1. Provision from Creation. The earliest humans were hunter-gatherers, and that is a valid means of God’s provision: it’s right there, we just need to grab hold of it.
Esau is an example: where his brother tended sheep, Esau went out in the wild and hunted his provision. I rather think friendship is often this way: we don’t need to create friends, we just need to meet the people around us because there are friends there, waiting for discovery.
The essence of this means of provision is that it doesn’t require anyone else. I just go find what I need, and I take hold of it and it becomes my provision.
2. Paycheck for Work. Shortly after the first hunter-gatherers came back with fresh mastodon, someone else offered something of value for some of the meat, and the first paycheck was exchanged. A paycheck is essentially an exchange of my time (or the fruit of my time) for your provision, whether that provision is in the form of money or flint knives.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the elder brother saw himself in a paycheck relationship to his father: he put in his time, how come Dad didn’t come through with the fatted calf for him?
It’s easy to aspire to this in our relationship with God, particularly among evangelical and charismatic peoples: we see “full time ministry” as a goal, where we get to do spiritual related activity, and we get a paycheck. Personally, I think that sells ministry short.
3. The Community as Provision. As early man developed a culture, and insofar as our culture is actually healthy, the culture itself, the community to which we belong, becomes a means of God’s provision for us. Jesus relied on community provision in Luke 8:2&3; Paul teaches this in 2 Corinthians: in chapter 1, he talks about how our comfort is for the provision of comfort to others; in chapter 8, he broadens it to financial provision.
We see this in the contemporary church as well. Missionaries depend on the financial (and other) support of the community of faith in order to be able to preach the gospel in the foreign field; and the local church, in order to pay the staff and the mortgage, relies on the support, both in finances and in service, of the members.
I’ve seen many times where believers long for this kind of provision. “I need to be a full-time minister,” they say to themselves and others, as if this is somehow a more holy means of provision than earning a paycheck in a regular job, a value which (having had both) I wholly dispute.
4. Sowing and Reaping. Many people make their living by planting seed and harvesting the resulting crop. Interestingly, God has set up creation so that the laws of sowing and reaping work outside of the realm of agriculture where we most expect them. Paul teaches extensively about other application of these principles in 1 Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6, where the seed and the crop are sometimes financial, sometimes matters of character.
It appears that this was a common practice for Jesus and the Boys. John implies that it was common for the group’s bookkeeper to practice giving to the poor.
And I see the principles of sowing and reaping in the story of the Widow of Zaraphath (1 Kings 17) and between Jacob and Laban, and in both places, invoking the practices of sowing and reaping. Interestingly, Jacob’s relationship with Laban started out as a wage-earner (Genesis 29:15), but when Laban wants to renew the contract, Jacob substitutes provision based on sowing and reaping (30:31 and following).
In the natural realm (dealing with seeds and dirt and grain), this means of provision probably belongs in #2 position, as it requires very little faith and not much more interaction with either man or God. But when we apply this as a spiritual principle to more areas of our life, then it has earned its #4 position.
5. Supernatural Provision. There are a number of times where God bypasses all of the “rules” and makes provision supernaturally. I love the fact that
Jesus paid his taxes with a coin from a fish’s mouth ( Matthew 17:27), and I love watching the supernatural provision for Elijah with the crows (1 Kings 17) and with Angel-food bread (1 Kings 19:5-7). Jesus used God’s supernatural provision when he multiplied fish and bread, and it seemed that this might have been (or could have been) a common practice (Mark -21).
I had an odd experience some years back. My wife & I were heading out for seven weeks of evangelistic missions in the far east (mostly in the Philippines, plus 2 weeks in Hong Kong and an overnight trip smuggling bibles into China). For various reasons, the financial reserve we had built up vanished in the last few days before we flew out, so when we landed in Manila, we had $14 for the two of us for fifty days in Asia.
It was then that I may have done something stupid; it was certainly educational: I prayed an odd prayer. I told God, "I know you're going to provide for us. But because I want to learn more of your ways, would you please provide for us without people giving us money?" In the culture of the group we were traveling with, generosity was a commonplace thing: people gave each other money as someone had a need, so it would be something of a miracle if that did not happen.
And it didn't. Nobody gave us a dime.
More interesting was the fact that we were never without. We didn't have much, of course. The most powerful lesson came when I woke up one morning wanting pizza, so I asked God for pizza, but I didn't ask anybody else. And that day, God gave us pizza. Without money. Sue was with a group of women and one of them declared, "Who wants pizza? I'm buying!" And a single mom bought a pizza for her kids, but they weren't hungy. The single men's dorm was empty, and so she brought it to me.
It was Philippine pizza, and only Shakey's at that. They don't even understand what cheese is over there. The month before, I would have turned my nose up at it. But that day, it was the best pizza in the world. I learned a world full of lessons about God's provision in that day and on that trip. On that trip, God and I conspired to move our provision from #3 (the community as provision) above to #5 (supernatural provision).
(That weekend, I discretely told God that I thought I'd learned the lesson, and I released Him to provide for us any way He wanted: with money or without. True to form, by noon, three people had handed us cash gifts.)
I’m guessing I’ll come back to visit these principles at another time. For now, I’m going to close with two observations: First, the earlier means of provision require less faith; the latter means require substantially greater faith. And second, I believe, from the example of Jacob & Laban if naught else, that we have some say in the means by which God provides for us, just as Sue & I did in the Philippines.
So. How do you want your provision?