What today’s opening ceremonies will lack for the first time in Olympic history: The folly of presumption and the peace of divine providence

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As I am writing today’s Daily Article, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics will begin shortly. The event starts on July 23 at 8 p.m. local time at the National Stadium in Tokyo, which will be 6 a.m. where I live in Dallas, Texas.

Around five to six thousand athletes from more than two hundred countries are expected to join the parade of nations, symbolic of the Olympics’ ability to unite the world around achievement in sports.

Here’s what won’t be at the opening ceremonies: spectators. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, just 950 stakeholders will be attending. This will be the first Olympic Games without spectators in history.

Olympians are already expressing concern about what it will be like to compete without family and fans in the stands. For example, US gymnastics superstar Simone Biles said, “I like to feed off the crowd. I’m a little bit worried about how I’ll do under those circumstances.”

The rise of “cave syndrome”

However, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that some of us feel just the opposite. After more than a year of sealing themselves off from others, many people are struggling to reenter society. The phenomenon is so common that it has its own name: “cave syndrome.”

Fear of going out in public is understandable. Gunfire erupted in Washington, DC, last night, wounding two men. COVID-19 cases are spiking nationwide as vaccinations slow and the Delta variant spreads. US health officials say they have evidence of an untreatable fungus in a Washington, DC, nursing home and two Dallas-area hospitals.

Forbes is reporting that a hospital employee in San Diego allegedly stole the identities of dying patients to steal their COVID-19 unemployment benefits. Three women were attacked in an Upper Manhattan park in New York City within a span of about an hour on Wednesday.

At this point, you might think that I’m going to extol the virtues of courage in a fearful world. That’s an appropriate and relevant theme, to be sure. Helen Keller was right: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

But I have another topic in mind. While followers of Jesus can fail to trust his promises of provision and protection (cf. Philippians 4:132 Thessalonians 3:3Matthew 28:20Hebrews 13:6), we can also fall prey to the opposite temptation.

A statement I did not expect

In Joshua 14 we find the familiar story of eighty-five-year-old Caleb claiming the land promised to him forty years earlier by Moses. He assures Joshua, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming” (v. 11). As a result, he says, “So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities” (v. 12a).

Now comes the statement that caught my eye and led to this Daily Article: “It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord says” (v. 12b).

“It may be.” This is not what I expected.

I expected Caleb to say, “I am certain that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord says.” But he introduces a level of uncertainty that we do well to emulate.

Presumption is one of Satan’s subtlest temptations. When we know what God has done in the past, we might feel certain that he will do it again in the future. But his plans may not be our plans. His ways are higher than our ways; his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8–9).

The Lord revealed to Joseph that he would one day stand in authority over his brothers (Genesis 37:5–9), but Joseph did not know that God’s plan would involve enslavement and prison. If he had presumed that he knew how God’s promises would be fulfilled, he might have given up on them when his expectations were not met.

In his second missionary journey, Paul tried to turn east when God’s Macedonian vision called him west (Acts 16:6–10). If he had presumed that the past must predict the future, he would not have brought the gospel to the Western world.

A wise friend’s excellent advice

A wise mentor once told me, “Stay faithful to the last word you heard from God but open to the next.” Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God, said, “For you to do the will of God, you must adjust your life to him, his purposes, and his ways.”

How?

First, spend time in his presence.

Ask him to speak to your mind through his word, your spirit through his Spirit, your circumstances through his providence. Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus should be our daily model and aspiration (Luke 10:39). For more, please see my latest website article, “Man masquerades as his wife on flight: Three related stories and two practical and empowering life principles.”

Second, follow the leading of God with confidence and courage.

Henry Blackaby was right: “How you live your life is a testimony of what you believe about God.” Do you believe that his plans are better than your plans? If so, you will adjust yours to his. Do you believe that his mind is higher than yours? If so, you will not limit his will to what you understand. Do you believe that he is sovereign over time? If so, you will let him direct you in ways you never intended to go.

A wise friend summarizes his relationship with Jesus this way: “You lead, I follow.”

Let’s do the same, to the glory of God.

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