“What Does God Want Me To Do?”: The Providence Factor

Last week we discussed some thoughts about ascertaining the will of God in our lives.  We saw that we must first go to Scripture to find the will of God which He has revealed to us.  We then saw how there are some choices we make about which God is indifferent.  Today I’d like to conclude this study by examining another factor which is relevant to the will of God: the providential will of God.

The Bible does teach that God acts providentially in our lives.  For example, consider the following passage:

Romans 1:9-10 (ESV)
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you
10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.

Paul prayed that it would be the will of God that He would provide a way for Paul to come to Rome and be with his brethren there.  How would God provide Paul a way to come to Rome?  The Scriptures give no hint that God gave Paul this information.  Perhaps God would open a door for Paul to find passage on a ship to Rome.  Perhaps some plans Paul had made elsewhere would end up getting cancelled, leaving Paul with the opportunity and availability in his schedule to travel to Rome.  Paul certainly did not know how God would do this, or even if He would do it, at the time he wrote the church in Rome.

Ultimately, the book of Acts shows that the way to Rome which God ultimately provided to Paul was likely not a way he would have wanted to go: being in jail for years (Acts 21-28).  And yet, it is within the biblically revealed character and will of God for Him to provide such an adverse path for Paul.  Being in jail for years was undoubtedly a great hardship for Paul, as it would have been for anyone.  Consider how the Bible teaches that God uses hardships to bring about His will for us in a spiritual sense:

James 1:2-4 (ESV)
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)
3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

Hebrews 12:3-13 (ESV)
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

We therefore see that hardship can make us stronger spiritually, and we know that growing stronger spiritually is what God wants for us.  Thus, we can conclude that God answered Paul’s prayer for Him to provide a way for Paul to go to Rome in such a way that the avenue which God provided for Paul was such that it helped bring about God’s will for Paul to grow spiritually stronger.

We also know that it is God’s will for the gospel to be proclaimed to all (Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 28:19-20), and that Christians should do so with boldness (Eph. 6:19-20).  With this in mind, consider what God was able to bring about by making it so that Paul’s path to Rome was in a prison cell:

Philippians 1:12-14 (ESV)
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,
13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.
14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Acts 28:16-31 (ESV)
16 And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier that guarded him.
17 After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18 When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.
19 But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation.
20 For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.”
21 And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you.
22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
23 When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.
25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “ ‘Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him,
31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

Because of his imprisonment, God was able to bring about opportunities for prison guards and Jews in Rome to hear the gospel from Paul.  It is even hinted at that some of those guards were converted (Phil. 4:22), and it is stated outright that some of the Jews were convinced (Acts 28:24).

I cite these examples from Scripture to show that God often works behind the scenes in a providential fashion to bring about His will for us in our lives.  Oftentimes the ways He provides for us to move forward with our plans are not actually what we ourselves planned out, as evidenced by Paul’s plans to go to Rome and how it actually turned out for him.  This is why James wrote under inspiration:

James 4:13-15 (ESV)
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—
14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

It is also why John wrote:

1 John 5:14 (ESV)
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

We oftentimes do not have certainty as to what God’s providential will is for us.  Indeed, the only way I was able to “connect the dots” about God’s will for spiritual growth and evangelistic outreach being brought about by allowing Paul to be put in jail was due to what God revealed in Scripture, as shown above.  Nevertheless, we can know that God will provide what is best for us according to what His will is in certain areas of our lives, even if we do not know for sure exactly how He did so.

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