Divine Providence and Contentment

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31

“The art of contentment is a right knowledge of God’s providence.”

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646), in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, points out that a correct understanding of God’s providence is needed for spiritual contentment in the face of the trials and difficulties of life as a Christian.

Here is a good theological definition of divine providence: “It is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Psalm 103:19), the physical world (Matthew 5:45), the affairs of nations (Psalm 66:7), human destiny (Galatians 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Psalm 4:8). This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the idea that the universe is governed by chance or fate.” https://www.gotquestions.org/divine-providence.html

Burroughs explains three ways that a proper understanding of God’s providence can influence our contentment:

Providence is universal—“The soul must be thoroughly instructed in providence to come to the art of contentment. Not only that God by his providence rules the world and governs all things in general, but that it reaches to every detail; not only to order the great affairs of kingdoms, but it reaches to every man’s family; it reaches to every person in the family; it reaches to every condition; yea, to every happening, to everything that falls out concerning you in every particular: not one hair falls from your head, not a sparrow to the ground, without the providence of God. There is nothing that befalls you but there is a hand of God in it—this is from God and is a great help in contentment.”

Providence is efficacious [effective; successful in producing its desired or intended result]—“Suppose we are discontented and vexed and troubled, and we fret and rage, yet we need not think that we will alter the course of providence by our discontent. I may say to every discontented, impatient heart: What, shall the providence of God change its course for you? Do you think that because it does not please you it must alter its course? Whether or not you are content, the providence of God will go on. It has an efficacy of power, of virtue, to carry all things before it. Can you make one hair black or white with all the stir that you are making? When you are in a ship at sea which has all its sails spread with a full gale of wind, and is swiftly sailing, can you make it stand still by running up and down in the ship? No more can you make the providence of God alter and change its course with your vexing and fretting; it will go on with power, do what you can. But understand the power and efficacy of providence and it will be a mighty means helping you to learn this lesson of contentment.”

Providence has infinite variety, all working together—“There is an infinite variety of the works of God in ordinary providence, and yet they all work in an orderly way. We put these two things together: for God in his providence causes a thousand thousand things to depend on upon another. There are an infinite number of wheels, as I may say, in the works of providence. God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out in your life this day or this week. Let me therefore be quiet and content, for though I am crossed in some one particular thing, God attains his end; at least his end may be furthered in a thousand things by this one thing that I am crossed in. Therefore let a man consider that this is an act of providence. How do I know what God is about to do, and how many things the Lord may have his work go on in general, in a thousand other things?”

 

Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

“Be Thou My Vision” is a traditional Christian hymn of Irish origin. The words are based on a Middle Irish poem or prayer often attributed to a sixth-century Irish Christian, however it may have been written later than that. The text reflects aspects of life in Early Christian Ireland (c. 400-800 AD). The prayer is a prayer for protection and is best seen in a verse omitted from most modern hymnals:

Be Thou my Breastplate, my Sword for the fight;

Be Thou my whole Armor, be Thou my true Might;

Be Thou my soul’s Shelter, be Thou my strong Tow’r,

O raise Thou me heav’nward, great Pow’r of my pow’r.

The symbolic use of a battle-shield and a sword to invoke the power and protection of God draws on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:16–17), which refers to “the shield of faith” and “the sword of the Spirit”. Such military symbolism was common in the poetry and hymnnology of Christian monasteries of the period due to the prevalence of clan warfare across Ireland. The poem makes reference to God as the “High King of Heaven”. This depiction of the Christian God as a chieftain or High King is a traditional representation in Irish literature; medieval Irish poetry typically used heroic imagery to portray God as a clan protector.

 

Be Thou My Vision

Translated by Mary Byrne; *

Versified by Eleanor Hull **

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word;

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father and I, Thy true son;

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;

Thou mine inheritance, now and always;

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;

O King of glory, my treasure Thou art.

O King of glory, my victory won;

Rule and reign in me ’til Thy will be done;

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall;

Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

(Sung by the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team)

 * Mary Byrne (1880 – 1931) was born in Ireland and first translated the old Irish hymn, “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile,” into English as “Be Thou My Vision” in Ériu (the journal of the School of Irish Learning), in 1905. A linguist, Byrne received her education from the National University of Ireland. She contributed to the Old and Mid-Irish Dictionary and Dictionary of the Irish Language.

** Eleanor Hull (1860 – 1935) was born in England, of a County Down family. She was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin and was a student of Irish Studies. She was a co-founder of the Irish Texts Society for the publication of early manuscripts and president of the Irish Literary Society. The best-known English version of “Be Thou My Vision”, with some minor variations, was translated by her and published in 1912. Since 1919 it has been commonly sung to an Irish folk tune and is one of the most popular hymns in the United Kingdom.

 

The Determination to Serve

[Jesus] “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:6-8

The Determination to Serve

From My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers *

“Paul’s idea of service is the same as Our Lord’s: ‘I am among you as He that serveth’; ‘ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.’ We have an idea that a man called to the ministry is called to be a different kind of being from other men. According to Jesus Christ, he is called to be the ‘doormat’ of other men; their spiritual leader, but never their superior. ‘I know how to be abased,’ says Paul. This is Paul’s idea of service: ‘I will spend myself for the last ebb for you; you may give me praise or you  may give me blame, it will make no difference. So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, I am his debtor to serve him until he does.’

“The mainspring of Paul’s service is not love for men, but love for Jesus Christ. If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be crushed or broken-hearted, for we shall often meet with more ingratitude from men than we would from a dog; but if our motive is love to God, no ingratitude can hinder us from serving our fellow man.

“Paul’s realization of how Jesus Christ had dealt with him is the secret of his determination to serve others. “I was before a perjurer, a blasphemer, an injurious person’—no matter how men may treat me, they will never treat me with the spite and hatred with which I treated Jesus Christ. When we realize that Jesus Christ has served us to the end of our meanness, our selfishness, and sin, nothing that we meet from others can exhaust our determination to serve men for His sake.”

 

* Oswald Chambers (1874—1917) was an early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement evangelist and teacher, best known for the devotional My Utmost for His Highest.

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Chambers moved with his family in 1876 to Stoke-on-Trent when his father, Clarence Chambers, became Home Missions evangelist for the North Staffordshire Baptist Association. At age sixteen, Oswald Chambers was baptized and became a member of Rye Lane Baptist Chapel. Even as a teenager, Chambers was noted for his deep spirituality and he participated in the evangelization of poor occupants of local lodging houses.

While studying art in Edinburgh, he felt called to ministry and he left for Dunoon College, a small theological training school near Glasgow. Chambers was soon teaching classes at the school and took over much of the administration. Thereafter he spoke at evangelistic meetings in Great Britain and spent a semester teaching at God’s Bible School, a Holiness institution in Cincinnati, Ohio, then spent a few months in Japan working with the Oriental Missionary Society. Sailing back to the United States in 1908, Chambers became better acquainted with Gertrude Hobbs, the daughter of friends, whom he had known casually. They married in 1910. Chambers considered ministry a partnership in which Biddy—who could take shorthand at 250 words per minute—would transcribe and type his sermons and lessons into written form.

In 1911 Chambers founded and was principal of the Bible Training College in Clapham Common, Greater London. In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, Chambers suspended the operation of the school and was accepted as a YMCA chaplain. He was assigned to Zeitoun, Cairo, Egypt, where he ministered to Australian and New Zealand troops, who later participated in the Battle of Gallipoli. Chambers raised the spiritual tone of a center intended by both the military and the YMCA to be simply an institution of social service providing wholesome alternatives to the brothels of Cairo. Soon his wooden-framed “hut” was packed with hundreds of soldiers listening attentively to messages such as “What Is the Good of Prayer?” Confronted by a soldier who said, “I can’t stand religious people,” Chambers replied, “Neither can I.”

Chambers was stricken with appendicitis on 17 October 1917, but resisted going to a hospital on the grounds that the beds would be needed by men wounded in the Third Battle of Gaza. On 29 October, a surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy; however, Chambers died 15 November 1917 from a pulmonary hemorrhage. He was buried in Cairo with full military honors.

For the remainder of her life—and at first under very straitened circumstances—Chambers’ widow transcribed and published books and articles edited from the notes she had taken in shorthand during the Bible College years and in Cairo, Egypt. Most successful of the thirty books was My Utmost for His Highest (1924). The work has never been out of print and has been translated into 39 languages.