We interrupt your program to bring you this breaking news.
Reports of catastrophic events are becoming a way of life. After one tragic mass shooting, my husband, Larry, attended a church meeting for crisis preparedness training—how to get yourself out of a crisis situation alive. The emergency professional stressed the importance of training before the need for it arises because when trouble comes, we respond out of training or react out of fear.
The same holds true in the spiritual realm. We’ll either respond out of the training we’ve received on how to trust in God’s Providence, or we’ll react to our circumstances out of fear. We’ll either respond to and rest in the Truth that God is in control over everything that touches our lives, or we’ll react to the urgency of the moment that screams no one is in control.
Will We React or Respond?
We may never face a life or death emergency situation, but plenty of life’s moments test our physical, emotional, and spiritual limits. Too often I react like a squirrel scrambling for my life in the middle of an intersection. Wouldn’t we rather respond like a confident crossing guard, directing our emotions into the safety of God’s Truth? The difference between a panicked squirrel and us—besides fur and a tail—is training and a bit more intelligence.
When my exhausted eighteen-year-old-son drove through the middle of the night in a raging Florida thunderstorm, it was too late for me to enroll in a Bible study on “How to Trust the Providence of God When Your Son Might Die.”
If I didn’t already know how to trust God with my fears, I would have been doomed to a night of endless hand-wringing, nose-blowing, and pillow-staining tears until my son pulled into our driveway at 5 a.m.
When Mom called to say she had terminal cancer, her news ripped through my heart before I had time to read a book on “How to Remember God Is in Control When Your Life Is Falling Apart.” If I didn’t already trust in His glorious Providence, I would’ve collapsed to the floor and shook my fists at God.
Will You Be Ready When Sorrows Like Sea Billows Roll?
On November 22, 1873, a certain Chicago lawyer needed to know and believe in God’s Providence. After having suffered financial ruin in the great Chicago Fire of 1871, this lawyer sent his wife and daughters on ahead of him to Europe on the ocean liner S.S. Ville de Havre. In the middle of the Atlantic, tragedy struck, and their ship sunk into the ocean. The disastrous accident claimed the lives of 226 souls, including all four of Horatio and Anna Spafford’s daughters.
Horatio didn’t have time for a four-week Bible study on “Trusting Christ’s Plan When Your Heart Is Shattered” as he opened Anna’s telegram and read: “Saved alone.” He could only respond out of the truth he’d already learned about God.
When Horatio sailed the Atlantic to bring Anna home, the ship’s captain called him to his cabin when they arrived near the spot where their daughters had left this world. Who would blame him if he had crumpled under the grief? Or cried out in anger at God for not saving his girls? But in his deepest grief, Horatio trusted in the unfailing Providence of God and wrote one of the world’s most beloved hymns, “It is Well with My Soul.”
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Horatio lost all four daughters in the Atlantic, but he didn’t lose his mind, his faith, or his will to live, because the changeless truths he knew about God and His divine Providence held him.
What is Divine Providence?
One of my favorite pastors and theologians, J. I. Packer, explains the Providence of God with sublime eloquence as “the unceasing activity of the Creator whereby, in overflowing bounty and goodwill, He upholds His creatures in ordered existence, guides and governs all events, circumstances, and free acts of angels and men, and directs everything to its appointed goal, for His own glory.”
I explain God’s Providence with smaller, less expressive, words. I describe it as God’s ability to do whatever He wants with whomever or whatever He wants for whatever purpose He wants (Lam. 3:37, Ps. 135:6, Job 42:2). No one can stop His hand, because He alone is sovereign (Dan. 4:35). He’s absolutely free and completely able to do all He is determined to do (Eph. 1:11), and all He is determined to do is for our good and His glory (Isa. 48:9–11).
In short, God’s Providence means everything’s going to be okay. We can smile at the future even as we cry over the present. We can wipe away our tears and rest in Him. Our good and sovereign God is in control.
Our lives and circumstances may not turn out exactly how we think they should, but that’s only because we don’t know everything God knows. If we did, we’d do everything exactly as He does. And we’d accept everything He brings us. We’d stand, rooted strong, even in the fiercest storms. If we knew everything God knows.
But since we don’t, we trust—but not with blind faith. Through His indwelling Spirit and inspired Word, God has given those who belong to Him all we need to know and rest in the Truth of who He is, what He’s done, and what He’s going to do. But if we never endeavor to learn the Truth, we’ll never be able to trust in it.
Fear Thrives Where Ignorance Flourishes
Another important reality about human nature is that we tend to fear what we don’t understand. My first experience with scuba diving proves it.
Larry and I were vacationing with friends in the Bahamas. Everyone there was a certified scuba diver—except me. I could snorkel all day, but I’d never even touched an oxygen tank, much less used one. Nevertheless, I strapped one on, received basic instructions (breathe through the mouthpiece, not my nose), and flipped out of the boat into the sea.
But then the weight belt began to drag me underwater. Panic set in. I thrashed like a fish on a line. My husband immediately rescued me from the twelve inches I’d descended under the sea. I felt foolish, but I couldn’t help it. Without proper training, I reacted out of my frenzied “I’m going to die!”emotions.
I wriggled free of the scuba equipment and spent the rest of the day snorkeling in peace because I had confidence in my snorkeling training.
We all enjoyed a delightful day, but I suspect Larry and our friends enjoyed it even more. While I had to flit back and forth between the coral and surface, their training allowed them to linger among the vibrant fish. I missed out because fear thrived where my ignorance flourished.
Knowing God’s Providence is like strapping on the finest scuba equipment and exploring the deepest and darkest places of our lives without fear because our training controls our reactions. We can respond with Truth rather than react out of fear when we know and trust in God’s divine Providence. We can echo Horatio Spafford and proclaim “it is well” with our souls.
Is It Well with Your Soul?
Is it well with your soul when you face trouble? Or do your emotions toss you mercilessly upon waves of anger, fear, and hopelessness? Do they drag you down into the depths of shattered hopes and leave you gasping in despair? Or have you learned the buoying Truth that God is always in control?
If you haven’t discovered the sustaining comfort of God’s glorious Providence, today is the best day to learn about it. Before life plunges you into despair. Before you need to understand His Providence and how to trust in it.