The Provision of God, Pt. 2

  • Nathan Schneider
prison gate

We approach life’s various experiences with a variety of expectations. Sometimes, our expectations are reasonable. Other times…not so much.

My love for music began at an early age. Somewhere in the annals of my parents’ Kodak collection are photographs of me at age four or five dressed in a cowboy hat, denim overalls (no shirt, mind you), a corncob pipe sticking out of my mouth (the horror!) and strumming a beat-up toy guitar. I would from time to time grab that guitar and “serenade” the family with whatever song I had come to know and love. I distinctly remember Born in the U.S.A. being on the Nathan Schneider list of hits.

I was, of course, convinced that I sounded fabulous. I’m sure my folks have a slightly different perspective. There were, after all, only two strings on the guitar.

Eventually, the old guitar was replaced by a piano. I began lessons at around eight, mostly to keep up with my older sister. I barely practiced, having neither the time nor the inclination for such petty and fruitless activity. I preferred to wing it at lesson time.

By sixth grade, French horn was added to the instrument pallet, which contributed heartily to my dad’s grey hair count. Nevertheless, both my mom and dad were patient and encouraging. They could tell I loved music, had talent, and were willing to invest in it.

It wasn’t until the beginning of high school that music went from a pastime activity and developed into a passion. Somewhere along the line I was introduced to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, and it was that piece that sparked in me the drive to make music a central part of my life. By the time I finished high school, I was ready to pursue career as a pianist. I studied piano performance in college, played French horn in the local symphony, and was making plans to study orchestral conducting as a graduate student.

I expected that music was where my life was heading. I couldn’t imagine any other life.

But God has a funny way of upsetting our hard-fought expectations. Shortly before finishing my degree in piano, I began a part-time internship at my local church. The youth pastor was in desperate need for help with the Junior High youth program, and my time as a small group leader had led him to believe that I would be a good fit to lead that ministry. I enjoyed teaching and needed the income, so it seemed like a good opportunity for the time being.

Three years later, I was filled with internal conflict. I was a musician, after all. I had plans for my life. I couldn’t imagine my life in any other capacity but as a musician. Yet my time in ministry had cultivated a new passion. I loved to preach. I loved God’s Word. I became convinced that God was calling me to pastoral ministry.

But what about music? You can image how shocking this new trajectory in life was for me. All my expectations for my life were being upended. God had done something I never thought possible. He had replaced my drive for piano and for music with a drive for teaching and ministry.

Three years after I began my internship, I left Fairbanks to begin a new adventure in Los Angeles attending The Master’s Seminary. I left with the expectation that music was a part of my past. It would always be a love—I knew that would never change. But it would no longer be a central part of what I do. Ministry was my future.

Yet here I am, thirteen years later, and once again, my expectations have been turned on their head. I am a musician! But I’m also a pastor! God, in his sovereign and mysterious ways, has brought those two lives—those two worlds—of music and ministry together in a way I never expected.

The Promise of Provision

This brings me back to where I left off a few weeks ago when I began my little mini-series on God’s provision. I ended that first entry with this amazing promise from Philippians:

And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

We enter into the Christian life with our own set of expectations. I dare say many believers may be tempted to read a promise like this with the expectation that as a Christian, I’ll never go hungry, I’ll never have to worry about danger or about being in need. I’ll never have to worry about a job. Life as a Christian will be easy.

But even if you haven’t fallen into these kinds of false expectations, have you ever stopped and asked the question, “How does God supply all our needs?” We know that he does…after all, it’s plainly stated in the text above. But it’s how that we should be concerned about. I think once we understand how God provides for our needs, we’ll find that our expectations fall woefully short of what God is really doing in our lives. 

Unexpected Provision

Acts 16:14-17:15 records the amazing growth which took place when Paul first planted churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Barea. These were exciting times for Paul and his companions.

But by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, the church there was experiencing great financial hardship. In fact, they were impoverished. We discover in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 that they barely had the financial resources to support themselves let alone provide for others.

Life for Paul was equally difficult. His schedule as a missionary was extraordinarily hectic. The constant pull of ministry and his burden for the churches gave him little time for a “side hustle.” Monetary income was difficult. Yet God provided a way for him to minister to the churches not only at that time but for the remainder of the church age. But how?

God had Paul arrested (Acts 21:27ff).

How could Paul’s arrest possibly be a good thing? How could Paul expect to fulfill his ministry to the churches? This seems like such a step backwards in Paul’s missionary work!

But it wasn’t. In fact, we are the recipients of God’s amazingly unexpected provision for Paul. It was from this Roman house-arrest that Paul wrote the epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and his letter to Philemon. These are books which are beloved by us and minister to us even today.

God’s means of provision for Paul was completely outside the bounds of what we would expect. God had bigger things he was doing.

Some of us may feel a little bit like Paul right now—it feels a little bit like we’re in prison. Sure, we have the freedom to come and go. We can go for a drive, walk our dogs (and children). We can even go to the grocery store (albeit appropriately face-masked). But life as we knew it seems to be halted. We’re distanced from others, confined to close proximity only among those of our own household. For those who live alone, life may feel especially alone. We miss the fellowship of our church, the fulfillment of coming home from work at the end of the day, and—for many—the paycheck that job provided.

And so we may be tempted to wonder, quite naturally, how in the world God could be providing anything at the moment. What is God doing right now? Why is all of this happening?

Paul could have had those same questions. He was human, after all! But instead took a broader perspective and recognized that his own imprisonment turned out for a greater expanse of the gospel (Phil 1:12-13). God was supplying what Paul needed to serve the churches in his day and ours in a way he could never have done otherwise.

What is God doing in your life right now? How might God be providing for you to do ministry in ways you could have never done before? Have you ever taken a step back and seen your current circumstance as an example of God’s unexpected provision?

And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

But how? He does it in ways we might never expect. Right now you might be thinking that the only way God could possibly supply for your needs is by letting you go back to work. Or letting your kids go back to school.

But God isn’t in the business of meeting our expectations. He exceeds them.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20).

Paul probably never expected that his imprisonment would end up serving God’s church for the next two thousand years. I never expected that I would ever play the piano as more than a mere hobby again. I’m so glad my expectations went unmet. 

Next week, we’ll see how the book of Philippians lays out the keys to God’s provision, and the spiritual thread which holds it all together.