I want you to imagine that, at least for a time, the Lord would see fit to involve us in selecting the providences we would receive from his hand. I want you to imagine that through one of his deputies—an angel perhaps—he would approach us to ask how we would prefer to serve him. In other words, I want you to imagine that for just a while he would choose to offshore his sovereignty and outsource it to us. I expect it might go something like this.
A day came when one of God’s angels appeared before a group of Christians who were worshipping together as a local church. He stood before them and said, “The Lord has asked me to distribute some of the gifts of his providence—gifts that will equip you to serve others on his behalf. I heard you singing ’Take My Life and Let It Be’ and thought this would be just the right time.”
“So first up I’ve got the gift of generosity. Is there someone here who would like to serve the Lord through the distribution of vast sums of money?” He glanced at a clipboard he held in his hands and added, “I should point out that this gift comes with a great deal of cash—it looks like 10 or 12 million dollars, and that’s just to start.”
Just about every hand shot up. The angel pointed at a couple of people who, with great smiles on their faces, came forward to collect their gift.
“And now I’ve got some rare talents to distribute.” Flipping quickly through the pages he said, “I’ve got a towering intellect, great athleticism, and prime leadership ability. Who would like those?”
Once more a great many hands went up and once more a group of people approached the front of the room to receive what they had chosen. To each the angel said, “Take this and commit it to the glory of God and the good of his people.” Each nodded solemnly as they took what was now theirs.
“Next I’ve got high position. It seems that someone here is destined for the corridors of power. Who would like to lead in this way?” There were perhaps fewer hands raised this time, but still a good many.
And so it went through magnetic personality and preaching ability and musical talent until there were just a few people who remained—a few people who, though they had raised their hands many times, had still not received their gift, their special calling from the Lord.
“Don’t worry. I’ve definitely got something for each of you. And it looks like the next item on my list is … quadriplegia. Who would like that?”
After an initial gasp of surprise, the people sat in silence, hands at their sides, eyes steadfastly fixed on the floor.
“No one wants this one? You all know of Joni Eareckson Tada, don’t you? Aren’t you thankful for her ministry? Haven’t you been blessed and inspired by her? Hasn’t her joy spurred on your own faith? Surely someone is willing to serve in the ways she has.”
Every hand remained down.
“I guess I’ll have to come back to that one. How about grievous loss? Who is willing to be bereaved so you can be a blessing to other Christians who will endure a loss of their own? You know, like Elisabeth Elliot—I know how much you love her story. Who is willing to lose a loved one and remain steadfast in your faith—to reassure others that you love God not just because of the good things he has given you, but because he is so worthy of your love?”
The room remained silent and still.
“Friends, listen, haven’t you ever been comforted in your sorrows by someone who had endured the same sorrow? Weren’t you thankful that God provided someone who truly understood your pain and who could comfort you with the comfort they had received from the Lord? Aren’t you willing or even eager to be that for someone else?”
Somewhere in the distance a lawnmower sputtered to life, but there was no other sound beyond the occasional nervous cough. The angel, perhaps a little sorrowful now, began to flip quickly through the sheets on his clipboard.
“Infertility? Widowhood? Persecution? Miscarriage? Won’t anyone take these? Won’t anyone accept them?”
From the back of the room a voice finally broke the awkward silence: “Do you have any more of those rare talents or high positions?”
The reality, of course, is that God does not ask what gifts of his providence we would like to receive from his hand. But he does hear us when we sing “take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.” He does take us at our word when we sing “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give.” He does listen and respond when we echo Jesus to say, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” He distributes the gifts of his providence in ways that further his cause and bless his people.
And as we receive these from his hand we can rest assured that in the life of the Christian there are not two classes of providence, one good and one bad. No, though some may be easy and some hard, all are good because all in some way flow from his good, Fatherly hand and all in some way can be consecrated to his service. For we are not our own, but belong to him in body and in soul, in life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, in the circumstances we would have chosen anyway and the ones we would have avoided at all costs. It falls to us to receive what he assigns—to receive it with trust in his goodness and with confidence in his purposes, willing and eager to steward it all faithfully for the good of his beloved people and the glory of his great name.