The providence of God is a sublime thought and subject. It is a reflection of His love and care for mankind. Cecil May stated that providence “presumes that God is still at work in the world He created. God does provide good things for His people, and His loving care is always behind every action on our behalf” (Cecil May, Jr., Providence, p. 17).
A faith building passage regarding God’s providence is Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and forever. Amen.”
God is at work in our world. His active care and love for mankind is a reality. Unfortunately, we may fail to realize the depth of His providence. Instead, we may consider the way things happen to be nothing more than happenstance.
It is beyond our present state to fully grasp the reality of God’s providence. Gary Henry gives the following comparison that is helpful, “Just as I do not need to know how my cell phone works in order to benefit from its use, we do not need to know the details or the mechanics of God’s providence to be encouraged by His promises. It is enough to know that He is active in the world and that all will be well in the end” (Gary Henry, https://wordpoints.com/power-gods-providence/).
Alfred Lord Tennyson declared, “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of: Wherefore, let thy voice, rise like a fountain for me night and day.” The efficacy of prayer is set forth throughout the Scriptures. The following are two examples: “But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19). “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).
A difficulty in grasping how God answers prayers today is sometimes a misunderstanding of the difference between the miraculous and providence. The following is an example: one writer used the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6 regarding the daily provisions we are promised as examples of miracles: “Daily provision” (“give us this day our daily bread”) as well as deliverance from evil are also two forms of God’s everyday miracles in our lives. We may not notice it, but God is always providing for us and protecting us in ways only He can do. Those in themselves are miracles” (https://www.christianity.com/wiki/prayer/what-is-a-miracle-prayer-how-to-pray-for-a-miracle.html).
God is alive and works providentially today, including in answering our prayers. He does not work miraculously, including in answering our prayers. The reason is that miracles have served their purpose and are no longer needed (1 Cor. 13:10). The tendency of some people to consider every answer to prayer as miraculous fails to realize this important principle. An interesting point to be considered is that during the time when miracles were being performed, prayers were not always answered with miracles.
Case Studies of God Answering Prayers Providentially
James 5:17-18 states: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth borne its fruit.” The background of this event is recorded in 1 Kings 18. Verse 42 records, “Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.” He then instructed his servant to go and look toward the sea. The servant returned and told Elijah that there was nothing. Elijah then instructed his servant to go seven times and look toward the sea. Verse 44 records that the servant reported to Elijah, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” Next, Elijah’s servant was sent to Ahab with a message, “Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.” Very soon there was an abundant rain (v. 45). The 3 ½ years of drought was now over. J.W. McGarvey clearly set forth how that the answer of Elijah’s prayer was providential, in his sermon, “Prayer: It’s Efficacy”:
“How did the rain come? If it had come without the cloud, that would have been a miracle. If it had come, from over the desert, that would have been a miracle. How did it come? The clouds came up from the sea, as every rain cloud does, The wind blew it eastward, and when it came in contact with cooler volumes of air, its vapor was condensed, and the rain fell. It came just as any other rain comes. It came in answer to prayer” (McGarvey’s Sermons, pp. 322-323).
Nehemiah was one of the Jewish captives in Babylon. He had a very important position, as he was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1). He was a sterling man of faith. When Nehemiah was informed by his brother Hanani that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and its gates had been destroyed by fire (Neh. 1:3), he went into a period of mourning. Nehemiah 1:5-11 records his tender and humble prayer to the Lord. Nehemiah asks the Lord that the king will allow him to go Jerusalem. God could have immediately granted the request of Nehemiah by the means of a miracle. Also, God could have miraculously reconstructed the wall, or miraculously provided the necessary materials. God’s answer to Nehemiah was in a providential way. For example, when King Artaxerxes perceives Nehemiah was sad or upset, he asked Nehemiah the cause for his apparent sadness. This provided Nehemiah with “an open door” to address the matter which was troubling him. The king intently listened to Nehemiah. Nehemiah 2:8 reports the answer he received from the king: “And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.” Wayne Jackson commented regarding the answer he received from the king: “The man of God did not view this circumstance as a fluke of fortune; he saw the hand of the Lord in the affair – in a word, providence” (https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/830-nehemiah-2-8-providence).
God Answers Our Prayers Today Providentially
A person may be seriously ill and the doctor tells the family there is no hope for their loved one to survive. The family and friends begin to pray more fervently than before that if it be the Lord’s will their loved one will survive. In a few days the person begins to show significant signs of recovering. The doctor tells the family he cannot explain why their loved one has recovered. Well-meaning people may consider this a miracle in light of the fact the doctor had given them no hope of their loved one surviving.
Remember that a miracle only occurs when God operates supernaturally and contrary to natural law. The man who recovered from an illness for which the doctor did not give them any hope is an example of God’s precious providence. God works through natural means. God was involved in the man’s recovery as He worked by the efforts of the medical personnel.
We serve a wonderful God who works through His providence “behind the scenes” and even in ways we may not be able to recognize. He earnestly desires our prayers (Phil. 4:6; 1 Pet. 3:12). God answers our prayers today by His providence.