God the Provider

There was a man who owned a number of pets. An aquarium full of fish, a parakeet and a canary, two rats, a newt and a dog. Then one day, he also adopted a cat. Now this cat was a nervous sort. She'd spent most of her life on the street, never knowing where her next meal was coming from. After she had eaten her first meal, she began to worry. She had no idea whether another meal would appear. "What if the master forgets to feed me?" she fretted.
"He won't forget." said the dog. "He'll feed you when it's time to eat."
The cat watched her food bowl. If what the dog said was true, surely there would be food there soon. But it remained empty.
"Calm down." said one of the rats. "He'll feed you when it's time to eat."
But the cat paced anxiously, fearing what might happen to her if the master didn't come through. she looked at the fish tank. No food had been made available to them since yesterday either. a glance into the newt's tank showed his bowl likewise empty.
"Woe is me!" cried the cat. "My new master has forgotten me!"
The parakeet scolded the cat angrily. "Pipe down!" he screeched. "The master will feed you when it is time to eat!"
Then at five o'clock, the master made his rounds. He fed the fish first, followed by the newt, then the birds, the rats, the dog, and finally the cat.
"I knew he'd come through." said the cat. "Never doubted him for a second."

How many people out there like to have the things they need long before they need them? Paws up! (raises own paw) I confess that I'm a worrier. I like to have everything ready to go beforehand. If I'm going to be having chili for lunch on Saturday, I like to have the can on the shelf on Wednesday. If I'm providing the fruit salad for Christmas dinner, I like to have all the fruit ready to go by Thanksgiving. (I have since learned that this is not a good idea unless you like your fruit salad to leave you feeling slightly flushed and giddy.) I like to have everything ready in advance. I even prefer to have my sermon ready on Monday if I can. unfortunately for me, I don't always get my sermon on Monday. Sometimes God doesn't inspire me until Friday evening. Personally, I really don't like it. But you know what? It always seems to get done.

This particular sermon was a notable exception. It's an excellent example of the difference between provision and providence. There were other matters which needed to be addressed before we hit upon this one, so the completion of this sermon was prevented. I even had Draco write the last half of it for me and then send it back to me, but the completed version never arrived, even though he sent it to two different addresses. The sermon simply didn't get finished because it wasn't time, yet.

It seems reasonable that if God is going to provide for someone, He'd give them what they need ahead of time. Doesn't that seem like a good plan? But God's plans are often counterintuitive. Take for example, the story of George Muehller.

According to Vegie Tales, George Muehller was an asparagus (okay, he wasn't an asparagus, but I love the way Archibald depicts him.) who founded an orphanage. In their version of the story, Muehller tells a reporter how he has determined to glorify God by never asking any earthly person for anything. That night, the cupboard was bare. There was no food for breakfast. Nevertheless, Muehller invited the reporter back for breakfast in the morning. When George, the reporter and the orphans sit down to breakfast, they pray for their food and give thanks in anticipation of receiving it. Immediately, the baker walks through the door. He explains that he got the feeling that the orphans needed bread, so he was compelled to bake some and bring it over. Seconds later, a milk truck breaks down outside. The driver offers the orphanage all the milk they want in exchange for a place to store his milk while he repairs the truck. This sort of thing happened all the time in Muehller's orphanage. Yet the orphanage did so well that Muehller was able to open four others, all of them running the same way. So well did the orphanages run that employers of unskilled workers complained that there simply wasn't enough unskilled labor to go around. All the orphans were too well educated.

Those of you who have been listening to me preach for a while have heard me say that if God allows something bad to happen to you, it's for a good reason. Romans 8:28 tells us this. You can probably recite the verse from memory by now.

Romans 8:28 For we know that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are the called according to His purpose.

It doesn't mean that only good will happen to you. It doesn't mean that bad things become good. And it certainly doesn't mean that God is going to protect you from self-inflicted harm. All of these are interperetations that people have applied to this verse over the years, and all of them wrong. What does this mean about God's provision?

There are a number of heresies concering God's provision. One of them, which is running rampant through Africa right now, is that God will make you rich if you give all your money to the church. God never said this. What He said was...

Malachi 3:10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

He never said that the blessing would be money.

Another heresy concerns a rather sound-seeming line of reasoning. God wants you to be happy. Riches make people happy. Therefore, God wants you to be rich.

The problem with this, of course, Is that riches do not provide sustained happiness. This is not to say that God has anything against being rich. Someday, I hope he lets me try it. But God wants you to be happy IN THE LONG TERM. Strength of character creates long-term happiness. Long-term happiness comes with having a relationship with God as your primary source of joy. Riches frequently prove to be an obstacle to that to those whose character isn't strong enough to handle them. It is therefore often necessary for God to limit His provision for the sake of providence.

This means you don't always get what you desire. It may well be that the orphans in George Muehller's orphanage wanted some psychadelic pink presweetened cereal with blue, pink, purple and white marshmallows in various cartoon-character shapes. (I love cereals like that. My inker thinks I'm nuts because of it.) They got milk and bread. It was sufficient for the moment. God doesn't always give us what we want. There's no need for sirloin steak when a baloney sandwich works just as well.

This, in turn, means that God isn't always going to give you what you need in the WAY you want. As an example, I'd like to share one of my favorie stories. There was a minister who was sitting on his roof during a flood. a boat came by and offered to take him to higher ground. "No thanks." said the minister. "God will save me." A few hours later, the water was lapping at his paws. A second boat came by and offered to take him to higher ground. "No need." he said. "God will save me." Two hours later, the water was up to his neck. A helicopter came by and let down its ladder. "I'M ALL RIGHT!" the minister shouted. "GOD WILL SAVE ME!" Not much longer after that, the minister drowned. When he arrived in Heaven, he faced God and angrily demanded to know why God did not save him. "What do you mean?" asked God calmly. "I sent you two boats and a helicopter."

The challenge for this week is to put your trust in God as your provider. To trust not only in His provision, but His providence. To have faith that what He withholds is as much for your good as what He grants. To nonchristians, my challenge is the same as always- Get right with God. God cannot bless you if you aren't in a position to be blessed.

Today's reading:
Mark 6:34-44

34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.
35 And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:
36 Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.
37 He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?
38 He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.
39 And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.
40 And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties.
41 And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all.
42 And they did all eat, and were filled.
43 And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.
44 And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.