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.
I won’t lie. I’m struggling with jealousy. How someone is able to make money on a concept so outrageously simple yet completely useless…it is frustrating. My children came home the other day with pet rocks. They glued together these molded “rocks” in the shape of a turtle. I would love to know how the entrepreneur pitched the idea of pet rocks to a room full of business executives. It must have been brilliant. Pet rocks are nearly the perfect pet. They are manageable and easily controlled. They do not require any responsibility. I do not have to remind my children to feed and water them. Pet rocks are nearly the perfect pet, however, they are dead.
Jesus preached messages which raised eyebrows and dander. In his hometown of Nazareth, his straightforward preaching provoked a cliffhanging parade. What stirred up the people? Jesus told them, they, like their forefathers, would miss out on the blessings from God if they were content with their pet religion. Historically, God desired to do great works through Israel, but their complacency hindered the work. He wished to be glorified through them but instead used two Gentiles in the Old Testament—a Sidonian woman and a Syrian man. Jesus was offering a message which was more dynamic than their religious rituals, but they would rather silence the messenger than accept the truth about themselves. The “old wine” was better in their opinion. Whatever Christ was peddling, they weren’t buying.
A tour through the American church shows not much has changed. People have debated “hot issues” for a long time. They squabble over lifeless preferences in public worship or personal holiness. They have their pet religion which is controllable, doesn’t require much nourishment, but it’s lifeless. Be aware! While we gossip about what they are doing and ridicule what they are not doing, we are comparing our pet religious practices while Christ has been offering a powerful relationship with God. He was preaching a relationship which feeds the hungry with righteousness and heals the hurting of sin. He was preaching a message which fills the barren nets. He was offering a power which raises the paralytic and rescues the prodigal. Too many are focused on defending their feelings rather than following their Savior.
The Spirit-led life nullifies the debate of pet religions. When people are dying, the responders do not have time to fritter away debating the model of the ambulance or the style of the siren. They only need the serum of faith—the victory which overcomes the world. Simply preach the word, live entirely distinct from the world, and leave your personal preferences for pet religions at the cross where you died with Christ, and you will experience the power of living with Christ through a God-glorifying ministry.
You hear the two-year-old kicking and screaming in the grocery store aisle. It’s the battle of the wills.
You watch as the eight-year-old pushes little green balls of nutrition around his plate, waiting for the peas to enter the lock-tight jaw. It’s the battle of the wills.
You stand-off against the fourteen-year-old much like an old, western duel on a dusty street in Laredo. It’s the battle of the wills.
The battle is often between child and parent. Have you outgrown the struggle, though? The facts are we constantly fight this battle for much of our lives, but it is not versus mom or dad anymore. When is the last time you heard a message and you knew things needed to change in your life? Maybe you quietly excused yourself from making the change, “I’m busy right now, but I’ll get around to it.” It’s the battle of the wills. Maybe you thought you heard wrong when conviction pricked your mind as you were reading God’s Word, “No, He couldn’t be talking to me!” It’s the battle of the wills.
What is the key to ending the fight?
In Mark 1:40-45, a leper flings his hopeless case at the feet of Jesus. He begs, “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” A cursory reading through the story and you have a feel-good moment. Jesus heals the leper! “If only God would respond to my requests like that!” you think to yourself. Jesus looks at the leper, “I will; be thou clean.” Yet, within this exchange you will find two powerful truths which will end any battle of the will you have with God.
First, recognize God’s motivation. When Jesus looked at the leper, He was moved. God’s will is powerful. With the mere pronouncement of His will, planets were formed and stars flung into spiralled galaxies. With the power of His will, He can change the make-up of your life in one moment. Notice, though, every pronouncement of God in your life is wrapped in compassion. This was the same compassion Jesus taught in His parables. The king had compassion on the servant with the unpayable debt (Matthew 18:27). The Samaritan had compassion upon the unfortunate man (Luke 10:33). The father had compassion upon unpardonable son (Luke 15:20). Every act of God in your life, whether you sense it or not, is laced with the compassion of the Almighty. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).
If we would only remember, what God allows in our life or what God asks of us is motivated by His compassion, there would be no struggle. If the child would only realize the parent’s intention is not to make his life miserable, rather, the decision is motivated by their desire for the child’s best. It is then the child could rationally accept the parent’s decision. However, the second truth is necessary and is the hang-up in our life. We must resign our will. As the leper fell at Jesus’ feet, we must fling ourselves at His feet.
The leper is a powerful statement because you and I are hopeless without God. Yet, God’s will is wrapped in compassion. The only thing standing between us and God’s ideal for us is our will. Kneeling our will at the feet of Christ becomes much easier once we remember He is “gracious and full of compassion” (Psalm 145:8).
How do you picture Christ? Maybe you were in a Sunday school class many years ago where they used flannel graph images. Maybe on one of those Sundays, you were exceptionally good and the teacher asked you to move the printed picture of Jesus into the boat with the disciples.
Maybe you enjoy the artwork and you think back to some of the famous paintings such as the Last Supper.
Maybe your image of Christ is more updated than that. There have been several features of Christ on the big screen in recent years.
All the pictures we may have in our mind are weak and superficial for they only capture the human resemblance of our Savior who walked this earth 2,000 years ago. You see, the portrait of Christ reveals so much more. When we truly see Christ,
- We don’t just see a man endowed with great power to heal the sick and cast out demons, although he was that.
- We don’t just see a gentleman but also a hero for a cause, although he was gentle to those who believed and caustic toward those who disrespected His Father.
- We don’t just see a teacher with the uncanny ability to take common everyday experiences and open up a treasure of spiritual truths, although he did that often.
The Portrait of Christ reveals so much more. Jesus reveals to you and to me everything about God. No man has seen God at any time, but Jesus Christ will communicate the depths of the riches of who He is. As an infinite being His ways are past our finding out, but Jesus Christ translates the eternal abstract into something that we can understand.
When I was working during my seminary years, I was an enrollment advisor. That required that I be on the phone with applicants constantly helping them to get their information so they could be accepted. I had a list of applicants that I watched over. Usually, I would have talked to this person on the phone and by the sound of their voice, I had my idea of what they looked like. Then I would get their picture in the mail for their file and what I envisioned and what they actually looked like were never the same.
The people had heard the teaching of the OT. Many of them had probably read parts of it themselves. By hearing the Words of God, they began to imagine what the Messiah would look like. They imagined a stately king riding into Jerusalem on a strong horse. They imagined a brilliant leader with more wisdom than what Solomon had leading Israel to be the world-power they once were.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. (John 1:11)
Why couldn’t they recognize Christ?
They were always looking for the wrong person.
What are you looking for? For whom do you seek? Are you seeking that fix in your life?
You see people today are still looking for the same type of Christ that the people in Jesus’ day were looking for.
They weren’t looking for humility.
They aren’t expecting to find difficulty.
They aren’t looking for sacrifice.
“We aren’t fighting; we are having a discussion.”
Malachi records such a “discussion” between the Jews and God. In any “discussion” someone has the final say. It is exactly like arguing with your siblings when you were growing up. Someone had to put in the last word, so they felt like they won the argument. The Jews try to have the final say, but in the end, it is God who has the final say.
The discussion begins with Israel challenging God’s claim that He loves them. “I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). The truth is, they were not feeling the love. Times were hard. They could not seem to get ahead. How could God claim He loved them? God begins with their privilege as His chosen people. Between Jacob and Esau, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. Seems harsh! However, when you review Esau’s life you realize it was not a choice God made, but a choice Esau made. The Bible calls Esau a profane person (Hebrews 12:16). This means he did not appreciate the things of God. He treated everything common and would not esteem the blessings of God as anything special. Esau preferred the sport of recreation over the spiritual responsibility he was supposed to exercise as the firstborn son. Because Esau rejected his responsibility in favor of recreation, God judged him.
Imagine the book of Malachi as a courtroom and the people are the prosecution and God is the defendant. They accuse God, but the evidence proves it is not God’s decision to withhold blessing from them. He is only responding to their decisions. The Lord does not change. He is patient, but, in the end, the just and the wicked receive their reward. Malachi prophesies of a great Prophet who will come and purify the sin away from His people. The intense light of His judgment upon the wicked is but the Sun of righteousness which shines a holy, healing beam upon those who love Him.
God has the final say. He is not fickle, but constant (Malachi 3:6). He will bless those who fear the Lord and think upon His name (Malachi 3:16), but, in the end, he will “discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:18).
God’s Final call
Someday you’ll hear God’s Final Call to you
To take his offer of salvation true-
This could be it my friend if you but knew-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
How can you live another day in sin,
Thinking some day with Christ you will begin?
O will you hear above the world’s loud din-
God’s Final Call, God’s Final Call
If you reject God’s Final Call of grace,
You’ll have no chance your footsteps to retrace
All hope will then be gone and doom you’ll face.
O hear his call! God’s Final Call