you don’t know where to go or how to find help, turn to Jesus Christ who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). He is waiting to help you.
The Lord is not slow
in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you,
not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance.
~2 Peter 3:9
YouTube Video: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” sung by Mahalia Jackson:
Photo credit here