The Provision of God, Pt. 5

  • Nathan Schneider
inside an airplane

With the hunker-down order still in place, traveling is probably the last thing on everyone’s minds. Who wants to travel right now, anyway? (That’s right, I see those hands.) For me, traveling is multifaceted affair. On the one hand, I enjoy going places, seeing new things, eating new foods, and having new experiences. On the other hand, that enjoyment only lasts a few days before I’m ready to be back in the comforts and conveniences of my own home. Anything past a week starts to feel a little long for me.

When I do travel, which is usually a couple of times a year, one of my least favorite part of the process invariably is the safety announcements put on by the flight attendants as we taxi from the concourse to the runway. I know what you’re thinking, and no, my dislike for this event has nothing to do with fear, regardless of the fact that they’re basically telling you how many positions you can get into on an airplane just before death.

No, for me, my dislike stems from the awkwardness of the process. You see, I and just about everyone else on the planet wants to get on an airplane, get settled in, and start the self-soothing process (can you tell I just had another baby?). We want to stick our earbuds in, listen to some music, watch a movie, or read our book. “Going over the safety features of this Boeing 737” is not on the list of entertainment options. Of course, we tolerate all of this, first, because it’s required, and second, because they’re going to do it anyway.

Now, some bold, heartless souls have this keen ability to start their self-soothing process despite the fact that these safety instructions are being given. With no sense of shame, they plug up their ears, crank up the volume, and bury their heads in a good book. But not me. No, I can’t do that. Instead, I have to listen. Not because I’m afraid of missing any of the titillating information they’re providing. It’s because I’d feel too bad ignoring them. Oh, sometimes I could maybe get away with zoning out if I was in the far back row. But more often than not, the flight attendant is three rows ahead, staring directly at me, mostly because I’m the only one staring back. How could I not pay attention? I’m their only audience!

If we did a poll, I’m confident that 100% of respondents would say, given a choice, they would gladly skip the safety overview and move right to takeoff. That’s obviously what we’re on the airplane for, anyway!

But, as with many things in life, sometimes what we really want isn’t always at the top of the priority list. Sometimes, there are important things that have to come first, even if we don’t care about them or don’t want to hear them. This is true of airplane safety—and it’s also true with understanding how God provides for us.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exploring the book of Philippians, trying to get at some key principles for understanding how God provides for us in our lives. This week, we come to the final chapter of this book, and consequently, the last installment of this series. It’s in this closing chapter of Philippians that Paul finally addresses the topic that the Philippians want to hear. Remember, these believers were living is desperate times. Money was more than tight. They were in poverty, with barely enough to support themselves. Tomorrow was an ever-present threat to them. How will God provide for us today so we can have a tomorrow?

Little did they know that God was providing. Yet like us worn travelers who want to just get on with the flight, the Philippians wanted Paul to assure them that God would provide the physical resources for them to survive. But for three chapters, Paul taught them instead what they needed to hear—not necessarily what they wanted to hear. He taught them that the circumstances we find ourselves in can be divinely brought to give us what we could not have otherwise. He taught them that joyfully submitting to others in humble service gave them spiritual resources they couldn’t have otherwise. He taught them that standing firm against false teachers, false gospels, and fleshly desires provided for their spiritual stamina and strength. In other words, God had provided for them, and was providing, in unexpected but wholly necessary ways.

Only then, could Paul finally address the issue of physical provision. The safety spiel had been given, and Paul now reveals the fourth and final key to understanding God’s provision. Yet even then, what he says to them was probably a surprise.


Paul begins chapter 4 by explaining that, while we pray for our physical needs to be provided for, God often provides for our spiritual needs before He even begins to meet our physical ones. While the Philippians needed physical provision, they needed to live in harmony with one another more than anything:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2-3).

They also needed to manifest joy in their circumstances, forming a deep reliance on God. This was their spiritual need, and they were most likely oblivious to this point, as we usually are:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:4-6).

While we may be tempted to go to someone when in need, Paul wanted them to develop the habit of going to God before going anywhere else. No one should have to tell us to go to prayer! Paul also tells them that God will provide for their physical needs (vv. 10-19). He doesn’t say how or when this will happen, but only that God will do it. God provides in much different ways than we usually expect, mostly because He knows more about what we need than even we do.

Notice in verses 7 and 9 that Paul mentions that one of the things that God promises to provide is the “peace of God”:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . . . What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:7, 9).

Yet what we often miss in this passage is the prerequisites for this promise. There are a series of commands given which are the pathway for the provision of this divine peace:

  • rejoice in the Lord always (v. 4)
  • let your gentle spirit be known to everyone (v. 5)
  • be anxious for nothing (v. 6)
  • let your requests be made known to God (v. 7)
  • think on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praiseworthy (v. 8)

These are the prerequisites for God’s peace to fill our lives. We can’t grumble and complain and expect God’s peace. We can’t be filled with pride and contempt for others and expect God’s peace. We can’t be anxious and fearful and expect God’s peace. We can’t stop relying on the Lord, giving up on talking to Him and telling Him what we need, and expect God’s peace. And we can’t abandon spiritual purity and inward integrity and expect God’s peace.

This is difficult for us to understand, because we’re tempted to pray for peace when difficult circumstances meet us. Yet what Paul is saying is that by obeying these commands we will have God’s peace. The peace is the promised result of our obedience to His word in the midst of circumstances. We can’t pray for peace so we don’t have to rejoice!

It’s not always what we want to hear—that there are prerequisites to God’s peace and provision. Like the safety speech on the airplane—we just want to get on with the flight. But sometimes what we want isn’t what we need, and we’re so ignorant of our real needs at times that we need to sit up, take out the earpods, and listen to the speech. It may just save our lives…

Finally, after all of that, we come to the verse that started us down this road. It’s only now that we finally come to the promise of verse 19:

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

This verse comes alive in a way it could never have by looking at it divorced from the context and flow of the rest of Philippians. This book is about the manifestation of joy in the midst of circumstances, in submission to others, while standing firm, and in God’s provision for our needs, both physical and spiritual.

Putting It All Together

When we go to God in prayer with things on our minds, we often think primarily of physical needs. Of course, this is understandable, and even Paul tells us to ask God to provide for our needs. But our needs go beyond the physical. We have spiritual needs, and we’re often oblivious of them.

In the end, God is more concerned with the spiritual state of His children than the physical. This may sound off, but it’s true. The Philippians were in deep poverty. But the majority of Paul’s letter to them is a command to remain joyful despite their poverty. They might remain poor for their entire lives, yet God would still be faithful to provide for their needs.

What are your expectations of how Christ will provide for you? When you ask God to give you what you need, do you realize that this could mean He will bring you into circumstances and hardships in order to do exactly that? Do you realize that if you are sincere about wanting to grow closer with God, then God will give you a cup to drink and will baptize you with circumstances which will bring you to that place?

God will provide…but how and when is determined by Him and not by our expectations. And praise the Lord for that. If it was left up to us, we’d have all the money in the world, all the food we could ever eat, and we’d be healthy enough to run a 5k every morning. But we might not be any more like Christ than we were the day before, the week before, the year before. But God is not content to give us our physical wants and needs. His goals are far more profound for us. His goals are to make us fit for His kingdom. And when the physical in our lives becomes a hindrance to that goal, God loves us enough to strip away those hindrances so we can become the person we were re-created to be (2 Cor 5:17).

Sometimes, that process is painful. But we’re never alone. We’re called to remain joyful in it all, to show humility and gentleness, to put away fear and anxiety, to tell God what we need, and to maintain our spiritual integrity. Out of that comes the promise of peace—a peace that surpasses understanding and transcends any and every circumstance.

And even when we don’t know what to pray—when we’re not sure what we need—we have a Helper. Even when we’re not sure we can endure any longer, we have a Helper.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:26-30).

God will accomplish His purpose for us to make us more like Christ. That is His greatest provision in our lives.