My father’s job took my family to Germany when I was about 10 years old. We lived in southern Germany for nearly six years and I loved that experience. I loved the German history, culture, and food. Especially the food. But not at first.
Shortly after we moved to Germany, my parents wanted to go out to dinner one night but my older brother and I balked at the idea. Normally, that wouldn’t go far at all and we would have been told to climb into the car because we were going, like it or not. This time, though, my parents uncharacteristically allowed us to stay home and, I hate to admit it now, eat a frozen pizza or something along those lines instead of a Schnitzel. Had I only known then what I know now about how wonderful German food is.
My parents chose to explore our new community that night, and at one point, decided to turn around and head back to a restaurant they had passed. As they were turning around, someone speeding on a motorcycle crashed into my parents’ car and went nearly through the back seat – right where my brother and I would have been sitting. The motorcycle’s handlebar yanked my mother’s seat around injuring her neck while my father only had some cuts and bruises. The man on the motorcycle was killed.
Had my brother and I been in the back seat that day, we would surely have been killed as well.
We sure were lucky, weren’t we?
Nope. Not at all.
If we truly believe that God is sovereign and that He works all things by His providence for His glory, then we cannot believe in circumstance. It was not “lucky” that my parents stepped out of character and allowed us to stay home that night. It was divine providence. I don’t thank my lucky stars for that night. I thank Sovereign God.
Circumstance, or luck, is antithetical to God’s sovereignty.
This week’s study of Paul’s Second Journey (Acts 15-16) provides a great opportunity for you to teach, or remind, your kids about how God is completely sovereign and how He brings about His will through divine providence. As Paul and Silas headed out to visit and encourage the churches birthed during Paul’s first missionary journey, God’s providence quickly became apparent.
- The Connection with Timothy. (Acts 16:1-5) One of the first stops in Paul and Silas’ journey was a small town called Lystra, where Paul met a young man named Timothy. Timothy would join Paul on this trip and then later go on to be a key partner and beloved companion in Paul’s ministry and pastor local churches including the church in Ephesus. The letters of 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy were written by Paul in his latter days to encourage and exhort his younger friend in the ministry. Do we really want to chalk up Paul meeting Timothy to good luck? Did God breathe a sigh of relief when their paths happened to cross? Of course not! God clearly orchestrated that encounter to bring about His purpose of using these two men in the development of the early church.
- The Macedonian Call. (Acts 16:6-10) As Paul and his team left Derbe (which is near the southern coast of modern Turkey), they”were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia.” Apparently, Paul’s desire was to lead the team directly west, probably eyeing the influential city of Ephesus, but God restrained them from going that direction. Ephesus would be reached at another time. With their primary destination off-limits, the team traveled north-west into the region of Mysia and then they wanted to make a hard right turn and head east into Bithynia along the Black Sea, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Having been blocked by God from going any other direction, the team moved west to the coastal town of Troas where Paul had a vision of a man urging him to cross over into Macedonia (modern Greece). Clearly God was providentially directing every step of this journey and guiding Paul and his companions exactly where they needed to be when they needed to go there.
- The Conversion of Lydia. (Acts 16:11-15) Heeding the Macedonian Call, Paul and the team sailed to Troas and then pushed on to the city of Philippi. Once there, they ventured to a river to seek any Jews with which to share the gospel. This is not an unimportant detail because it means that there were fewer than 10 Jewish men in the entire city, the minimum requirement for the establishment of a synagogue. It might seem rather odd that God would guide Paul to a city with such a small base of people with which to share, but again, God was providentially working His plan because this is how God connected Paul and Lydia. Lydia was a businesswoman who may have been doing ok for herself as a seller of expensive purple goods who lived in a house large enough to host Paul and his team. Lydia’s home would become the base of operations for Paul in the region and the Philippian church that would bloom there would be dearly beloved by Paul as is evidenced in Paul’s letter of Philippians.
- The Slave Girl. (Acts 16:16-24) While in Philippi, Paul and the team met a young girl who was demon-possesed and Paul cast the demon out of her. Again, this was not a fortunate meeting for the girl, or Paul. God was using it for an even greater purpose. No longer demon-possessed, the girl could not tell fortunes which put a sizable dent in her owners’ bank account. The owners seized Paul and Silas and took them to the judge and accused them of breaking the law which resulted in Paul and Silas being imprisoned. Again, if we believe in coincidence, we might conclude that it was a bad break for the two missionaries. Had they not come across that girl, they would not have cast out the demon, and they would not have ended up in prison instead of advancing the gospel as missionaries. But remember, that is not how God works. Paul and Silas were right where God wanted them.
- The Philippian Jailer. (Acts 16:25-40) Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and worshiping God in chains when an earthquake happened to occur opening all the prison doors and releasing their shackles. No, the earthquake did not “happen to occur!” It was God at work once again to bring about His purpose – and that purpose was not to release Paul and Silas. It was to bring about the encounter with the jailer which led to his salvation and his family’s salvation.
Think about the chain of events that led up to the conversion of the jailer and his family. Break any link in that chain and it falls apart. What a strong case for God working providentially in our lives! As you teach your kids this week, encourage them that God is always at work even if we can’t quite see it. Also be clear that God even works through our difficult situations just like He had a reason for Paul and Silas being in prison. Thank God that He is sovereign and pray that you all trust God and follow His will no matter where it leads.
How have you seen God work providentially in your life? Leave a comment sharing how you have seen God at work.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the July 12, 2015 session (Unit 35, Session 3) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.