How do you explain the success and happiness you have in your life? Some would say it’s because they’re lucky. But does believing in luck – random happenings over which you have no control – actually help you to be happy? A recent scientific study has found that a personal belief in ‘luck’ as an entity which determines your outcomes is linked with pessimism and negativity, rather than with cheerfulness and optimism. Christians would explain their success and happiness with reference to God providing for them. Although of course we cannot control God or God’s actions, yet Christians have a solid basis for happiness because they know that God can be trusted to do what is right and beneficial for them. This is after all why they confidently pray to Him to grant them each day their daily bread, and thankfully receive whatever He provides. In the following updated extract, the Puritan and Westminster Assembly member Thomas Manton provides a variety of reasons for optimism, gratitude and thankfulness when we believe in God’s providence instead of capricious luck.
Thankfulness comes from the family relationship
When we pray, “Give us this day,” we are asking on behalf of others – those who can be regarded as being all in a family together. Those who can call God their Father by the Spirit, may come with the most confidence to God about their daily supplies.
It is the Lord who bestows on us freely and graciously the good things of this life. God has a hand in all the ordinary mercies we enjoy. Everyone, high or low, rich or poor, affluent or just about managing, and even those who have the greatest store and plenty of worldly accommodations, must come from morning to morning and deal with God for daily bread.
Anxiety is avoided by knowing God’s particular interest in us
God is the absolute Lord of all things both in heaven and in earth, and whatever is possessed by any creature is by his indulgence. ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein’ (Psalm 24:1).
And He not only gives the earth in general, but He makes allocations to particular individuals. The particular designation of every individual’s portion in the world, is of God. These things do not come by chance, but by the particular special designation of God’s providence.
Whatever way they come to us, we must acknowledge God in our possession of them. Whether they come to us by gift, purchase, labour, or inheritance, yet they are originally from God, who by these means bestows them on us. If they come by the gift of others, it was God who disposed them to be generous to us. If they come to us by inheritance, it is the providence of God that we are born to the rich and not to beggars. If they come to us by our own labour and purchase, still God gave it to us. ‘Take heed that thine heart be not lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:14-18). He does not leave second causes to their own power and force, as if He were only an idle spectator in the world. No, He gives the skill and industry to manage affairs, and success to lawful undertakings. It is all from God.
Fretting is unnecessary when we have a covenant right
As God gives us the possession of what we have, so he gives us a right and title to them.
There is a twofold right to these common blessings – a providential right and a covenant right. Our civil right to things is founded on God’s providence, but our gospel, covenant right to things is founded on God’s grace.
The covenant right belongs only to believers. They have a right to creature comforts by God’s special love. So, ‘The little that a righteous man hath is better than the treasures of many wicked’ (Psalm 37:16). We have this covenant right by Christ, who is ‘heir of all things’ (Hebrews 1:2). Christ has the original right to them, and we by him come to have a covenant right. ‘Things present, and things to come, all are yours’ (1 Corinthians 3:23). All the created things are made for those who believe (1 Timothy 4:5).
If we believe, we may enjoy them as the gifts of God’s fatherly love and compassion to us. We may take our bread out of Christ’s hands, and look on it as swimming to us in His blood, and all our mercies as wrapped up in His heart of compassion. They are sweet and enjoyable to a gracious soul, because that soul not only tastes the created thing itself, but the love of God in the created thing. The worldly are like swine, who gobble up the acorns, but do not look up to the oak they dropped from. But in the Song of Solomon, the spouse’s eyes are compared to dove’s eyes. A dove pecks, and looks upward. So, with every grain of mercy, we should look up to the God of mercies. It is not enough to taste the sweetness of the created things, but also to acknowledge God, and His love and generosity in them.
Enjoyment comes from seeing God’s free grace
The Lord freely and graciously gives these good things to us, that is, merely out of His generosity and goodness. It is not from His strict remunerative justice, but out of his grace. The very air we breathe in, the bread we eat, our common blessings, be they never so mean, we have them all from grace, and all from the tender mercy of the Lord.
In Psalm 136 you have the story of the notable effects of God’s mercy, and the psalmist concludes it like this: ‘He giveth food to all flesh; for his mercy endureth for ever.’ Notice that he ascribes not only mighty victories, and glorious instances of God’s love and power, to His unchangeable mercy, but also our daily bread. In eminent deliverances of the church we will acknowledge mercy, of course! But we should do the same in every bit of food we eat, for the same reason is given all along.
It is not only mercy which gives us Christ, and salvation by Christ, and all those glorious deliverances and triumphs over the enemies of the church, but it is mercy which spreads our tables, it is mercy that we taste with our mouths and wear on our backs. When there were just five barley loaves and two fishes, our Lord Jesus lifted up His eyes and gave thanks (John 6:11). Though our provision be never so homely and slender, yet God’s grace and mercy must be acknowledged. God gives these mercies to those who cannot return any service to Him, to those who cannot deserve them even at our best, and to those who deserve exactly the opposite.
Confidence in second causes is misplaced
Let us not place our confidence in second causes, but in God, by whose goodness and providence over us all temporal things come to us.
Without Him all our worry and work is nothing. We cannot change the colour of a hair by all our anxious thoughts. We cannot make ourselves stronger or taller. Many a one is pierced through with worldly cares, and still the world frowns on him, so all his care comes to nothing. In Proverbs 10:4, it says, “The hand of the diligent maketh rich.” But compare it with verse 22, where it says, “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” Typically those who are diligent thrive with their diligence. That is certainly true, but if that is all – if they do not have the Lord’s blessing – then with all the abundance they have acquired, they do not have sweetness and peace. Oh, therefore, let us place our confidence, not in second causes, but in God.
Contentment comes from God’s good providence
If the Lord is the giver, then we can be contented with the portion we have. Why?
1. Because God is supreme, and He will not be controlled in disposing of what is His own, even if this means that others have better trading, and nicer clothes, and are more amply provided for than we are.
2. Because we deserve nothing, and therefore certainly everything should be kindly taken.
3. Because God knows what proportion is best for us. It is the shepherd who must choose the pasture, not the sheep. Leave it to God to give you what is suitable to your condition of life. A garment, when too long, turns into a dirty rag.
4. Because God not only gives what is suitable to our condition, but the portion that we are able to bear. He proportions everyone’s condition according to their spiritual strength. “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). If you set God the task that He must maintain you at such and a rate, that ends in mischief and distrust (see Psalm 78, from verse 19 onwards).
5. Because simply having things does not show so much of God’s love as when we are satisfied. When we have contentment in the thing, that is the greater blessing. Your happiness does not lie in abundance, but in contentment. It does not make a man happy that he has plenty, but that he is contented; he has what God wills to give him. All spiritual miseries may be referred to these two things: a war between a man and his conscience, and a war between his wishes and his situation.
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