Claiming My Word for 2017
By Gary Hoag, ~
With the start of 2017, a few students, family, and friends have already asked me this question: “What’s your word for 2017?”
I spent a technology-free day with the Lord back in November 2016. It was refreshing, and while this may sound odd to some of you, in solitude, it seemed like I could see God’s face in high definition and hear His voice in surround sound. Try it sometime. In the stillness, my heart kept gravitating to one word: providence.
In plain terms, providence is the profound truth that God not only made everything, but in His goodness and by His design, He also sustains everything! If we look for the providence of God, we see it in every corner of creation. Not a flower blooms in beauty apart from His gaze, and each one is nourished by the water He sends from heaven. Every trout that teems in mountain streams is fed by hatches of bugs He richly releases.
What’s so cool about providence is that the more we look for it, the more we see it! It’s not only evident in creation; God’s hand is at work in the lives of people all around us. Those that aren’t looking for it, often attribute God’s sustaining grace to coincidence or the result of their own efforts. If it changes their plans, providence equals inconvenience and births frustration and sometimes even exasperation.
Many of my plans changed this week. Because I have been exploring the idea of providence and becoming more attuned to it, I am realizing that in real-time, God is orchestrating circumstances around me for my good (cf. Romans 8:28) and to accomplish His purposes that are clearly different from my own. Rather than fighting them and feeling anxiety, I am finding that trusting in God’s providence brings peace.
This past week I had planned to visit my parents in Cleveland on the way to a teaching assignment at Northern Seminary. Severe winter weather in Denver caused my flight to be cancelled. As it turns out, I would have been unable to visit my folks anyway as my mom felt horribly sick that day. The change of plans turned out to be a blessing. Almost simultaneous to this schedule change, my Sunday preaching in Chicago was postponed to a later date, which opened up my Sunday plans, so I went the long way home to Denver via Cleveland instead.
My mother was feeling much better thanks to some medication. How providential! But wait, there’s more. My parents surprised me with a precious family heirloom they had recently come across. It was an old hymnal with an inscription in it. My grandfather, Ellis Hoag, had given it to the church in honor of the passing of my great grandfather, John Hoag. Both were devoted Christians. On my flight home I flipped through pages looking for glimpses of God’s providence and was drawn to this song. I can’t recall ever singing it, but the lyrics touched my soul. I pray they bless you too.
If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee
By Georg Neumark
If thou but suffer God to guide thee, and hope in Him in all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength whate’er betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days;
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love, builds on the rock that naught can move.
Only be still, and wait His leisure, in cheerful hope with heart content.
To take whate’er thy Father’s pleasure, and all deserving love hath sent;
Nor doubt in our inmost wants are known, to Him who chose us for His own.
Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving; so do thine own part faithfully,
And trust His word, though undeserving, thou yet shalt find it true for thee;
God never yet forsook at need, the soul that trusted Him indeed.
The only right response to providence is complete and child-like trust. The God who made everything and sustains everything beckons us to trust Him with every care and worry. I am excited that providence is my word for 2017. It’s filling me with peace. If you don’t have a word for 2017, take a quiet day, seek the Lord, and see what happens.
Gary Hoag, Ph.D., (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at various seminaries, part-time as ECFA International Liaison, and is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” as he’s dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity.
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