Christian Living Jesus Christ Personal Theology

The Providence of God and a Thankful 7-Year Anniversary

Out of the Depths, I Cry to You, O Lord

Seven years ago on the 19th of December I was allowed to go home after a serious illness, which brought me to the point of death.

Each year on that anniversary I stop to remember and give thanks to God for his goodness to me and for the opportunity given to serve Him, be with friends and family and enjoy his world – until he finally calls me home.

MysteryOfProvidence-682x1024As I have been reflecting I read Sinclair Ferguson’s summary (in his Some Pastors and Teachers) of John Flavel’s book on The Mystery of Providence.  After I came out of hospital I worked my way through the six volume set of Flavel’s works – slowly and deliciously.  They were an absolute delight and for several years I felt that Flavel was my pastor – he certainly ministered to me.

I suspect that many contemporary Christians do not think much about providence.  We either think that the Spirit speaks to us directly, through our feelings  or only in the Word.  But the fact is that God uses our circumstances (his providence) to speak to us.  Of course Scripture is the only absolute authority and we can misinterpret providence.  We must always interpret it through the Word.  But we must not be deaf to what God is saying through what is happening to, in and around us.

Flavel points out that we see God’s providence in conversion (why were we in that place at that particular time?); in ordinary blessings (including our employment); and in marriage.  “A prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:14).  I can certainly testify to all those – especially the latter – Annabel has been a great blessing of providence to me. As have our children and now grandchildren (something we did not have when I was lying in a coma!).

Flavel is also very helpful when he discusses how God’s providence is also seen in evil and suffering.  Amongst other things such providences transform our lives and mortify sin.  As CS Lewis argued “God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts to us in our pains”.  For me those months at the end of 2011 were distressing, hard and painful – even the memory of them is disturbing.  But the Lord meant it for good.  Sinclair lists the following  lessons from Flavel

1)God is in control of his universe.

2) God is working out his perfect purposes.

3) God is not my servant.

4) God’s ways are far more mysterious and wonderful than I can understand.

5) God is good – all the time; I can trust him – all of the time.

6) God’s timetable is not the same as mine.

7) God is far more interested in what I become than in what I do.

8) Freedom from suffering is no part of the promise of the Christian gospel.

9) Suffering is an integral part of the Christian life.

10) God works through suffering to fulfil his purposes in me.

11) God’s purposes, not mine, are what bring him glory.

12) God guides by enabling me to read his providences through the lenses of his word.

13) I have few greater pleasures than tracing the wonders of God’s ways.

As Sinclair says; “Learning these lessons from John Flavel will transform your life and do you endless and eternal good!”>


Psa. 116:1    I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.c 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. 3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. 4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “LORD, save me!” 5 The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. 6 The LORD protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.7 Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. 8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, 9 that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”

How Prayer Impacts Lives


  1. Thankyou for writing the summary of Flavel’s book, David. It is a timely personal reminder for me of God’s sovereign work in my life.

      1. We can always rely on you for a positive, uplifting and encouraging remark! Shame that truth is not part of your modus operandi….if you read the testimony you would see great thanks for the medical staff and medical science….but don’t let truth get in the way of your hatred!

  2. That God can and does use evil for good, in His Divine Providence, and work miracles out of even the worst that can happen (what else is Resurrection?) I believe with all my heart. That He deliberately inflicts it (rather than choosing in His wisdom not to hold back the natural working out of physical, political, emotional and psychological consequences) is something I am more reluctant to accept. We have only to look at the sort of people who relish punishing people “for your own good” to know that God is very different.
    And I dare not presume to tell anyone else that “God is doing this for your good” or worse still, “to teach you a lesson” – the misunderstanding, or even worse, misuse of (10) above in particular has done immeasurable harm to souls. The actual hour of bereavement or disaster is the very worst time to preach the message of Providence – as Job’s visitors tragically proved.
    As Lewis himself discovered, the time to lodge these teachings in the heart is *before* the worst happens – and even then, they will be hard to hold on to in the storm. May the Angel of Gethsemane be there in the time of testing for us all.

  3. Very happy you pulled through. Definitely an anniversary worth celebrating!

    I have known a couple of people whom medical staff gave little to no chance of surviving , but still did, much to their surprise.

    Do you ever wonder if you had not made it to the hospital would your god have saved you had you collapsed at home?


      1. Ultimately, David, would it not have been win-win? “To live is Christ to die is gain”, isn’t merely a Christian motivational strap-line, but is something that pastorally needs to be sensitively handled particularly by those who are not pastors.
        Keller’s , “Walking with God through pain and suffering” is helpful and challenging, but as someone wrote, it is a book that needs to be read and digested before pain and suffering, not a book to be given to someone in the furnace of suffering.
        I read it after a bye-pass x3 and a stroke 5 years later, now 8 years ago.
        I’m not one for anniversaries, however. And you certainly don’t want box-set replays.
        GP said the times were akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My wife was probably as badly affected, but what marvellous support and prayer that we both received from our Christian brothers and sisters.
        I’ve had Flavel’s BoT book for some years, unread. I’ll now turn to it.
        Ark, makes a good point, that we rarely consider. What if we get knocked down by a bus, something that we don’t have in our “blue-sky thinking diary”.
        It did happened to Christian sister, who had visited and prayed for me, in hospital. Some years later, at the end of Sunday Church service, she was waiting for a bus home, when a bus travelling in the other direction, veered across the road and smashed into the bus stop. The driver and some passengers were injured. She was killed.

      2. Contrary to what many may thing here, I am really not a bad bloke. Destined for Hell … but otherwise.

        So, do you think ”God” would have intervened had you not been by the hospital?

        Would it have been considered ”God’s will” had you not pulled through?

      3. God did intervene – at least thats what my surgeon says – what would he know?!

        And yes it would have been God’s will if I had not pulled through….we would have accepted and rejoiced in that as well!

      4. So how do you square away the saving of one life – in this case yours – against the deaths of nearly 30,000 children from preventable disease?
        Or the loss of 250,000 in a tsunami?

        And this does not take into account the Doctrine of Hell, of course, and all this entails for failure to believe in the Christian god.

        How do you differentiate between what seems to be capricious behaviour and natural phenomena and most time simply random occurrence?
        And how would you explain this to a fellow Christian who may have just lost someone
        in similar circumstances?
        Why them and not you?

      5. Ark – you seem to be missing a rather obvious point – all of us are dying. All of us will die. As for your latter statement….at the same time as I was ill, another minister was the same. He was expected to live, I was expected to die. He died. I lived. When I met his widow she was so thankful both for my life being spared (for a while) and her husband being set eternally free from pain and suffering and into the joy of Christ. Thats the Christian hope. Yours is just ‘suck it up’ cos that’s the way things are!

  4. The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel is one of my favourite books. I started to read the Puritan paperbacks published by the Banner of Truth in my mid twenties. They transformed my spiritual life and re-shaped my thinking more than any other influence.

  5. David, you might like this ancient prayer for December 19th, six days before Christmas (see Is.11.10, Is.45.14, Is.52.15 and Rom.15.12);

    O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
    before you kings will shut their mouths,
    to you the nations will make their prayer:
    Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

    1. The ancient prayer which Steve refers to is one of the ‘O Antiphons’.
      The importance of O Antiphons is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.

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