March 19, 2010

A Puritan, A Pastoral Intern, A Homeless Man, and Our Great God

A True Story--One that clearly illustrates how God's providence works in our lives. You will be encouraged:

Earlier this week I arrived in Crystal City to meet friends for dinner. I turned up early so that I might snatch a few minutes to finish the last three pages of a book I was reading and benefiting from immensely - John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence. I sat down at an empty table outside on the terrace and began to open the book. No sooner had I begun to turn the pages than a man riding a bike stopped right in front of me. Interrupting my reading he asked rather forcefully, ‘What is that book?’ I grasped my belongings thinking that this was some kind of ruse to distract me so that he might steal my stuff. I could tell that he had been drinking, but my suspicions quickly dissipated when he proceeded to sit down next to me and again ask in his somewhat brazen manner, ‘What is that book about?’ I began to explain. The book was written by a nonconformist preacher of the seventeenth century ... but I soon realized that I would need to give a simpler explanation. I told him that this preacher, John Flavel, wrote many helpful things about suffering and the providence of God. My keen listener then asked me to tell him more about what was in the book. I opened the book and began to read some of the sentences I had previously highlighted.

I kid you not ... the man hung on my every word. The antiquated, seventeenth-century, Puritan style of writing didn’t seem to get in the way of my eager enquirer or put him off in the slightest. At times he even repeated parts of Flavel’s sentences and as he did so it seemed that the words were having a sobering effect upon him. Now and then he interjected and asked me to repeat something I had just read, but to do so more slowly than before. Occasionally, and with a hint of frustration, he would blurt out, ‘Now what does that mean?’ It was as if Flavel was reading his heart like a book. My new-found friend opened up and confessed that he was a believer in Christ but that his faith was weak. He said that he was tired and ready to end his life. He admitted he was struggling with unbelief amidst many afflictions. I think he was homeless and without family at hand, and he had clearly turned to drink. I couldn’t really tell the extent of his problems. But the strange thing was this: he wasn’t sitting next to me because he wanted to befriend me. No, from the beginning he had a preoccupation with the book in my hand. The following excerpt from Flavel brought evident relief to his soul:

No stroke of calamity upon the people of God can separate them from the love of Christ. Who shall separate them from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:35). Shall tribulation? There was a time when Job could call nothing in this world his own but trouble. He could not say my estate, my honour, my health, my children, for all these were gone; yet then he could say; my redeemer! (Job 19:25) Well then, there is no cause to sink while interest in Christ remains sure to us. All your calamities will have an end shortly. The longest day of the saints’ troubles has an end; and then no more troubles forever. The troubles of the wicked will be to eternity, but you shall suffer but a while (1 Pet. 5:10). If a thousand troubles are appointed for you, they will come to one at last, and after that no more. Yea, and though light afflictions are but for a moment, yet they work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). Let that support your heart under all sufferings.

By this time the friends I had come to meet arrived and I signaled the need to go. We both marvelled at the mysterious providence of God! I offered him the book as a gift. He broke down in tears. He told me that he had planned to run away to Florida, but now decided against it.

Two days later I shared the story with a friend. He suggested that I read the remaining three pages of Flavel’s book. Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed my mind to do so before! So I borrowed the book from my roommate. The last section exhorts its readers to write down their experiences of providence in special seasons for the benefit of others. And that’s just what I did!

A MYSTERIOUS PROVIDENCE by Ryan Kaupas P.S. Ryan Kaupas is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC, where he has served as a pastoral intern.

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