I have a great story from this past month of ministry that shows God’s providential care in an uncanny way. The issue in this story may seem small compared to life’s big concerns, but I believe it gives a glimpse into a huge reality that applies to all of us all the time.
For the past six years, my church has hosted a weekly men’s open gym. We are committed to promoting a healthy environment for men to compete and are diligent to share the gospel every week at “halftime.” On any given week, we may have 20-40 guys present. Most of the guys who come are not yet followers of Christ. Still overwhelmingly, the attitudes, language, and sportsmanship are positive and respectful. Personally, I really love these guys and this weekly time with them. I think most everyone would say that it is a highlight to their week.
For a long time, our basketball rims and backboard pads had been in pretty rough shape. They were the original rims and pads from when the gym was built thirty-plus years ago. They had still played fine for us but definitely could have been replaced long before now. Some of the welded net hooks were missing, one rim was tilted a tad sideways, the paint was very worn, and the padding was torn and leprous. I had thought about replacing them since I came to the church but had never come up with a plan to do so.
Well, early last month, I called up my brother (who is also a local pastor) to get his thoughts about doing a “Midnight Madness” tournament with the guys. In the course of the conversation, we planned the date for Friday, January 22 and came up with the idea to charge every player $10 to go towards new rims and pads. At the next open gym, January 6, I pitched the idea to the guys, and they all seemed excited about it.
By the next open gym, I had about thirty guys signed up. So that Thursday, January 14, after lunch I decided to get online and shop for new rims. I wasn’t sure what I needed, so I wound up going back and forth with a salesman from a sports equipment company. He was very helpful and had me take some pictures and some measurements. He said he would get back with me with a quote.
Then I had to leave for an away basketball game for the junior high girls team that I coach for the local Christian school. (My daughter is on it.) So I headed over to the school to get on the bus. The varsity coach is always good to do a devotion with the teams before we leave for a game. Normally, he would read from a devotional with a scripture, but that Thursday he just asked, “When have you seen God work in advance to take care of a need you didn’t even know you had?” He shared a personal story as did a few other girls. Then we got on the bus. It was about 3:45pm.
Once we were bouncing down the highway, I decided to check my email on my phone, and I saw that the sales guy had sent me the quote he promised. I looked over it and was relieved to see that the rims and pads would be affordable. In that moment I thought, “This is perfect. It’s the quality we need. The price is what I expected. We will be able to do this right away. Thank you, Lord.”
Then after we got off the bus at the school we were visiting, I received a text that blew me away.
Now you need to know that we have a few elementary basketball teams that use our church gym during the week for practice. The text was from the coach of the girls team that was practicing that afternoon. He was texting to let me know that one of our basketball rims had just snapped during his practice when one of his players had taken a shot and the ball had simply hit the rim.
His text had a picture with an arrow pointing to the place where the rim broke. It was not a bolt that came loose or a small net hook. It was the main 1/4 inch steel bracket that attaches to the backboard. It snapped clean across the width of it. I couldn’t believe it. I just started laughing.
When I asked him what time it had happened, he told me that it was toward the beginning of his practice, just before 4pm–the exact time I was reading the quote on the bus and feeling thankful for the means to get new rims.
Will you please just take this in with me for a second?
First, just the way the rim broke is pretty wild. Isn’t it? It’s a “break away” rim which of course means that it’s not supposed to literally break away because it’s spring loaded. It’s designed for the spring to take the stress. So for the main steel bracket, which was not rusted at all, to snap from just the ball hitting it seems extremely unlikely. And that’s not to mention that it broke during an elementary girl’s practice even though grown men every single week are jumping up, grabbing the rim, and dunking (or trying to dunk). How long must it have been weakening to get to the point of a just shot breaking it? How close must it have been to snapping from the weight of guys hanging on it? What if it had broken on a guy who was dunking? Might he have been hurt?
But second, when you consider the timing of when it broke, it is beyond uncanny. Isn’t it? On the very day, at the very hour, perhaps even the very minute, that I was thanking the Lord for a good plan to replace the rims, thirty years of use and strain perfectly culminated in a single shot from a girl breaking the rim in a remarkable, unrepairable way. In the very moment that I was looking at the solution–a solution that I had never before pursued–the immediate need became apparent. By the following Tuesday, we had the new rims and pads delivered and installed. We didn’t even miss an open gym! And the tournament that following Friday went off without a hitch with no rims snapping to ruin a big outreach event and a big moment for sharing the gospel.
Then third, isn’t it just crazy that that afternoon I heard the perfect devotional question–from a fellow basketball coach no less–to prepare me for the exact thing that would happen for our church on that day? God was taking care of an immediate need before I knew it was an immediate need. Sure, I had known for some time that the rims were old, but I had no idea that they were on the very brink of breaking. And in six years at this church, six years of watching my jump shots loudly vibrate that rim, I had never done anything about it before. Come on. That’s just crazy.
So think about the difference all this made for me when I received that text about the rim snapping. I wasn’t tempted to be upset or stressed out at all. Instead, I laughed and marveled.
How do you explain all that? Coincidence? Nope. Sorry. Everything was too exact for it to be a chance occurrence. There was clearly an intelligent plan behind these events, and not my intelligence. No way. This was a God-incidence.
Of course the proper doctrinal term for it is “providence”: God’s constant care for creation to sustain it, govern it, and bring about his purposes. The Bible teaches us that God’s providence extends to every minute detail in the universe and that it is especially loving toward his children.
Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Psalm 145:15-16: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
Amos 9:6: “Who builds his upper chambers in the heavens and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth? The Lord is his name.”
Matthew 5:45b: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
In these verses, God is shouting to us that his unrelenting, loving care extends over every detail of our lives. Just because he does not always make his timing uncannily obvious to us, as he did for me that day, does not mean that his timing is ever inexact or that his providential care is ever absent. Rather, his loving shout from scripture gets amplified through the megaphone of obvious God-incidences in our lives. They should not be viewed as the exception to the rule but as the evidence of the rule . . . and the Ruler, our constantly caring King.
In my rim story, God clearly stepped-in to meet a relatively small need of one of the ministries of one of his churches with one of his pastors. In doing so, he showed that he cares about our basketball ministry and the guys who are coming to it. What I take from this moment is that if he is going to care so perfectly about such a relatively small need, then he must care for all the huge needs of all his many ministries of all his thousands of churches and of all of his millions of children.
That’s how Jesus wants us to think when he says, “Look at the birds.” If God providentially cares about a sparrow’s food for the day, how much more does he care for us?
I’m not saying that we can always discern how God’s care is perfectly timed or that everything that “breaks” and “snaps” in life has an immediate happy solution. I am saying that whether we recognize the timing or not, whether we understand the solution or not, whether we ever see a happy outcome in this life or not, we know that the timing is in fact perfect, the solution is actually unfolding, and the good, happy outcome is eventually in store for us. God who cannot lie has given us his Word on it, and he also likes to shine in moments of surprising provision.
It is truly wonderful when God gives us clear glimpses of his providential care. If you are a follower of Jesus, I’m sure you have your own list of stories like mine. But never forget that for the rest of the time, “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). For whatever is broken in your life right now or for whatever is about to snap, he is working to take perfect care of you. Even if currently you don’t get it, there will be a day when you look your Redeemer in the eyes and say, “You were always right there. Always good. Always right on time.”