The Provision of God, Pt. 3

  • Nathan Schneider
lake landscape

Nestled far up in the High Sierras over 9,000 feet in elevation are a twin set of lakes called Virginia Lakes. At first glance, nothing in particular distinguishes these from any of the other scenic lakes which dot these rugged California mountains. But few places in the world mean as much to me as this place does. To me, the Virginia Lakes is nearly equated with childhood happiness.

As a boy growing up in the hot, arid desert of Needles, CA, I remember with great fondness our family road trips north to visit my grandparents in Bishop. In the hot months of July and August, we would pack up our vehicles with a week’s supply of food and accouterments and drive north on the 395. I would drive with my grandpa in his old blue Datsun pickup (which would eventually be my first vehicle). When we hit Lee Vining, we would stop at the same little bait and tackle shop for a carton of worms and a ice-cold can of Squirt, and drive north up the pass to the Virginia Lakes cutoff.

Decades earlier, my grandpa had built a cabin with his sons near these lakes, and it became a haven and retreat from normal life. I have vivid memories of long days on the lake in grandpa’s row boat fishing for rainbow and brown trout, and games of cards in the evenings. These are the kinds of memories that can only be described with one word: happiness.

Years later–nearly twenty, I believe–I took my wife back to the Virginia Lakes to camp during summer break at seminary. After all those years away, the mere sight of that lake, the cabin, and smells of the lodge pines and the ponderosas fired synapses that brought me instantly back to my boyhood days fishing with my grandpa on Big Virginia Lake. Happiness.

Only this time, something different happened. The first night in our tent, I woke up with a pounding headache. The pain was relentless, no matter what I threw at it. I struggled helplessly through the early morning hours, not wanting to wake my wife. When the first rays of light began to shine through the pine needles and warm the tent walls, I sheepishly woke her and we climbed in our car and headed down to Lee Vining. Within a half hour, the pain was gone. Only then was it abundantly obvious what the problem was–altitude sickness.

All the happiness and nostalgia I felt in connection with this place was virtually destroyed in a solitary night by my present circumstances. While we eventually worked our way back up and enjoyed the next few days of camping, there was nothing happy about that first night. It was pure torture.

Happiness can be that way. It’s temporal–it comes and goes. It’s circumstantial–our environment can dictate and influence our happiness. Just ask the parents of the screaming child in the “happiest place on earth.” My point exactly. Happiness, while not a bad thing, is not a lasting thing.

Joy, on the other hand, is quite a bit different. Joy is not temporal. Joy is not circumstantial. It’s doesn’t have to be tied to anything external. Joy is an inward state of being which is brought on by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). And it is the key to understanding how God provides for our needs.

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

We’ve been exploring God’s provision, particularly as it relates to how God provides for our needs.

As we discussed last week, Paul was a prisoner when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. He had seen God meet his needs is surprising and unexpected ways. And he was writing to believers who were in desperate financial need. They were, in fact, impoverished.

So it is a little eye-opening that Paul would write a letter to destitute Christians, with little money of their own to supply their own needs, and use the word “joy” sixteen times. Why in the world would the Philippians be joyful?

The Keys to God’s Provision

Joy is not automatic in the Christian’s life. If we’re not careful, we may find that our joy is squelched if we allow circumstances to get in the way of our joy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our circumstances don’t have to dictate our joy. And Paul’s letter to the Philippians provides us with the keys to understand just how God provides for our every need.

For this week, we’re going to take a look at the first two keys to God’s provision.

key #1: Joy in the midst of circumstances (ch. 1)

Paul found himself in prison while writing his letter to the Philippians. Obviously, these were difficult circumstances, and it would have been tempting for Paul to lose his joy because of it. After all, how can someone find joy while imprisoned? What is there to be joyful about? Yet we don’t find Paul making escape plans. We don’t even find him pleading with God to release him. Instead, we find him taking a step back and observing his circumstances from a wider perspective (Phil 1:12-14).

One of the keys to recognizing God’s provision in our lives is when we can take a step back and view our circumstances from God’s perspective. We begin to see God at work in ways we never could when our focus was on the discomforts and the losses brought on by what has happened.

key #2: joy in christian submission (ch. 2)

So maybe your circumstances aren’t a challenge to you right now. Maybe you’ve been able to remain joyful despite being furloughed from work, or losing your job, or getting sick. Maybe you’re able to see what God is doing in those circumstances, and you’re able to rejoice because you see his fingerprints all over this.

But what about your attitude towards others? How easy is it for you to submit to others? Submit in hard circumstances? Submit to someone who you think is wrong? Submit to someone who is antagonistic toward you?

Even though Paul found himself in prison, surrounded by those antagonistic to the gospel, he wasn’t rebellious. He didn’t try to break free from prison. Instead, he recognized the sovereignty of God’s will in his circumstances and joyfully submitted to them.

And when he wrote to the Philippians, he exhorted them to do the same. Christ provided the supreme example of what it meant to manifest joy in submission (Phil 2:4-11). Christ’s divinity didn’t stop him from humbling himself, becoming a servant, and serving sinners to the point of death. And even though the Philippians were experiencing extreme poverty and hardship, Paul was calling them to humble themselves and submit to each other during a time when they could so easily decide to just take care of themselves.

A Barometer for Our Faith

Even in these first two keys, we’re beginning to see some fundamental principles about understanding God’s provision. Nine times out of ten, our prayers regarding God’s provision undoubtedly focus on our physical requirements. But what we find in the book of Philippians is that God is more concerned about your spiritual needs.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3). There are qualities of lasting, steadfast faith which only trials and hardship can produce. Your ability to manifest joy no matter what circumstance you’re in really does demonstrate the kind of work God is doing to strengthen you and make you more like Christ. Can you step back and see how God is providing what you need to grow more steadfast in the midst of hardship? Can you recognize God’s provision in this? Can you rejoice in it?

It’s been said that you’re never more like Christ than when you forgive. According to Paul, you’re never more like Christ than when you humble yourself and serve others, no matter who they are. When times are easy, and life is “normal,” this might not be all that difficult. But when things get tight; when it’s you or them; when being humble is costly–that’s when we see God at work in the life of a Christian.

These expressions of joy in hard circumstances and through humble submission to others, become barometers for measuring God’s bountiful provision in your life. They show you that, above all else, God cares about giving you what you need to be more like Christ.

Next week, we’ll look at the final two keys to God’s provision found in chapters 3 and 4 of Philippians.