Thirty-seven years of God’s Providential Grace

Lord willing, tonight at 7:33 CST, I will have experienced thirty-seven years of God’s incredible, all-sufficient grace as a quadriplegic. There is nothing like it (the grave). It would take me thirty-seven decades to describe it and nobody wants to read all that. I do, however, want to share twenty Bible passages that have been invaluable in the sanctification process and a reason or two that they are on this list. God’s providence, although often a bit mysterious, floods my heart with comfort, peace and joy! 

I am also thankful for you who are experiencing that same grace, and living in a manner worthy of the Gospel. I would love to read and enjoy your list of sanctifying verses as well. Here’s the list in chronological order according to the time period of greatest influence.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

 Joshua 1:8

This was the verse I spoke about in my testimony before I was baptized about age twelve or thirteen. To help remember it, my students use the acronym “TOMS”. Talk, obey, and meditate on God’s Word for spiritual success. Dad loved the Word and had devotions with our family until around the time of my baptism. I loved my dad so I grew to love the Word like he did. Mom challenged (forced) me to memorize scripture and, man oh man, I am thankful she did,  because you cannot really meditate on what you do not know. We learned a verse a week for Sunday School (usually while Lawrence Welk was on TV), a short memory passage each quarter and then sometimes something else (I remember 1 John in particular) in my own in my bed with a flashlight. I could have (should have) memorized ten times more. For instance, I spent hours of time figuring and refiguring George Brett’s batting average while on the mower instead of investing that time memorizing and meditating on Scripture. For the first few months after breaking my neck, I could not physically grab a Bible and was thankful to be able to meditate on the verses I had memorized. Once again, God was looking out for my well-being in countless ways and I was, all the while, unaware.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 

Romans 8:28

Talk about providence! I have hung onto this verse possibly more than any other. I am 90% sure that I’ve quoted it more than I have quoted any other verse as well. I really cannot get enough of it! To say it is all encompassing would be a huge understatement. The verse starts with “And we know”. Now that we have no reason to doubt it, I vote we enjoy it! In his commentary on Romans, John MacArthur reminds us that the Greek word for “works together” is where we get the English word “synergy” (the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects). That dictionary definition is a bit verbose. I find this illustration more helpful. If one eats sodium by itself, one dies. If one eats chloride by itself, one also dies. If one one intentionally puts them together, however, they become salt, something our body needs to survive. Then, you eat it and die years later from high blood pressure! The point is this: our Lord providentially ordains “poisonous” events in our lives and then “synergistically” works them together for our good and His glory. This does not just happen. God providentially does the synergizing. Certainly our knack of living by sight rather than faith is likely the biggest reason trials often do not look “good” in the Romans 8:28 sense. It could also be that we have the wrong definition of good. Good, in the context of Romans 8:29-30, is “to be confirmed into the image of Christ.” Do we really want to be comfortable or Christlike? I have found this verse much easier to teach than to live out! 

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. 

Ephesians 3:20 

At last count, from what I remember, our Lord has done more than I could have asked or imagined just over 1.6 million times (one time for each person in Nebraska)! And those are only the times I know about! This was my Mom’s favorite verse. I loved my Mom, and she loved this verse, so I love this verse. And, needless to say, Mom was right! Over and over God has done abundantly more than I could have ever asked or thought, and because the Holy Spirit continually prays and intercedes for believers, He has often worked without me even asking or thinking at all!

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 

I imagine this is the passage I have quoted out load and in my mind more often than any other outside of Romans. It connects two truths that I became passionate about while in Bible College. First, our joy is not based on our circumstances, but instead on the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus. Secondly, verse 18 reminds us to think and operate out of an eternal perspective. To not focus our eyes on what is seen and what is tangible is a tricky proposal. The following chapter challenges us to live by faith not by sight. That is a challenge indeed! I have used this passage in some capacity in the majority of speaking engagements God has ordained for me in the last 37 years. 

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 115:3 

Sometime around 2010, we began to use this verse repeatedly in class to remember that God is sovereign. A student in each class (including all three Guthrie girls) is assigned to quote it probably 50-100 a year. I think it’s foundational! It is short and simple but also profoundly and crazily comforting. God is doing what He pleases. It would logically follow that we should also do what pleases Him! This really is the beginning and the end of most theological discussions.

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

This became one of my favorites when I was in my twenties, probably because it is short but packs a good punch. Along with Philippians 4:6-7, it became my “go to” verse on our need to pray instead of worry. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I obeyed this verse better and more consistently in the twentieth century than I have in the twenty-first.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Ever since experiencing the flood of peace that “surpasses all understanding” on the football field after breaking my neck, this tough-to-obey command followed by a too-good-to-be-true promise has intrigued the stew out of me. It seems that if we are going to be good at praying, we will be bad at worrying. If we are going to be good at worrying, we are going to be bad at praying. The two do not and cannot coexist! God’s promises to guard our hearts and minds in an obviously supernatural way. It begs the question, why don’t we pray more and worry less?

And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:17-18 

This is a close relative to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 and summarizes Paul’s Romans 8 discussion on the glorious doctrine of adoption. This verse climbs the list of my favorites each year when we study chapter 8 in Romans class. The students get to teach on their favorite promise in Romans eight, and I think verse 18 is traditionally their most loved verse in the whole chapter. As they have expressed their love for this verse, my love for it has soared as well. I threw in verse 17 for context. To buy the health, wealth and prosperity gospel (which is no Gospel at all) preachers have to skip this passage (and most of the Bible) altogether. It seems clear that suffering and being a believer are a package deal. Mark McAndrew would say “Grandma never cross-stitches the suffering part of this verse to put over her bed!” All of us who are on the pathway to glorification (the last link of the golden chain) will suffer. This suffering is real but certainly of no comparison to the glory that will be revealed in us!

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Romans 8:32 

Currently, if I headed to Siberia, and could pick only one verse to study and enjoy the rest of my life, it would be this one. The context is as glorious and fascinating as the verse itself. There are several things about this verse that intrigue me. First, the logic is impeccable! If God gave us his Son whom he had a perfect love relationship with for all of eternity past, how will he not take care of everything else necessary for our sanctification? He crushed His Son for those who were formerly enemies and hostile to Him! The “all things” in Romans 8:32, I believe, are the same “all things” seen earlier in Romans 8:28. This would include everything that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Again, the all-encompassing nature of Romans 8:28-32 never gets old! He has given us the most he can give in His beloved Son! Everything he does for us, after that, is both smaller and more probable in nature.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:8 

In 1991, after almost eight years of rather intense physical therapy, I believe God used this verse to shift my focus from the physical (temporary) to the spiritual (eternal). He used five months at the Walker (seems like a play on words) Institute, where I had hoped to relearn how to walk, to show me how valuable and eternal the pursuit of godliness is. Even if the offer was to run in the 2024 Olympics, I would rather continue the current trial and know my Lord even just one percent better! The first is temporary while the second is eternal. What we see is temporary but what’s unseen is eternal. This verse helped me lose the burning desire I had to walk and gave me a deeper desire for godliness!

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4 

While in Bible college, I begin to develop a huge burden for folks to think with an eternal perspective. Much of that was due to the thought of going to heaven at a young age. I was sure it would happen, but the young ages are long over and I am still kicking (figuratively). Once again, these verses are easier to teach on than live out. Union with Christ is definitely stressed in these four precious verses, but probably what has gripped me even more than that, is the emphasis on focusing our hearts and minds on eternal things. The NIV version challenges us to set both our minds and our hearts on things above. This would include our thinking and our affections! The phrase “Christ who is your life” (Colossians 3:4) reminds me that for believers the T-shirts might be wrong after all. Football is not life nor is teaching, Chinese checkers, or the good ol’ USA. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:15-17

I worked hard to memorize Colossians 3 for a seminary class and failed miserably. Trying to recite it in front of all those guys is certainly one of my most embarrassing moments. Embarrassing moments aside, there are not five people out of the 7,800,000,000 roaming around today that are more blessed than I am. These three verses all refer to being thankful. I have a beef with myself and my baditude (Mags made it one word) when I complain and gripe instead of being grateful. I think one of the Puritans said, in effect, that humble people are always amazed that they don’t have less while proud people always believe they deserve more. Thankfulness is a great barometer of humility. I also love the emphasis on the word of Christ, the peace of Christ and doing all for the glory of Christ. It’s been a huge joy to preach on these three verses maybe a dozen times in the last fifteen years.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

This might have made the top 20 either way, but it has grown on me because of the huge influence of my good friend, Allen McCannon. Paul had the phenomenal humility, insights, and ability to be content and even delight in his weaknesses, knowing that this magnified the power of our Savior. God’s grace has been sufficient times 1000 every day of my life. It is safe to say that any of us would be better off suffering and experiencing God’s all-sufficient grace than never suffering in the first place. This verse has also come to my rescue often when my alphabetical listing of weaknesses are starting to or continuing to drive me crazy.

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,

    not even one.

Romans 3:10-12

Read it again in your own brain. The depravity of man could not be much more clear although Romans 8:7-8 might almost do it. Again, you will not find these verses on coffee cups sold at your local Christian bookstore, but the bad news is crucially important. Hannie Lanclos, one of my former students at school, is often quoted as saying “The ‘badder’ the bad news, the ‘gooder’ the good news!” This certainly summarizes the bad news about our sin and makes us long for the Good News of the Gospel! Another former student, Seth Marbut, decided this passage would be perfect for a Christmas card. His logic makes some sense. If we are not reminded of our own sin and depravity, how can we really enjoy the incarnation of our Savior as we ought? The guy helping him print the Christmas cards at Walmart asked him if he was sure he had the right passage. This passage sums up Romans 1:18-3:20 and ushers in the most thorough six consecutive verses on the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26)! Anyone who denies the depravity of man needs to read Scripture or even just turn on the TV for a minute.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 Matt 6:19-21 

Jesus’ command to store up treasures in heaven is inspiring, convicting, thrilling, intriguing and a little bit surprising to me. In one way, it seems like if treasures in Heaven are our motivation, we may be doing things selfishly or to toot our own eternal horn instead of for the Glory of God. Since both are commands in Scripture, somehow we must be able to both “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and do “all for the glory of a God.”

Because it’s so easy to live by sight rather than faith, it’s good, in fact, vital to check our heart often and see where our treasures really are. The stock market recently lost 30% of its value because of COVID-19. In reality, stock in earthly things is plummeting and will be worthless when we breathe our last. Stock in heaven, on the other hand, contrary to popular opinion, is skyrocketing. It is a fair question. Where’s our treasure?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5 

The God of peace is the only one that can give us peace with God. This key passage, in the middle of Paul’s discussion on justification, is chock-full of great and precious promises. When we think of our track record, our deceitful hearts, and our hostility toward our Maker, this amazing truth becomes almost overwhelming! Because of the objective peace we have with God (no more hostility ever) and His white-hot love for those He has chosen, we can rejoice, rejoice even in our sufferings. Not that the sufferings are good in themselves, but because of the endurance, the character, and the hope that become, by God’s grace, a byproduct of that suffering. 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4 

With a different author but inspired by the same Holy Spirit, this passage seems to fit hand-in-hand with Romans 5:3-5. Pure joy, are you kidding me? Joy is not often our response to trials of various kinds. Once again, however, who of us does not want steadfastness, to be perfect and complete, and to lack nothing? Almost everybody that knows me well has made fun of my overuse of the phrase “five-for-one deal.” I love thinking of these two passages in those terms. For every trial and testing of our faith, we get endurance, character, hope and become mature and complete in Christ. When God brings about the testing periods, let us lean heavily on these two promises and choose to be joyful. Our joy need not and should not be based on our circumstances. 

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 

If under-appreciating God’s Word is a crime, and it is, then we are all criminals that deserve the death penalty. If all Scripture is breathed out by God, it is not our place to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe. Thomas Jefferson already tried that. Through His Word and His Son we have all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have nothing else that is alive and active like God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) and we need nothing else. If and when we feel ill-equipped, we know where to run. I imagine all of Psalm 119 could be called a commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. 

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:20-26 

One hundred pages of writing (makes me think of Matthew Henry) would not even begin to cover this explanation of the Gospel. I cling to every word of this passage but need to one hundred times more than I do. “But now” turns the tide from the bad news of Romans 1:18-3:20 to the answer of every man’s deepest problem, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ! How is one declared righteous? Paul dissects the Gospel using rich, meaty language that convinces us that the Gospel is both multifaceted and worthy of endless study and thinking! Words that we do not enjoy or study as we ought like righteousness, faith, glory, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation- especially propitiation- lace the passage. These six verses introduce and usher in Paul’s fascinating discussion of justification (4-5), sanctification (6-8), sovereignty (9-11) and application (12-16).

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21  

In the last ten years, this verse has moved from my favorite hundred, to the top fifty and now ranks #20 on the list. Mark and Scott McAndrew, and their continual emphasis on the Gospel, This might be the most comprehensive one verse explanation of the Gospel in Scripture. It certainly gives us tremendous joy and motivation to consider the “Great Exchange” (as opposed to the “grim exchanges” unbelievers make three different ways in Romans 1:21-27). Isaiah 53, sometimes referred to as “the Gospel in the Old Testament”, could be summarized by this verse. First, this is for our sake. He came to serve, to give His life as a ransom for His people (Mark 10:45). Secondly, our Heavenly Father planned our salvation. He crushed His Son. This truth undoubtedly stirs every believer, and if it does not, race to the Cross immediately! Thirdly, Jesus had no sin, and because of that, was uniquely qualified to bear our sin on the Cross. By doing that, He became sin but not a sinner. Fourth, righteousness from God only and always comes through Jesus. To be declared righteousness means we have a right standing with God. That’s the trade. Jesus took our sin, condemnation and death. In return we get righteousness, justification and an abundant and eternal life! 

These verses, in no order, might have made it had we had a favorite thirty:

Romans 12:12

Proverbs 16:3-4

1 Thess. 5:16-18

James 5:16

Psalm 55:22

Titus 2:10-14

John 16:33

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