Day 184

God's Purposes for You

Wisdom Proverbs 16:8-17
New Testament Acts 22:22-23:11
Old Testament 2 Kings 6:24-8:15

Introduction

I trained as a lawyer and worked as a barrister. Then, back in 1981, Pippa and I felt that God was calling us to full-time ministry in the Church of England and for me to become an ordained minister. We also felt that we should do our training in Durham, starting in September 1982. I was at the top of the waiting list for the theological college at Durham University. I was told it was almost certain someone would drop out and I was virtually guaranteed a place. Based on this I announced our plans widely, including telling all my colleagues at work that I was leaving.

Just before I was due to start we received news that, exceptionally, no one had dropped out that year and it would not be possible for us to go. We tried everything to persuade them to change their minds. We desperately tried to find another theological college that would accept us. We prayed and pushed as hard as we could but to no avail. The door was firmly shut.

The following year was extremely difficult. I was given very little work by my workplace as people knew I was leaving and so had no incentive to build my career. It was a huge disappointment and mystifying at the time.

In the end, Pippa and I went to Oxford to study the following year and I eventually started as an assistant pastor at HTB in 1986. With hindsight, had we got the place at Durham, the timing would have meant that a job at HTB would have been out of the question and we would not be doing what we are doing today. I am so thankful to God that he blocked our plans and strategically ordered our steps.

If you are going through a setback or disappointment, remember that his purposes for you are ‘good, pleasing and perfect’ (Romans 12:2). Nothing happens without God’s permission. God is in control and in everything he is working for good (8:28).

Wisdom

Proverbs 16:8-17

8 Better a little with righteousness
  than much gain with injustice.

9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
  but the Lord establishes their steps.

10 The lips of a king speak as an oracle,
  and his mouth does not betray justice.

11 Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord;
  all the weights in the bag are of his making.

12 Kings detest wrongdoing,
  for a throne is established through righteousness.

13 Kings take pleasure in honest lips;
  they value the one who speaks what is right.

14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
  but the wise will appease it.

15 When a king’s face brightens, it means life;
  his favor is like a rain cloud in spring.

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold,
  to get insight rather than silver!

17 The highway of the upright avoids evil;
  those who guard their ways preserve their lives.

Commentary

God orders your steps through human plans

It is right to plan. However, we need to do it with the necessary humility, recognising that our plans will only succeed ‘if it is the Lord’s will’ (see James 4:13–15). The writer of Proverbs says, ‘In your heart you may plan your course, but the Lord determines your steps’ (Proverbs 16:9).

Sometimes we align our plans with God’s purposes. At other times – certainly in my experience – God overrules our plans. We should always bear in mind that we may have got it wrong and that, ultimately, thankfully, it is the Lord who determines our steps.

God often works out his purposes through good leadership. Good leaders motivate others (v.10). They do not base their decisions simply on what is popular: ‘Sound leadership has a moral foundation’ (v.12b, MSG). They cultivate an environment of transparency: ‘Good leaders cultivate honest speech; they love advisors who tell them the truth’ (v.13, MSG). They ‘invigorate lives; they’re like spring rain and sunshine’ (v.15, MSG).

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that although I make plans in my heart, ultimately you determine my steps.

New Testament

Acts 22:22-23:11

Paul the Roman Citizen

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”

“Yes, I am,” he answered.

28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.”

“But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied.

29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Paul Before the Sanhedrin

30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.

23Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”

4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!”

5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’”

6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)

9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Commentary

God orders your steps in spite of human opposition

Are you worried about your future? Are you facing difficulties and opposition or in a time of crisis? Are there plans against you?

There are a number of competing plans in this story. How do these interact with God’s purposes?

1. The crowd

The crowd plan to ‘rid the earth’ of Paul (22:22). While it causes Paul hardship, ultimately it fails because their plans are against God’s purpose.

2. The commander

The ‘commander’, a man of military power, plans to have Paul flogged (v.24). Paul is taken to the torture chamber but the plan failed because it was illegal to flog a Roman citizen before being convicted, and the commander had not realised that Paul was a Roman citizen.

3. The court

The religious authorities, the Sanhedrin, plan to kill Paul (23:12). Paul is taken to court and placed in the dock (22:30). He points out his innocence. ‘Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth’ (23:2). Paul’s response is, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!’ (v.3).

Then Paul manages to divide the tribunal (vv.7–8), which consisted of Pharisees (who believed in the resurrection of the dead) and Sadducees (who did not). Paul decides ‘to exploit their antagonism’ (v.6, MSG). Paul says, in effect, ‘Look, the reason I am on trial is that I am a Pharisee and believe in the resurrection of the dead’ (v.6).

4. The crises

In the midst of all this, Paul seeks to align his plans with God’s plans. He was guided by God. He resolved in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome (19:21). However, in spite of this he hit crisis after crisis.

Paul must have wondered whether he had missed out on God’s purposes. But in the middle of this ‘crisis’, the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’ (23:11).

As with Paul, God will strategically order your steps. The sovereignty of God means we don’t have to worry about the ultimate outcome. God is in complete control, even though it may not always be easy to see it at the time.

God’s purpose is that you, like Paul, should be a witness. Everywhere you go, be a witness. When appropriate, give your testimony. Even when you are not speaking, your life is a testimony. Don’t wait until all is going well. In fact, in times of difficulties sometimes your testimony is at its most powerful.

Prayer

Lord, give me the same courage you gave to the apostle Paul to testify about you wherever I go.

Old Testament

2 Kings 6:24-8:15

Famine in Besieged Samaria

24 Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. 25 There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.

26 As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, “Help me, my lord the king!”

27 The king replied, “If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?” 28 Then he asked her, “What’s the matter?”

She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we’ll eat my son.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, ‘Give up your son so we may eat him,’ but she had hidden him.”

30 When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body. 31 He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!”

32 Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. The king sent a messenger ahead, but before he arrived, Elisha said to the elders, “Don’t you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold it shut against him. Is not the sound of his master’s footsteps behind him?” 33 While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to him.

The king said, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”

7Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

2 The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

The Siege Lifted

3 Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

5 At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, 6 for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” 7 So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

9 Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

10 So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.

12 The king got up in the night and said to his officers, “I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, ‘They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.’”

13 One of his officers answered, “Have some men take five of the horses that are left in the city. Their plight will be like that of all the Israelites left here—yes, they will only be like all these Israelites who are doomed. So let us send them to find out what happened.”

14 So they selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent them after the Aramean army. He commanded the drivers, “Go and find out what has happened.” 15 They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. 16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said.

17 Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house. 18 It happened as the man of God had said to the king: “About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

19 The officer had said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” The man of God had replied, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!” 20 And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died.

The Shunammite’s Land Restored

8Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Go away with your family and stay for a while wherever you can, because the Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last seven years.” 2 The woman proceeded to do as the man of God said. She and her family went away and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years.

3 At the end of the seven years she came back from the land of the Philistines and went to appeal to the king for her house and land. 4 The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.” 5 Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to appeal to the king for her house and land.

Gehazi said, “This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” 6 The king asked the woman about it, and she told him.

Then he assigned an official to her case and said to him, “Give back everything that belonged to her, including all the income from her land from the day she left the country until now.”

Hazael Murders Ben-Hadad

7 Elisha went to Damascus, and Ben-Hadad king of Aram was ill. When the king was told, “The man of God has come all the way up here,” 8 he said to Hazael, “Take a gift with you and go to meet the man of God. Consult the Lord through him; ask him, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

9 Hazael went to meet Elisha, taking with him as a gift forty camel-loads of all the finest wares of Damascus. He went in and stood before him, and said, “Your son Ben-Hadad king of Aram has sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

10 Elisha answered, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” 11 He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael was embarrassed. Then the man of God began to weep.

12 “Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael.

“Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”

13 Hazael said, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?”

“The Lord has shown me that you will become king of Aram,” answered Elisha.

14 Then Hazael left Elisha and returned to his master. When Ben-Hadad asked, “What did Elisha say to you?” Hazael replied, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” 15 But the next day he took a thick cloth, soaked it in water and spread it over the king’s face, so that he died. Then Hazael succeeded him as king.

Commentary

God orders your steps through human agents

God works out his purposes through human agency.

The suffering of the people of Samaria was almost unbearable: famine, high inflation, food prices soaring astronomically and even cannibalism resulting (6:24–31). The king of Israel made a pathetic excuse for not helping the woman who cried to him, ‘Help me, my lord the king!’ (v.26). He replied, ‘If the Lord does not help you, where can I get help for you?’ (v.27). This is the wrong reaction.

The sovereignty of God and his plans is not meant to be an excuse for human inaction. God works through human agents. When you see needs, you are called to be God’s hands responding to those needs. This is what Elisha did. God used Elisha. He prophesied, ‘Listen! God’s word! The famine’s over. This time tomorrow food will be plentiful’ (7:1, MSG).

God used four men with leprosy who discovered where this plentiful food was. As they ate and drank they said to each other, ‘We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves’ (v.9). Food prices dropped over night. Every word Elisha had spoken proved true.

The world produces enough food for everyone, yet one in eight people on this planet are living with the pain of hunger. If we simply feed ourselves ‘we are not doing right’ (v.9). We must do everything we can to bring an end to extreme poverty in our generation.

This is also a wonderful illustration of our motive for telling others the good news about Jesus. These starving people came across a mountain of food. They realised that God had delivered them from their enemies. They could have kept the good news to themselves, but that would have been utterly selfish.

Yet they were tempted to do so. We have far better news than they had – the good news of Jesus and the gospel. Do not keep it to yourself. You are the human agent responsible for carrying out God’s plans.

Similarly, the people in the city could have just stayed there in their lost condition refusing to believe the good news. Indeed, at first the king does not respond very positively. He suspects a trap (v.12). Likewise, today, some people do not respond to the offer of life Jesus makes to every human being because they suspect that there is some trap.

Not only does God work out his purposes through human agents, he sometimes reveals these plans to his prophets. Elisha prophesied at a time of famine that within twenty-four hours food would be in ample supply (v.1). It seemed totally unbelievable at the time (v.2), but God rescued his people (v.6). Elisha’s prophecy came true, ‘As the Lord had said’ (v.16). God also revealed to Elisha what was about to happen to the king (8:8,13,15).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you have good plans for my life and your purposes will ultimately prevail. Help us to be a blessing to the world, feeding the hungry and bringing the good news of Jesus to a world that desperately needs physical and spiritual food.

Pippa adds

2 Kings 6:24–8:15

God uses the most despised people (in this case, four men with leprosy) to discover the abandoned Aramean camp and to bring the good new of Israel's liberation. What fun they must have had, stuffing their starving bodies with delicious food and covering their disfigured bodies with beautiful clothes. In God's kingdom, the last shall be first.

Verse of the Day

Proverbs 16:9

‘In your heart you may plan your course, but the Lord determines your steps’.
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References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers used by permission

Bible in One Year

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