The thought occurred to me to attempt to shorten the posts by increasing the number of them and reducing the length by narrowing the focus. I hope to at least be as successful at this as I have been at keeping my sermons short.
One of the things I’ve missed in recent years is any real sense of providence in my life. It’s not that the Providential Hand ever lifted, it’s more the case that one has to step back far enough, or away long enough for it to come into focus and become perceivable. These weeks away have been good if just for the fact that they’ve afforded me opportunity to get reacquainted with the Providence in my life.
In my message last week here at the church in Zurich I defined Providence as the precise, loving involvement and guidance of God in time. Those carefully chosen ten words sum it up nicely for me. Webster defines it; “God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.” I like my definition better. A thousand plus pages of Reformation History in the last couple weeks have left me with a profound sense of Providence. However, seeing God’s hand in history is one thing, noticing how he’s thoughtfully set it up for me to be refreshed now to re-engage later is another. It’s very assuring.
Even his hand in plopping me down in the watchmaking epicenter of the world has been a way he’s reacquainting me with Providence. Here at the surface level we only see the motion of the second hand, but behind that there is a complex arrangement of diverse wheels interacting with precision. I like these watches that give us window into what is happening underneath the second hand – they remind me of Providence.
An awareness of Providence will turn you into a worshipper – Thank you God – I love you too- to think that you’ve personally considered me and that not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father! That verse, Matthew 10:29, first mentioned the “value” of sparrows – “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” It then goes on to speak of OUR value – “you are worth more than many sparrows.” I know I take care of stuff that is valuable to me – it’s a good feeling to know God watches over what’s valuable to him. You and me!
I’ve even noticed the guidance of precise and loving Providence in little things these past weeks, like the order in which I’m reading books. It’s like I’m walking out a script or that he’s handing me successive and essential clues on a treasure hunt. The closest thing I can think of to describe the love felt in these Providential touches is when a girl wells with emotion at the realization that her boyfriend remembered something little that she liked or wore. (I’m not all that fluent in the language of romance so I hope that made sense.)
I didn’t scan the world and pick this place as the place I wanted to rest. I didn’t think, Hey, I think I’ll go spend a couple months in Reformation history or in Bonhoeffer’s backyard. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was here that the dots connected between the Reformation and strong sense we’ve been praying into back home that God is about to the change expression of Christianity in one generation. The present political struggle and disengagement of the church in America and it’s parallels to the years 1933-1945 here, the silence of and the silencing of pastors, etc, etc, etc. It’s all like God said “Hey, come over here, and when you are here I want to show you something that will encourage you and give you perspective and strategy. I want you to help my people not make the same mistakes twice. The cloud of witnesses here have some things they want to show you about their lives fighting similar battles to the ones I’ve called you to fight.”
I’m fully aware how fortunate we are to be able to be here and do what we are doing – truthfully there hasn’t been one post or picture put on this blog where, as I hit the “publish” button, I haven’t wondered who back home is resenting our fortune. I fight feeling guilty and the temptation to pull back on what we post to minimize our exposure and vulnerability. As one who feels as if he hasn’t had a free weekend in two decades I can fully appreciate those who’d look at the pictures of us at the lake here and think, “must be nice.” I understand those sentiments. Yet, this extended block of days is NOT God’s reward for a job well done (though it is his blessing) nor is it even the long overdue taking of accumulated unused comp or vacation days. Providential doors opened before us and I’m keeping a list of the moments where I have the strong sense that “God has me here.”
A week doesn’t go by when I too don’t have the thought that this is way too long to be away, or that it’s way too expensive. But each time so far God has interrupted those thoughts giving me a fresh sense of Providence – the end result is the assurance that since Providence obviously has me here, Providence can be trusted to provide for me being here as well as providing for my absence elsewhere.
(oops, somehow this ended up being 900 words. drat.)