Rough Day? Rest on the Pillow of Providence

Child sleep on pillow of providence

We hit a new low. We’ve had bad weeks in our house before, but this week’s behavior borders on criminal. Still, there’s a reason this blog is called JoyfullyPressingOn. My times are in his hands; every jaw-dropping event in his providence.

To protect the guilty one I love, I won’t share details. But trust me, if I told you, your jaw would drop too. You’d ask, “What are doing about that?”

So why do I disclose this much?

Because I know that some of you are facing tough stuff too—that kind that keeps you tossing and turning at night. Please don’t hear me this as a brag on me, because I’m boasting in the grace of God: I slept like a baby last night.

Because I’ve got a stellar pillow.

When It’s Hard To Sleep

Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9

The events of the week could have made it hard to sleep. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

What happened this week marks not months but years of prayers answered with Not yet, if not No. That answer, this waiting, these events could make it hard for a mom to sleep.

At least, without the right pillow.

But too many nights tossing and turning on too-soft and too-firm foreign pillows have taught me. When I travel, I take my pillow. The extra space it takes to bring my just-right pillow is well worth it.

That pillow helps me sleep in all sorts of strange beds and new places.

Providence Is A Soft Pillow

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

But when I put my head on that pillow and catastrophic, hopeless thoughts still swirl, I need another pillow. Because uncertainty should not be the occasion of panic. Alistair Begg says, The only thing you can put your head on is the providence of God. Then you go to sleep.

Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.

Quoted by C.H. Spurgeon

The Puritans said, “Providence is a soft pillow for anxious heads.” And some of us are terribly anxious about the uncertainty we face. We are not trusting our unknown futures to a known God who knows the future. And we are not alone.

Begg confides,

Most of the occasions of my worrying, most of the occasions of my rising fears can be traced ultimately to a loss of confidence in the doctrine of providence—can be traced to the fact that I am prepared to say, “My times are in your hands,” but I’m not prepared to live in the light of that truth.

Joyfully pressing on means living in light of that truth. It means that even though I have no idea how this today’s event will unfold and if the heart will untwist, I will trust. In peace, I will both lie down and sleep.

Because I sleep on the soft pillow of providence.

My Times Are In Your Hands

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand… Psalm 31:14-15a

My old theology text books defines providence as the “continued exercise of [God’s] divine energy whereby the Creator preserves all of His creatures, is operative in all that comes to pass in the world, and directs all things to their appointed end.”

Unpacked: Providence means God is guiding all the events of the world including those in your life. In other words, your times are in his hands.

Some of you know I’m working on a book about meekness. Here’s a little secret: The meek know how to sleep. They have a heightened sense of God’s providence. They carry this pillow everywhere. On it they rest their heads.

And as they doze off, you might hear them pray, “My times are in your hand.”

Asleep in the Storm Like Jesus

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Mark 4:37-38a

As I was writing this, it hit me. Jesus had a pillow too. His head was on it that evening he slept in the stern of the boat on the stormy sea. But his disciples then, like his disciples now, had trust issues. They got anxious.

Remember what they did? They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” 

For Jesus, Mark tells us, was in the back of the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. Yes, a pillow. The very same pillow, in fact, that you and I can sleep on—the soft pillow of providence. The pillow that helps me sleep in the midst of the storms in my home is the same pillow that Jesus lay his head on in the storm-tossed boat.

Into Your Hand

Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:5

How do I know? Well, it goes back to Psalm 31. A few verses before David prayed, My time are in your hand, he prayed:

Into your hand I commit my spirit.

I doubt Jesus prayed that on the boat. But great David’s greater Son did pray it in the most stressful of all times, ever.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,  “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Luke 23:44-46, ESV

Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it, John Calvin said.

I did not sleep well this week because I know how this chapter ends. I only slept well because of my pillow.

Because I trust my loving Father knows best.

Don’t Strike The Rock! Learning About Consequences From Moses

Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them…

And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.

Numbers 20:8, 11-12

Too Extreme?

Do you ever wonder at how God doles out discipline? Like when He stopped his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land simply because he struck a rock? How sometimes divine judgement seems too severe for the crime?

Moses had been told to strike a rock before (Ex. 17:1-7). And God himself had called his people rebels. I’ve written about these rebels before. So what’s so wrong with Moses doing the same?

After all, Psalm 106 tells us that the people sorely provoked Moses. They angered God too. And it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips.

Can we really blame Moses for lashing out?

Who Can Blame Moses?

Moses was God’s servant, His pick among all the men on earth to lead His people out of slavery. The “Man of God”- as Psalm 90 calls him- brought the Israelites out of Egypt through the Sea and for 40 years led them through the wilderness. You’d expect that Moses would be the one to bring them to the Promised Land.

He was not. Because God did blame Moses. He found fault in Moses and held him responsible. That’s what blame means.

Numbers 20:12 makes that clear: Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them. The offense was serious enough in God’s eyes to ban Moses from leading Israel into Canaan Land.

But you’re in good company if you’ve struggled with this. Scholars have called it “one of the most difficult problems in the Old Testament.” Articles have been written to explain. Nineteenth-century pastor Alexander MacLaren asked “Was his momentary failure not far too severely punished?”

Like banning dessert for a year because a son stole a cookie. Or denying a week at camp for a minute of sassy talk.

But God said it and I believe it. Surely the Judge of the earth will do right.

And I still want to understand why.

Still a’fighting, and a’struggling?

So, this time on my way through Numbers, I paused to ponder why. I did some work- and had some fun- studying this out. Here’s what I found.

The first thing is really a side note. But I think it’s important because misunderstanding it trips many of us up.

We think that when we are converted our old demons will suddenly die. Then we lose heart and grow faint when they don’t. We forget that as long as there’s life, there’s a fight.

W. A. Criswell explains,

If you are hotheaded and tempestuous before you were saved, you’ll have that same tendency to burn up, to be hotheaded after you are saved…

Moses was a tempestuous man.  He had a fiery and a burning spirit… Moses had it back there in the land of Egypt when he saw that Egyptian wronging that Israelite slave, and he killed him with his bare fists [Exodus 2:11-12]. And it comes out again here.

Now what happens to you when you’re saved is by the side of that burning spirit, God will put a spirit of grace and intercession by which you’re able to command and to control that volatile spirit.  But you’ve still got it…And on the inside of our souls there goes civil war all the time, a’fighting, and a’struggling all the days of your life.

Now it comes out again here in Moses.  Moses had…such high hopes for the [next generation] that when they fell back into that old way of their fathers, of murmuring, and finding fault with God- Moses was irritated.  His spirit burned within him.

To us it seems so forgivable. To us it seems a harsh punishment for a weakness in Moses’ temperament.

I ask again. Why this divine decision? 

Why Was God So Hard On Moses?

Because instead of doing what God said- “Speak to the rock, and water will gush out” [Numbers 20:8]-Moses dishonored God and disobeyed.  “He lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock,” [Numbers 20:11]. 

Let’s don’t miss God’s mercy in his judgment: Despite the people’s grumbling, despite the disobedience of Moses, God gave water abundantly, to his rebel people and their animals.

Still came the consequence: “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them,” [Numbers 20:12].

God barred Moses from entering the land because he did not believe the Lord or uphold the Lord as holy.

Disbelief and Disobedience: Partners in Crime

For the record, disbelief and disobedience go hand-in-hand. They did for the Israelites in the desert (see Hebrews 4:1-11) and they do for us today. “Take heed, brothers, lest there be you an evil, unbelieving heart, that turns away from the living God” [Hebrews 3:12].

Moses overtly disobeyed God [Numbers 20:811].  That was the first sin. 

His second sin was disbelief. “Because you did not believe in me,” God said. Just speaking to the rock wasn’t enough. Moses took matters into his own hands. He took his rod and struck twice. He didn’t believe that to speak to it was good enough.

But there’s one more layer that helps me understand why this particular sin, striking the rock twice, was so offensive to God.

God has great care for his types. (And that Rock was Christ.)

If I read one commentary on Numbers 20, I read a dozen, and every one brought out this point home:

When Moses struck the rock, he “broke the type.” 

That might sound confusing. Let me explain.

Do you remember God’s direction to Moses? “See that you make every thing according to the pattern showed to you on the mount” [Exodus 25:940Hebrews 8:59:23]. When the tabernacle was erected, did you hear the refrain?

It went like this, “Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.” The curtains and veil and lampstand and altar and basin and table- all were to be “just so,” as the God commanded. Because each of these things had a meaning that extended past itself.

They were types, or pictures of the person or the thing represented or prefigured. So when God barred his meekest man Moses from entering the Promised Land it wasn’t simply for striking a rock.

It was for striking the Rock. Because the rock was a type. The Rock was a picture of Christ.

Struck Only Once

God had told Moses to strike the Rock once before [Exodus 17:6]. But he was not to strike it again.  Because the Rock represents God’s beloved Son, the Suffering Servant, our Jesus Christ.

Christ was struck once. He died once [Hebrews 9:27-28], never to die again.  Scripture is so clear on this point.

 Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.”

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.”

 Hebrews 10:10, “[W]e are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Hebrews 10:12, “But Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…”

Christ was struck for us once and for all. Our Prince of Glory died  once on that wondrous cross.  And that type is precious to God. 

As Criswell said, “God has great care and great store for His types.” 

Does God Still Discipline His Children?

Moses was disciplined for breaking faith, for his sin. But do believers still face consequences when we break faith?

Last week I sat around a table with several Christian ladies. When the subject of suffering came up, one quickly said, Well, I know suffering can’t be from God because God doesn’t punish his people. 

Really?

If by punish she meant God’s holy wrath- his retribution, not restitution- she is definitely right.

But if she  meant the Hebrews 12 corrective, fatherly discipline, “that for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant,” she was quite wrong.

Sin Has Consequences

John Piper’s description clarifies,

There is an infinite difference between the painful things that come into our lives and discipline us—designed for our good that we may share God’s holiness as loved children—and that terrible experience of pure retribution where we simply bear what we deserve and experience God’s justice forever. 

I think the lady at my table did what many of us do.

She conflated- combined- two ideas into one that really are not the same. She joined the false idea- that God’s children will never suffer on earth because of their sin- with the glorious truth that God’s children will never- here or hereafter– never suffer the wrath of God.

Jesus took that- He was struck for that- once and for all. He bore our sins in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). The record of our debt was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:15). There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Hallelujah and amen!

But this incident with Moses shows us in heart-achingly, vivid color that this side of glory, sin still has consequences.

For Our Instruction, That We Might Have Hope

When Canaan was so close Moses could taste it- it’s gargantuan grapes and pomegranates and figs-Moses pled with God to reconsider. So he could just to cross the Jordan.

But he couldn’t.

And there’s something we are supposed to learn from that. Because whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope

The Child’s Story Bible is succinct:

This was a bitter disappointment to Moses.  He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land.  God did not give Moses what he asked for.  “Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more.  Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” (Deuteronomy 3:26)

Remember too, how David could not build the temple because he had shed so much blood? How his first child with Bathsheba died? 

I think we’re supposed to learn from Moses-and David-to take heed lest we fall, because even for God’s blood-bought children, sin still has consequences in this life.

But even their examples, Scriptures says, are meant to give us hope.

Glory Awaits

The Good Lord does not forget His saints. There’s more to the Moses story.

W.A. Criswell again.

God had some better thing for [Moses], and He has some better thing for you, in God’s will, in God’s time, in God’s purpose. He may interdict it now, maybe take it away from us now, maybe the dregs of bitter disappointment we drink in the cup now, but some day, some time, some hour, somewhere, God has some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40] as He had some better thing for Moses [Matthew 17:1-3].

Moses bore God’s discipline for his sin. Rather than speak to Rock he disbelieved and disobeyed and struck the Rock- representing Christ- not once but twice.

Though he was sorely provoked, Moses wasn’t given a pass. He died on the Mountain. He did not enter the Promised Land.

But when the-Rock-who-was-Christ walked this earth and was transfigured on the mountain, you do know who was granted the privilege of standing with him in His glory, don’t you?

Because some day, some time, some hour, somewhere...

You know.

And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness…

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 

1 Corinthians 10:4-5, 11-12