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.

Make A Name, Or Praise His Name

Peter Bruegel painting Tower of Babel make a name
The Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder

We grow small trying to be great.

E. Stanley Jones

The whole earth had one language and the same words. And as the people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…Then they said, “Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heaves, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-2, 4

Fame… I Wanna Live Forever. Baby Remember My Name

Who doesn’t want to make a name for himself? Who doesn’t desire a little bit of fame? Not enough to attract the paparazzi. But just enough so people remember you, colleagues quote you now and then, and your name carries weight; so that with you can enjoy “Basking in the glorious wake of modest achievement”?

Who wouldn’t want that? (If you tend to agree, you might enjoy 9 Quotes for Glory Seekers).

Remember hunting through honor-roll lists to find your name?  Or buying the paper just to see it in print? We’re hardwired to seek significance. At least since Babel, we sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have sought to make a name for ourselves.

Juxtaposed Names

Many of us learned about the Babel confusion in Sunday school. And we’ve known Father Abraham had many sons for just as long. But have you ever noticed how God set the two side-by-side, juxtaposed?

Juxtapose means to place close together for contrasting effect. I think God uses juxtaposition for our instruction, to make things more obvious. And re-reading Genesis this week has me thinking that Babel and Abram can teach us a lot about making a name.

Maybe they way they’re placed is supposed to teach us that making a great name is bit like catching butterflies. If we run straight at them, they flit away.

Here’s what I mean.

Genesis 11 begins like this: Let us make a name for ourselves. Chapter 12 begins like this,

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  

Striving for fame, the tower building, name and fame seekers were dispersed. But Abram who by faith obeyed receives God’s unsolicited blessing: a great nation and a great name.

Do you see? Do I see? For the Christian, a great name is not self-made. It is given. 

We Don’t Make A Name—It’s Given

Throughout Scripture we see that great names are given by God, not made by man. After all, it was our Lord Jesus himself who said, whoever would lose his life would find it and whoever would be first must be last. This is our God, the Servant King.

The book of Ruth reveals the same. Do you recall the name of the guy who had first “dibs” on marrying Ruth? The name of the man who “took off his sandal“? The fellow who rejected Ruth for fear it would compromise his own name, his own inheritance?

Stop racking your brain. His name isn’t recorded. My Bible footnote says the Ruth’s narrator references this man with an indefinite, like “So and So.” In order that his name wouldn’t be remembered at all.

But you do know the name Boaz, don’t you?

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people,”You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon.  Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place.  You are witnesses this day.” 

Unconcerned with his own fame, unfazed by maintaining Mahlon’s name, it is the name of Boaz is remember. Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Judas And Mary: 2 More Juxtaposed Names

Mark records a gathering at Simon the Leper’s home. Mary the sister of Lazarus (John 12:3) and Judas were there with Jesus. Mary pre-anointed Jesus for his imminent burial with, “an alabaster flask of pure nard worth a year’s wages.”

What about Judas? On the verge spectacular sin, he scolds Mary for “wasting” the perfume. To which Jesus replies,

Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you and whenever you want you can do good for them.  But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.  Mark 14:6-9

And so Mary’s name is memorialized. Which explains why for ages “Mary” held the top honors for girls’ names, while, last I looked, “Judas” has never made it to the top 3,792 in boy names.

Mary’s name is remembered not because she sought fame but because she loved the One whose name is truly great. We don’t know who designed the Tower of Babel, but by faith Abram obeyed and God made his name great. We don’t know who the Sandal Man was, but we know Boaz. He was the great-grandfather of King David.

And we all know the name of Great David’s Greater Son. Because it is the only Name by which we must be saved.

Praise that name and you will live forever.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 134:3

Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness ackknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

A 2020 Thanksgiving Post With A 1621 Twist

first thanksgiving 1621

Thanksgiving this year will be different. The massive Considine clan will not gather for the first time in my adult life.

Thoughts Of Former Thanksgivings

There will not be the moment when I walk into my Uncle Nathan’s house and stunned by the dozens of beloved aunts and uncles and first cousins who are now having dozens and dozens of children whose names I can’t always remember.

There will not be the whole circle singing Come, Ye Thankful People Come and Count Your Blessings before we bow our heads. Nor will there be the smorgasbord—so vast the desserts, including Aunt Joy’s pies, have their own bord in the basement.

There will not be those catching up down country roads with my cousins Hannah and Humility, Rachel and Kathleen.

Nor will there be the competitive-friendly, after-dinner football game with cousins and uncles from age 8 to age 58, when I count apples and rush, and sneaky cousins eavesdrop on play calls and we run and laugh—and some of us limp—until we just can’t see no more.

Then there will not be the hymn sing with Aunt Judy playing the whole hymnal by ear, while I curb my enthusiasm just enough to refrain from calling out consecutive hymns, to give others a chance to request.

No, there won’t be those.

Thanksgiving of 2020—in one way or another—will be different for all of us.

This Thanksgiving, Think Upon The Things That Are

So the annual Thanksgiving post is different. It’s not about giving thanks per se. It’s about “cleaving the faster together,” and being “friends in adversity.” It’s a theme I keep coming back to in 2020: maintain good friendships. Whatever shape they take, do not give up meeting together, as some are doing (Hebrews 10:25). Keep your friends close.

The feasting was over and the tables were cleared. Robert Cushman delivered the same advice to the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims shortly after “The First Thanksgiving” in November, 1621. In a sermon entitled, “The Sin and Dangers Of Self-Love,” Cushman warned the Pilgrims that they must not go it alone. Self-love must not cuase them to forsake the friends. His whole message can be read here.

But it’s the end of the message that prompted this post. In a fraught year when fear and unknowns make it easier to let our friendships go, the last two paragraphs are both timely and timeless (bolding mine),

And as you are a body together…labor to be jointed together and knit by flesh and sinews; away with envy at the good of others, and rejoice in his good, and sorrow for his evil. Let his joy be thy joy, and his sorrow thy sorrow: Let his sickness be thy sickness: his hunger thy hunger: his poverty thy poverty; and if you profess friendship, be friends in adversity; for then a friend is known and tried, and not before.

Lay away all thought of former things and forget them, and think upon the things that are; look not gapingly one upon other, pleading your goodness, your birth, your life you lived, your means you had and might have had; here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God, it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is… when Job was brought to the dung-hill, he sat down upon it, Job 2:8…consider therefore what you are now, and whose you are; say not I could have lived thus, and thus; but say thus and thus I must live: for God and natural necessity require, if your difficulties be great, you had need to cleave the faster together, and comfort and cheer up one another, laboring to make each other’s burden lighter; there is no grief so tedious as a churlish companion and nothing makes sorrows easy more than cheerful associates: bear ye therefore one another’s burden, and be not a burden one to another; avoid all factionssingularity and withdrawing, and cleave fast to the Lord, and one to another continually; so also shall you be an encouragement to many of your christian friends in your native country, to come to you, when they hear of your peace, love and kindness that is amongst you: but above all, it shall go well with your souls, when that God of peace and unity shall come to visit you with death as he hath done many of your associates, you being found of him, not in murmurings, discontent and jars, but in brotherly love, and peace, may be translated from this wandering wilderness unto that joyful and heavenly Canaan. AMEN

Robert Cushman, 1621, “THE SIN AND DANGER OF SELF-LOVE”

To these ears, Cushman’s sermon is as much for Christian pilgrims in November 2020 as it was for those who heard him deliver it in November 1621. Avoid all factions, singularity, and withdrawing. Do not forsake your friend, the proverb says.

And for those of you who are missing Thanksgiving days of yore, well, like Cushman said, Here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is.

There won’t be the Considine multitude, the after-dinner football and cousin walks and hymn sing. But there will be other good things. Within a smaller circle, I will be thankful.

I wish you all a thankful Thanksgiving, friends. Take it in good part that which is.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19