For the last two years I have been using the daily Bible reading plan designed by the famous Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne. It takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. I have found it to be a refreshing experience that I would happily encourage others to embrace, and is actually a complete contrast to my previous Bible reading style of daily dissecting details in short passages of a few verses.
I have enjoyed seeing the ‘big picture’ again and especially being reminded of God’s great skill in developing His master plan, even when men’s sins seem to spoil the plot. Amazingly, in such stories as Joseph’s and Esther’s, man’s sin seems to be incorporated in the plot.
Men are not manipulated by God. They simply take their own independent and often wicked steps but nevertheless find themselves acting within God’s ultimate purpose, just as Jesus was ‘delivered up by the pre-determined plan and foreknowledge of God, (yet) nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men … ‘ (Acts 2:23). As Joseph could later say to his brothers, ‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good … to preserve many people alive’ (Gen. 50:20).
God’s ability to incorporate man’s rebellion within His purpose is amazing! He has neither to force, nor manipulate them, but they find themselves unknowingly doing His will and accomplishing His chosen plan while they are simply being true to themselves and doing what comes naturally.
Many years ago I read a Puritan Classic by John Flavel called ‘The Mystery of Providence’. It settled things in my heart about God’s sovereign purpose and His great skill in making things work together for good. Knowing that God is sovereign in this world is a cause of immense comfort. It takes away anxiety and restlessness and removes fear from what man can do to me.
Perplexed but not despairing
Our personal experiences can often be perplexing. It is comforting to read that even the Apostle Paul was sometimes perplexed (2 Cor. 4:8) but because he knew that God was ultimately sovereign this did not lead him into dark energy-sapping despair. Our being temporarily perplexed by delays, disappointments and unexpected turns in the road does not mean that somehow God has lost the plot and things are getting out of hand.
One of the privileges that I enjoy includes flying out of London Heathrow or London Gatwick often through wet and cloudy weather. Within a few brief minutes I am up above the grey oppression and into brilliant sunshine, looking down on the fluffy radiance of the clouds beneath me.
I often remind myself of this on grey days when I go to my morning prayer room, look out at the rain and begin to worship and sing praises to God. My spirit rises up above the oppressive British weather into God’s sunlight where I can again bask in His presence, be freshly filled with His love and utterly assured of His power and providential skill.
Pure escapism? No! Pure reality! Drawing near to a God who is sovereign and who is daily working out His purpose is very different to ‘whistling a happy tune’ and entering into a world of make-believe and unreality. ‘He is the Lord and He reigns on high’ is absolute truth, cast iron reality. He is to be trusted!
He is sovereign and His sovereignty is both exhaustive (covering the whole sweep of history) and meticulous (covering every detail of time and place as the stories of Joseph and Esther demonstrate). God is not evil but He controls both good and evil while His holiness is in no way compromised.
Joseph’s brothers, moved with envy, sell him into Egypt. They are following their sinful motivations. But God’s purpose moves forward. Potiphar’s wife invents a wicked story to condemn Joseph to prison. Again, God’s programme takes a further step towards its intended goal. Sin is the driving force but the will of God is being accomplished.
What about you?
Maybe you have been sinned against. Are you offended or outraged? Maybe you are inclined to throw in the towel and give up. But what about God’s sovereign hand upon your life? Are you simply the plaything of circumstances or are you the apple of His eye? Are you at the mercy of random events or are you His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for works prepared beforehand for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10 NASB).
Paul calls us God’s work of art and artwork can have bright and dark aspects, and many shades in between. Will you only trust Him when all is straightforward and plain sailing? It was in the midst of a life-threatening storm at sea that Paul, a prisoner in chains, emerged from a time alone with God and told his terrified companions ‘I believe God!’ and as a result, though still a prisoner in the midst of a terrifying gale, took control of the ship (Acts 27:25).
There are some teachers among the churches today who call themselves ‘open theists’. They hold that God certainly knows everything past and everything present, but cannot know the future, free choices and actions of the men and women He has created. Their very freedom as creatures implies that no-one (not even God!) can know in advance what they will freely choose.
The Bible, on the other hand, shows a God who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11) and can tell many years in advance what will take place in His creation, such as Bethlehem being the place where the Messiah will be born and that men will gamble for the Saviour’s robe. Yet no-one is forced to act against his own will or preference. Men stay true to themselves and make their own choices, yet find themselves fulfilling God’s great plan.
Following the opening of the Red Sea and the destruction of Egypt’s army, Moses sings his inspired song (Exod. 15), celebrating God’s mighty deliverance. Having an awesome revelation of God, he sings of His great triumph and unique power. He then starts to sing with prophetic insight and revelation about Zion, God’s holy mountain, and the sanctuary that will be built there (Exod. 15:17).
Hold on Moses! They might change their minds! They might decide not to go to Canaan or capture Jerusalem or build a sanctuary. Don’t get carried away! Who knows what will happen? Happily, God does!
Let me suggest to you that we take the same stance as the Apostle Paul who cried, ‘Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who became His counsellor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever Amen’ (Rom. 12:33-36).