Providence is more than a Rhode Island city (Psalm 127)

I stole today’s title from Bob Shelly. Only those of you who are in the era of 15-20 years at Tri-State Fellowship will remember our friend Bob, who served the church well as an interim pastor. He lives in York, PA and has been involved in discipleship ministries and teaching at Lancaster Bible College. He used the “Providence” title in a sermon he did at TSF sometime shortly before I came here 20 years ago, and I’ve always remembered it.

The famous Bible teacher of a few decades past – J. Vernon McGee – gave this definition of “God’s Providence.”

Providence is the means by which God directs all things — both animate and inanimate, seen and unseen, good and evil — toward a worthy purpose, which means His will must finally prevail. Or as the psalmist said, “his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19). In Ephesians 1:11 Paul tells us that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Our God is running the universe today, friends, even though there are some who think that it has slipped out from under Him.

There are Christian people who chafe under this sort of view of God’s providence, as it seems to them to make the world too mechanical or too predetermined. I am convinced that, at the end of the day, those who are annoyed by this are really irritated with the notion that they are not the God of their own lives.

I understand that those who resist a high view of God’s sovereign control into all the details of life do so because it smacks of irresponsibility … of a sort of “why bother working hard if it doesn’t matter, because God is going to do whatever He wants to anyhow.” But the whole of Scripture teaches much on the value to responsibility, yet also of the bottom line nature of God’s authority over everything.

Arriving at a high view of God’s sovereign hand in all affairs of life, down to the smallest of things, is one of the great and calming moments of my life. I would put it together this way: I will be as fully responsible as humanly possible with everything that I am able to do in a given situation, and then I will seek to no longer worry about, giving it over to God for a final resolution that is for His glory, and my good.

The 127th Psalm speaks of God’s providential involvement in all things. It is He that will bless and prosper any endeavor … like building a house. The second verse has the idea that it is vain to work in human effort apart from God’s strength and blessing.

The second section of the Psalm goes on to talk about the blessing of families. Children are indeed a gift from the Lord.

This was especially true in an ancient culture where large families provided extra hands for the tasks of life, including security in dangerous times. There is a picture also of a man going to the gates of the city – the place where business transactions were done publically. And it pictures a guy standing there with a posse of big ole boys who are his sons! I like that picture!

As I have written these devotionals, you’ll not be surprised that I will often (though not always) reference a couple of nearby commentaries to see what some previous writer has said about a particular Psalm. Many commentaries are pretty geeky and go into extensive remarks on variant Hebrew constructions with alternate meanings, etc.  So it cracked me up and I did laugh out loud when a classic commentary on Psalms by Derek Kidner – an Anglican scholar at Cambridge University – wrote:

“And it is not untypical of God’s gifts that first they are liabilities, or at least responsibilities, before they become obvious assets. The greater their promise, the more likely that these sons will be a handful before they are a quiverful.”

As a father of five boys, I can say “Amen” to that.

Psalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.

2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.

4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.

5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

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God is near, so just trust him – Psalm 127

One does not much think of Solomon when pondering the writers of the Psalms. But here is a psalm of Solomon that has the sound and feel of the book of Ecclesiastes—a late-in-life reflection upon wise living.

Though Psalm 127 is only five verses in length, it talks about the big categories of all our lives: laboring for our daily needs, living in family life, and sleeping! That pretty much sums it up.

The point is this: God is nearby in everything that we do. All of life is dependent upon his blessing.

Psalm 127

A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t sleep well when I’m worried about something. Often it relates to church and church people and circumstances. For some reason, it will often hit me out of the blue about 3:00 in the morning that I have not seen someone in a while, and I begin to worry about them and what troubling thing might be oppressing them and taking them away from the church family. It is the dark side of being a shepherd. And I need to pause and settle myself in trusting God, because honestly there is nothing I can do about it in the wee hours of the morning.

Laboring and working in our own strength does not accomplish anything. Our need is to trust God for today and tomorrow.

There is a book called “Sleeping with Bread” by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. During the bombing raids of World War 2, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. Many were placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night, the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow. All is well.”

We have the bread of God’s Word and the promise of his presence. As we hold it in our hearts and minds, we are fed by the peace it gives that God is near in every circumstance. Our labors and worries are futile apart from God’s blessing and our daily trust in him.

3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

When I moved back East from my grad school years in Dallas (1983), my oldest son was a week short of his first birthday. We bought land within sight of the elementary school in the country township where I had grown up and began to build a house. My father-in-law and I did most of the work. It was a large house for a little family of three. My church people wondered why we wanted a place so big (2500 square feet, with four bedrooms). But then Benjamin was born the week we moved in, and 17 months later Aaron came along … three kids in 3.5 years. Two more came later – all boys, as you know. People stopped asking about the size of the house and began to ask about the size of the food budget.

Family is a blessing from God. In ancient culture, sons were a great blessing because of protection from enemies. There was the support that came along with it in civil proceedings. If I lived in those days and had a land dispute to be adjudicated at the city gate, there was an advantage I would have by showing up with five big boys surrounding me.

The point is this: God is necessary in all things of life for them to have blessing and value. Otherwise it is much in vain. The funny thing is that Solomon was something of a disaster at all of these elements of life. He depended upon riches and labor and the pleasures of a thousand wives, etc. But he had learned that all was in vain unless God was with it and blessing it.

It makes sense for us to listen to the wisest and most materially-blessed man of all time say that we need God’s blessing on anything to make it truly soul satisfying. But it is our nature to seek to hang onto it ourselves, to try to make it all work out in our own power and wisdom. It is our “family dysfunction” to attempt to make it happen ourselves, when rather we should see that trust in God, along with reasonable responsibility for the simple task immediately at hand, is what we need to find success for our labors and our lives.