Negative Providence

So, I don't travel often. It seems like the few times I do, I inevitably hit delays. Last month, I had the opportunity to teach in Boston -- along the way I had three of my flights delayed. One was a mechanical failure and the other two were just "behind schedule". On the way to the campus, the GPS of my driver got confused and redirected us, thereby adding an hour to the route due to traffic on top of the "lost time" from the airline delays.

Two weeks ago we left for vacation and had a fully stopped, hour-long delay on I-70 just past the state line as well as construction traffic in several cities. Both coming and going we experienced slowdowns costing us "downtime". I....can' :)

In these moments, I struggle due to the waste of time and decisions of others. It confronts me with my selfishness and reminds me of my need for grace. It calls me to let the Spirit conform me into Jesus' likeness. I'd like to say each crossroads moment is a story of victory but that'd be flattery at best. I recently was encouraged challenged by a thought a pastor friend spoke of when he was traveling and hit a significant delay that adversely affected his schedule. His plane experienced a mechanical failure and he wrote that he was choosing to be thankful for God's "negative providence". That phrase arrested my attention. He went on to speak of how quick we are to be thankful of the times when God allows circumstances to take place that delight us or fit our schedule but we aren't so quick when they don't. In either event, he was choosing to be thankful and not complain. BOOM- though I know God rains on the just and unjust and also know that all things work together for good to them that love God, the phrasing and explanation helped me greatly. I was convicted about how often I am to praise God for His providence (typically only that which is what I like or want) and how seldom I utter a prayer of thanks for "negative" providence.

A few thoughts on how we can be thankful for such times:

  • When things are not what you desired or wanted, consider God's character. What kind of Father is he? What is His heart towards you regardless of the circumstances? What is your relationship with Him, even amid this undesirable moment? The plane is delayed and my response (either way), couldn't change me being in Christ and adopted into His family.

  • When things are not what you desired or wanted, consider God's conduct. If God has orchestrated your life being a part of the present moment, what might He be allowing you to be a part of? Even if it is on one side of the scale as an annoyance OR all the way to the other side of the scale as unjust, what is God doing for His glory and your spiritual growth? My view of such moments is often occluded with temporal thinking rather than considering God's work of eternal sanctification.

  • When things are not what you desired or wanted, consider God's care. It is so easy to complain isn't it? Yet, Phil. 2:12-15 teach us that such a decision is contrary to God's work in our life. Yet, the situation or circumstance can create tunnel vision so quickly. In such times, let's pause and begin to thank the Lord for who He is and His care for us. As we begin to praise, it reorients us to what our true reality is. For me, I didn't waste an hour on the I-70, I got to spend time with my wife and girls- how good is He?

  • When things are not what you desired or wanted, consider the people God has placed in that moment. Each "lousy" moment often has people in it. People who God intends His grace to tangibly affect through His children's lives. "Well, what if there is NO ONE in that moment? Can I complain about negative providence anyway?" I'd like to say yes as it would give me some good times of self-indulgence. However, the times of no one being around are very rare and even such times are moments of sanctification that will affect others at some point. Who has God planned for you to influence now or later by a moment of negative providence? For me, it was random strangers in airports, my family in the car, and some pastor friends I called.

Is God's providence always in your favor? Yes. Is that providence always displayed in ways we would call "positive"? No....and that's a good thing.

Pastor Paul