Hope and Help in God’s Provision
What then, is reasonable to expect from God in regard to provision for our own needs?
We can seek guidance about provision from God and expect that doing so will help us meet our needs, the needs of those who depend on us, and the needs of the world. Jesus states,
Ask, and it will be given you…For everyone who asks receives…Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)
After acknowledging and thanking the church at Philippi for their gift to him while he languished in house arrest in Rome, Paul confidently states, “My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Does this mean that if we don’t have enough to provide for our needs and the needs of those around us, we should ask God for help? Yes. We do not have God’s promise that he will provide everything we desire immediately. But we do have his promise to give us what we need. We should ask for his guidance in practical ways if we are in need. We can ask his guidance in finding a job, applying for benefits, changing jobs, resolving employee-employer disputes, obtaining education and job training. We should ask for his transforming power in our workplace ethics, creativity and productivity, work habits and other factors needed to keep a job and thrive in the workplace. If we are unemployed or under-employed, our disappointment or shame may lead us to back away from God. But these are the moments to draw closer to God more than ever.
Looking to God for help doesn’t just apply to those who lack provision. If we have wealth, the choices in how to earn, invest and give are often bewilderingly complex. In such situations, we need God’s guidance and direction in deciding how to gain and use such resources well—in ways that honor God and don’t harm ourselves or others. James instructs, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
We are meant to depend on God for provision, meaning that we should look to him to provide for us when our own means seem inadequate.
The miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand people is the premier biblical example of God providing when our own means seem inadequate. A large crowd follows Jesus as he goes into a remote area. They become hungry, and there is no place to buy food and no money to buy it with, anyway. One of the disciples discovers a boy who has a mere five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus receives these meagre supplies, gives thanks, and has them distributed to the whole crowd, as if they were a meal for thousands. Astonishingly, everyone in the crowd is able to take as much as they wanted. “When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost’” (John 6:11-12). And when they do, they fill twelve baskets! (John 6:1-14; see also Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, and Luke 9:10-17).
God delights in making up what we lack. This is a reminder that none of us are self-sufficient. God is our provider.
We are meant to work diligently and wisely to the degree we are able. Dependence on God is an attitude towards human labor, not a substitute for it.
Although God is our provider, he calls us to use what we have in our hands, not what we haven’t. God’s first gift to us for our provision is our ability to work, as we have seen in Genesis 1 and 2. Our work does not stand on its own, as a substitute for God’s generosity, but it is generally the first ingredient in God’s provision. Even if disability, circumstances or injustice make our work fall tragically short of meeting our needs, God begins by making use of what we are able to do. Then he makes up the difference from his inexhaustible riches.
In response to news that there were some in the church in Thessalonica who were shirking work, Paul commands,
Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
No work, no eat. This, of course, presumes that there is work to do. It does not matter whether that work is paid or not. If there is useful work we can do, we cannot sit idle and expect God to bless our idleness. Many households depend on paid work done outside the household and unpaid work done within. Both kinds of work are elements of God’s provision. Even those who need paid work, but who are unemployed or unable to hold down a paid job, can still work in voluntary capacities. It is our responsibility to work to the degree we are able, even if it is God’s job to ensure that our needs are met. Idleness is not a valid form of dependence on God.
Nowhere in Scripture does God promise that his followers will escape the effects of the fallen world. In fact, most of the biblical characters endured periods of time where circumstances, suffering and persecution robbed them of what they needed materially.
- Joseph spent years languishing in an Egyptian jail cell, no doubt with minimal rations to keep him healthy.
- Naomi felt the pain of living on the edge of survival—with no husband or land to provide for her and her daughter-in-law, Ruth.
- Paul endured harrowing experiences, including “toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:27).
God does not exempt us from the sufferings of the world, but he protects us from being overcome by them. Jesus prayed to the Father on behalf of his disciples, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
So what does God promise? Provision for our needs, not our wants. Help to endure and overcome whatever deprivations, sufferings and trials we experience. And, most of all, that God will use all situations we find ourselves in—including when we lack provision—to bring good. For himself, for us, and for the world. As the most well-known of verses in Romans states, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Some churches preach what may be called a “health and wealth gospel,” claiming that God always rewards his people with prosperity in this world. But in the Bible, wealth is no indication of God’s favor. Neither is poverty an indication of God’s punishment. “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Advocates of the health-and-wealth gospel often note that in the Old Testament, many of the characters we most revere were wealthy. They include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Boaz, Job, David and Solomon. And there is little doubt that their experience of abundance was tied in some way to their faithfulness to God. Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg notes that in the Old Testament,
Wealth can be a sign of God’s blessing, even if it is not always related to an individual’s or a nation’s obedience. But the unique covenantal arrangements between God and Israel prevent us from generalizing and saying that God must materially reward his faithful people in other nations or eras.
Therefore, a strong connection between righteousness and wealth is difficult to make. The story of the people of Israel confirms this assessment. Many wealthy people in the Bible prosper because of their wickedness, not righteousness. These include a number of King David’s descendants. For example, in 1 Kings 21 we read that King Ahab lusted after Naboth’s land and when he failed to acquire it by fair means, his wife Jezebel had Naboth executed. This, even though Ahab was already unbelievably wealthy.
The association between righteousness and wealth is even more tenuous in the New Testament. In fact, biblical scholar Gordon Fee argues that wealth is never related to a life of obedience in the gospels and other New Testament books. While we find a handful of well-to-do believers such as Joseph of Arimathea and Lydia, there is no suggestion by any of the New Testament writers that God’s favor is particularly on those who have wealth. In fact, if anything the opposite is true.
For example, following his encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus comments that it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than enter the kingdom. The shock of this statement causes his disciples to ask, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). In other words, “If not a rich man, then surely there’s no hope for anyone else?” In a culture where wealth was presumed to be an indication of God’s favor and blessing, Jesus’ assertion was unequivocal. Wealth is not a sign of righteousness or God’s favor. Instead, it is a grave peril to our relationship with God.
Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Eerdmans, 1999), 51.
Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health & Wealth Gospels (Regent, 1996), 9.
The final hope of Christians is not to be spared the suffering that all people experience in the fallen world. It is to participate in the abundant life promised when the world is fully redeemed upon Christ’s return. In the new earth there will be plenty for all. No one will lack provision. Justice will reign. Wealth will be experienced by all, without harm to anyone or anything. We will not suffer a lack of provision ourselves. We will not enrich ourselves at others’ expense. All will be as God always intended it to be.
Isaiah prophesies about that time:
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind…. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat…They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity….I will extend prosperity to her [Jerusalem] like a river, and the wealth of nations like an overflowing stream. (Isaiah 65:17, 21-23; 66:12)
John too foretells the prosperity of the New Jerusalem. God’s provision is so extravagant that the gates of the city will be pearls, the foundations jewels, and the streets gold (Revelation 21:19-21). If the vision sounds a bit fantastical, perhaps it means that God’s generosity is literally unimaginable to us, accustomed as we are to scarcity.