I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, conscious of the tension in the little room. I'd guessed this conversation was coming, since the people now sitting in front of me had seemed unhappy with my pastoral leadership for a good long time. I wasn't sure what would happen now, but I was afraid it might end badly, with hurtful words spoken and their bitter departure from our church. I mention this moment not because it's unusual in pastoral ministry—every pastor experiences such meetings sooner or later—or because it had a miraculous and uplifting outcome, but because I recall my own heart in that conversation. I claimed to be Calvinist, but I wasn't living like one. I was thinking little of God's role in this conversation—and much of the people sitting across from me.
A Doctrine to Cherish
In the years since, I've come to cherish the doctrine of God's providence and to draw strength and encouragement from it. I've begun learning what a difference it makes in the Christian life. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin underscored the high stakes of believing or rejecting this doctrine: "Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it."