Interpreting God's Providence
In last Sunday’s sermon, we studied the account of when David spared Saul’s life in a cave in the wilderness of Engedi. Saul was in the area, seeking to kill David. He stopped in a cave to use the bathroom, having no idea that David and his 600 men were in the very same cave! David’s men interpret this event as a sign from God – this is the time for David to kill Saul and take the kingdom for himself! David goes and cuts a corner off of Saul’s robe, but his conscience strikes him and tells him that what he has done is wrong! Saul is God’s anointed one. And though God has rejected Saul as king, God has not removed Saul from the kingship yet. For David to put his hand against Saul is for him to put his hand against God.
The advice David’s men give to him, advocating for him to kill Saul, is found to be bad advice. But faced with a similar position, we may have given David similar advice. “Now’s your time, David! Saul’s by himself. That never happens. This has to be a sign from God that now is the time to take the kingdom! God has anointed you as the future king and He’s brought it pass!” It’s not ludicrous to see how David and his men may have confused this kind of moment as God’s providence.
This encounter raises an interesting question – one that I did not get to address in the sermon, but worth considering a bit here now. How do we interpret God’s providence? Have you ever been in a situation where the circumstances of your life seem to be leading in a certain direction and you wonder “is God at work here?” This is what David’s men seemed to think was happening! But they were wrong. That wasn’t what was happening. So how do we have any hope of getting it right? It can be difficult to know when an opportunity arises, is this the providence of God at work or am I just imagining it? Should we be people of inaction just in case we misinterpret the signs? Feeling like this can be paralyzing! I don’t want to get it wrong, so better to never do anything.
How can we interpret God’s providence? Can we have any level of confidence or is it just a guessing game? I want to encourage you that you can have confidence in interpreting God’s providence! We can see at God at work and then act accordingly. How? Well, it requires an understanding of God’s revealed will. How do we come to an understanding of God’s revealed will? Through his revealed word! The Bible is our guidebook for interpreting the work of God in the world! God will always act in accordance with His perfect character. He will always act in the way that brings Himself the most glory. He will always act in ways that are consistent with what we read in the Scriptures. So if an opportunity comes your way and is in accordance with Scripture, you can have confidence in acting upon that, trusting that God is providentially working there. On the other hand, if an opportunity comes your way and for you to take it would go against Scripture, you can have confidence that is not from God.
What might this look like practically?
Unsolicited, you receive an offer for a job in another state. You weren’t expecting it; you didn’t seek it out. You were recommended for it. It’s a promotion with better salary, better work hours, and closer to your aging parents who are starting to need more care. On top of that, you know of a couple really good churches in the area. How do you interpret this situation? This job has a better salary to help you provide for your family, better hours that will give you more time with your family and more opportunities to serve and be invested in the life of the church, and closer to being able to care for your mother and father. These are all things with which God is pleased. It may be that God has providentially opened this door for you. You can confidence moving forward with this.
Unsolicited, you receive an offer for a job in another state. You weren’t expecting it; you didn’t seek it out. You were recommended for it. It’s a promotion with better salary and a perfect fit for your skillset. It’s at a prestigious company. But the hours will be longer and more demanding. Your spouse and children express hesitation about it. As you do research, you can’t find any solid churches in the area. How do you interpret the situation? This job has a better salary, more prestige. This job will require you to be gone longer hours and more often, including some Sundays. Your family doesn’t seem thrilled. Taking a job that pulls you more and more away from your responsibilities and calling as a husband and father does not line up with Scriptural values. Moving to an area with no solid churches is dangerous for your spiritual health. Going against the consistent counsel of your spouse and children is neither wise nor loving. Given these factors, it’s most likely that God is not providentially leading you to this other job.
Hopefully, these two examples are helpful. Interpreting the will of God in your life can be a challenge at times. And there are always situations that don’t fit so neatly into one of the above examples. We need Spirit-given wisdom and discernment in times where it’s not so clear. We need to be people of the Word who can apply Biblical principles to the facets of life. We need to be integrated into Christian community where other believers can speak into the situation and give trustworthy counsel.
Thinking back to the story of Saul and David, it’s clear that God had not providentially given Saul into David’s hand. Murder of God’s anointed one is not in God’s will for David. To kill Saul would have been to go against God’s very law that speaks against murder. To kill Saul would have been to come against God himself. Though David’s men smelled providence in the air upon Saul entering the cave, a consideration of the Scriptures and the character of God demonstrates that it was not.
So the next time you’re facing a decision, considering whether or not God is leading in a certain direction, here’s a few questions to consider. It’s not a formula or a checklist, but I think they help bring clarity.
Do I care what the Bible has to say about this situation? Am I willing to let the Scriptures govern my actions, even if it goes against what my flesh wants?
What Bible passages or Biblical principles apply to this situation?
Will doing this thing glorify God? How?
Will doing this thing demonstrate to others my love for and my trust in Jesus Christ?
Have I sought advice from other Christian friends about this? What are they saying?
Have I asked God for wisdom and discernment regarding this?