Several years ago, I joined with a group of men to hike the Continental Divide Trail. We drove north from Denver just past the state border into Wyoming and backpacked with our tents, water, food, and equipment for three days. We ascended over 11,000 feet on Lost Ranger Peak in the Mt. Zion Wilderness, and a thunderstorm rolled in. After rain turned to sleet, then sleet to hail, and hail to snow, I think we were all ready to go home (see picture above).
During those long, gruesome days, I had plenty of opportunity to meditate on God’s providence. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines providence as “divine guidance or care” or “God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.” In my big-city, metropolitan upbringing, I had very little reason to consider God’s providence (something, I am sure, is true of many of us).
But, in the Mt. Zion Wilderness, we filtered our own water from mountain streams and lakes that God created. We built fires and cooked bacon over branches God caused to grow and fall in the forest. And, when the lightning started striking above timberline, we huddled under a rock God had placed there for us and prayed to him for safety. I saw God’s providence at work in my life when I encountered nature up close. Providence affects all of us more than we know or are willing to admit.
God’s Providence in Nature
In the Psalms, the laws of nature are a witness to God’s providential character. The psalm writers meditate on this theme with some of the most beautiful poetry ever penned in the entire Psalter.
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
The Psalms tell us that day after day nature continues its course; the waters turn from the oceans to the clouds to the mountains to the streams. Seasons ebb and flow with the rotation of the earth as it circles the sun.
Through these laws, God provides daily for creation’s continued survival (Ps. 104:1-30). God’s dependability in regard to his physical laws points to his dependability in regard to his moral laws. His watchful care over creation, his providence, testifies to his ability to keep and preserve his people (Ps. 65:5-13; 74:12-17; 77:16-20; 78:13-16).
God’s Providence Towards Us
Do we really believe our Creator can be our Sustainer? Think of it this way—what would happen if God did not sustain his creation? Psalm 104:27-30 (cf. 145:15-16) gives us the answer.
“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.”
All life depends on the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. God is sustaining every breath you and I take right now.
God’s sustaining power is also quite evident in his care for the animals. He provides water for wild donkeys, branches for birds to make their nests, grass for livestock, and many more good blessings (Ps. 104:10-18, 20-22). God provides for the great sea creatures that swim in the unsearchable depths of the ocean (Ps. 104:25-26). And, in the same way, God provides for our specific needs (Ps. 104:15). Because God sustains his creation, man has the privilege of going “out to his work and to his labor until the evening” (Ps. 104:23; cf. 136:25).
When I read these passages, I cannot help but think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6.
“Our Father in heaven…give us this day our daily bread.”
“…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’
or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things,
and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be added to you.”
Living in Light of God’s Providence
Seeking God’s kingdom first means we meditate on and acknowledge God’s ability to sustain and provide for us. Instead of complaining or worrying about what we do not have, we can thank him for all the good gifts we do have. We can share stories about his great provision in our lives with those around us (especially the next generation, as we will see later). In Christ, God has already provided for all our needs.
We also should ask God for grace to imitate his stable, dependable character. Are you a dependable person? In Christ, we are “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Life ebbs and flows like the seasons and, sadly, so do people. We make well-intended promises and then forget or get distracted. We fail to help someone out when they really need it most.
Or, on the flip side, we know the sting of hurt when a friend fails to deliver on a promise or be there for us in a time of severe difficulty. We desperately need to ask God for the grace to be the kind of person who, like him, is dependable, predictable, and faithful. In the end, we get to play a part in showing God’s providential care to others. Hopefully those around us will not just see God’s providence on the mountaintop; they will see it in our own lives.