These are tough times. Even if one is blessed to have a good job — and many are not — it is still hard to make ends meet and properly provide for one's family. I know because, like a great many of you, I have a family to provide for, including teenage daughters with constant needs. Especially, it seems, in the area of clothing! They need, for instance, different types of clothing for different occasions, activities and seasons. And their needs are real, not just imaginary. They genuinely need — not just want or "think it would be nice to have" — regular, adequate clothing, food and shelter. And I am the one God holds responsible to meet those needs.
Providing is not optional
It seems amusing now in retrospect, but when the children were small, I'm afraid I thought that providing them an article of clothing was something akin to giving them a gift — something I did out of the goodness of my heart, a special act of kindness. In time, like most fathers, I have learned that providing isn't occasional, it's continual. And providing isn't optional, it's required! God's Word makes that emphatically clear. Turn in your own Bible to I Timothy 5:8 and read God's plain instruction about providing: "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Yes, providing is a plain requirement of Christian parenting. You cannot fail to provide for your family and claim to be a Christian.
A sobering responsibility
God knows, just as every wise parent knows, the terrible consequences of parental neglect: improper diet, inadequate wardrobe, substandard housing. Add up these basic factors and include such things as a good education, balanced recreation and instruction in spiritual values, and you have the forces that either enhance a child's long-term success or impede how far he will go in life. Christians who fail to do these things are "worse than unbelievers," because many unbelievers do provide well for their children, though they make no claim to Christianity. Providing is a sobering responsibility, when fully and properly understood. To be unable to do so properly can be a course of deep discouragement and frustration. How can you provide well for your family in these difficult times? You don't need to be discouraged, because there is a way you can meet this challenging Christian duty.
God our provider
With the nature and importance of the task of providing well in mind, turn now to Matthew 6 and see how all of this applies in our relationship with God. In verses 25 to 30, Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father, explains that God is the great provider even for little birds like sparrows, and clothes lilies more beautifully than kings are arrayed. Then Jesus helps us put things in proper perspective by asking, "Will He [the Father] not much more clothe you, 0 you of little faith?" Think about it. Will a loving God provide for dumb beasts whose only future is to return to the dust from which they came, and yet neglect to care for His own begotten children who are destined to live forever in His Kingdom? Of course not! Jesus knew well what we as humans sometimes have to learn from our own experience with the great God — namely, that He is a good provider for His children. As with us, so with Him, He must provide! Have you ever thought of it that way? God doesn't require anything of us in this regard that He isn't prepared to do Himself. Notice further, in verse 32, that like any good provider, God knows our needs. And He knows even before we ask (verse 8)! That is, God anticipates and expects our needs even before we do. He is a deeply involved parent who stands ready to meet our every need. Of course, we have our own responsibility in having our needs met by God. In verse 33, Jesus explained that to qualify for these blessings, we must do our part by seeking first the Kingdom of God and God's righteousness. God is eager to bless us if we are coming into closer conformity to His will and His ways, as expressed by all of His commandments and laws. God cannot and will not bless us in disobedience and sin (Jas. 4:3). The apostle John was inspired to write, "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (I John 3:22). This implies that we must be making diligent efforts in all areas of our lives, seeking to be industrious, hard-working and productive. Christ did not mean by these promises that all we have to do is sit back and let God do it all without any effort on our part. But once we are yielded and submissive to God's will, then these magnificent promises all begin to operate in our lives. We also need to realize that these are times when God allows trials of our faith to teach us lessons. The fact that we may suffer such trials in no way nullifies God's promises. God has promised to supply our needs, not all of our wants, and there are times when God may feel it is best for our character to suffer certain hardships to test and strengthen our character. Even God's own Son was. not without such trials and suffering (Heb. 5:8, 12:2-6).
No parental neglect with God
Continue reading in chapter 7 of Matthew, and you will notice that this theme of God's providence is a main message of what is called the Sermon on the Mount, the central core of Jesus' teaching and instruction. Beginning in verse 7, Jesus said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Then, verse 8, "For everyone who asks receives." Can we believe that in faith? Now notice how Jesus reasoned from the human example we have been examining to explain the spiritual relationship with God: "What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Matt. 7:9-11). Especially reflect on that phrase "how much more"! God is a better provider than even the best human parent. This key phrase is repeated again in Luke 11:13: "How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" God knows we have daily physical needs. Christ told us to ask God, "Give us day by day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3). We also have daily spiritual needs, such as the need for God's Holy Spirit. And God stands ready and willing to meet both types of needs. God won't let you starve to death physically or spiritually! He'll never be guilty of parental neglect or abandonment. David said in Psalm 37:25, "I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread." No, God's people are not reduced to begging or asking for a handout in a soup line. And the apostle Paul told the Philippians, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). God's servants today can just as boldly and confidently tell you the same thing based on their experiences. God will supply your needs as you look to Him in faith and yield your life more to His ways (Matt. 6:33).
The secret of providing
This, then, is the secret of being a Christian provider — the fact that God will provide for you so that you can provide for those under your charge. You can look to God just as they look to you. You can ask Him in faith to help you be a good provider, and He will supply all your need and theirs. He will not fail you or your dependents. Thus there is no need for discouragement or doubt even in troubled times. David said, "They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied" (Ps. 37:19). Our God will see us through. So when you are faced with pressing and urgent necessities of daily living, go boldly, in confidence, to your heavenly Father and ask Him in faith to provide what you need. If you are a provider yourself of the needs of others, go to your Father and ask Him to help you fulfill this important Christian responsibility. If you are willing to do so for your children, how much more is your heavenly Father ready, willing and powerfully able to meet your needs? Our God is a good provider!