Armchair Providence

Armchair Providence

Listening to music is for amateurs. Getting lost in the music is a completely different level of appreciation. As a music enthusiast, you may find yourself directing a great classical piece from your living room armchair or singing the lead with the mop handle as your microphone stand. You would be an armchair conductor or an armchair musician. You adopt the conductor’s or singer’s talent as if it were your own.

In the classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers uses a peculiar description for a tendency we have. He calls it amateur providence. It is when we try our hand at being God.

In John 2-4, Mary is the first case of amateur providence when she sees a need and presumes upon God. For her, it was time for the Son of God to act, so she informs Jesus (as if He didn’t already know)! Jesus’ responded, “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4). Jesus, respectful of his mother, complies with her request, but He clearly is working on a divine timetable.

Nicodemus is an “expert” in amateur providence because he is a “master in Israel” (John 3:10). He feels he has a fairly good handle on God’s technique. Nicodemus expresses his profound insight of the ways of God, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God,” as if Jesus needed the endorsement of the Pharisees to validate His divine mission (John 3:2)! Jesus challenges his understanding of God’s ways by describing salvation as a rebirth. This flushes all Nicodemus’ religious calculations. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

The woman of Samaria in John 4 confidently handles her version of the truth. She is quite adept in her selection of truth, and it is a selection. She “knows” where she thinks you should worship, but conveniently does not know anything about fidelity in marriage. Jesus exposes her amateur providence status regarding the truth when he said, “Ye worship ye know not what…[but] the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:22-23). Worship was not as much about a place on earth as it was about a position of the heart.

Whether it is timing, technique, or truth, we all struggle with playing the amateur providence. The only person to get it right in John 2-4 offers some wisdom. John the Baptist said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven…He must increase, but I must decrease…He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true” (John 3:27, 30, 33). John summed up timing, technique, and truth nicely. Realize God’s timing is right when he gives it to you from heaven. Revere God’s technique because his ways are great and ours are small. Receive His testimony and you will be sealed with His truth.

God is better at being God than we are. If you are a card-carrying amateur providence, it’s time to hang it up and let Him have His way with you.

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