Day 184

God’s Purposes for You

Wisdom Proverbs 16:9
New Testament Acts 22:22,24–30, 23:1,6–8,11
Old Testament 2 Kings 6:25a,26–27,33b, 7:1–3,4b–8,16,18a


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).


Proverbs 16:9

9 In your heart you may plan your course,
 but the LORD determines your steps.


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).


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

New Testament

Acts 22:22,24–30, 23:1,6–8,11

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!’ 24 … the commander… 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.’ 29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. 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 set him before them.

1 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’ 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.) 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.’


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.


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

Old Testament

2 Kings 6:25a,26–27,33b, 7:1–3,4b–8,16,18a

25 There was a great famine in the city… 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? 33 … The king said, ‘This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?’

1 Elisha 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… 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 … 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.’ 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. 18 It happened as the man of God had said to the king.


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, food prices soaring astronomically and even cannibalism resulted (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).


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 chooses the most despised (four lepers) to discover the abandoned Aramean camp. What fun they must have had, stuffing their starving bodies with delicious food and covering their disfigured bodies with beautiful clothes. They got the best, first.

Verse of the Day

Proverbs 16:9

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

Thought for the Day

If you are going through a setback or disappointment, remember that God’s purposes for you are good, pleasing and perfect.

Action for the Day

Trust God with your plans.


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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.

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