Matthew Henry once suggested we can sometimes neglect to obey God because we misinterpret trials and challenges as permission to shirk our responsibility when, instead, God allowed these hardships to test and exercise our courage and faith. Here is an example.
Imagine you are a pastor the Holy Spirit has called to preach the whole counsel of God. As you are expositing a book of scripture over several months, you come to a difficult passage that goes against the cultural zeitgeist. Not only does the culture not want you to speak the truth plainly, but some church elders also start to counsel you against it.
Your church and ministry have a large online following, and to preach these truths and post them in the usual outlets could lead to big tech taking away your platforms. This conflict with big tech could arise because this teaching of scripture violates their standards of conduct.
The church’s ministry is doing wonderful things, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. You begin to rationalize that it is better to bypass this passage or gloss over it because the benefits of doing so far outweigh the costs for your ministry. Not to mention, scripture calls you to listen to the counsel of the elders. Ultimately, you use YouTube and social media’s standards of conduct to discharge yourself from your duty.
Similarly, Israel once misinterpreted opposition as a reason to neglect their duty to God. They had returned from captivity, set up an altar, and laid the foundation for the temple. God had told them to build it, but a legal prohibition was issued, which stopped the work.
Instead of continuing, the leaders misread providence and said, “God must not want us to build it right now. The time has not yet come” (Haggai 1:2). However, something selfish burned in them and helped them make this decision. They preferred to focus on building their own homes first.
God speaks to them through the prophet Haggai and says, in essence, “Why are you focusing on yourselves and your fancy houses when the House of God lies in ruins” (Haggai 1:4). The Lord pointed out to them that they were left empty because they neglected God and focused on themselves (Haggai 1:9). They were unsatisfied no matter how much they had worked to please themselves.
Misreading providence for personal gain never works because the personal gain never comes. Putting self first always leads to discontentment. Jesus told us to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the rest would be added (Matthew 6:33). There are no exemptions to this. Even if life has you busy with your job, family, school, or other pressures, these things never exempt us from our duty (and pleasure) to seek God first. Instead of seeing these challenging providences as reasons to put ourselves first, we should view them as trials and tests God has given us to prove that the faith he has provided us has the power to overcome the world.
If you are interested in hearing more on this topic, Moody Radio invited me to discuss the article on the Kurt and Kate Morning show. In the interview, we discussed topics such as rain on Sunday morning, Covid lockdowns, and church attendance post-pandemic, among other things. You can listen to the segment below.