For the last two years I have been using the daily Bible reading plan designed by the famous Scottish preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, taking me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. I have found it refreshing and a complete contrast to my previous daily Bible reading style of focussing in depth on short passages of a few verses.
Seeing the ‘big picture’ again I have been reminded of God’s great skill in developing His master plan, even when men’s sins seem to spoil the plot.
Men are not manipulated by God. Taking their own independent and often sinful steps they nevertheless find themselves acting within God’s ultimate purpose. As Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen 50:20). God has an amazing ability to incorporate man’s rebellion within His purposes. He neither forces nor manipulates them, but they find themselves unknowingly accomplishing His chosen plan while they are simply getting on with their lives.
Many years ago I read John Flavel’s classic, 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 removes anxiety and restlessness, and fear of what man can do to me.
Perplexed but not despairing
Our personal experiences are often perplexing. It is comforting to know that even the apostle Paul was sometimes perplexed (2 Cor. 4:8) but knowing that God was ultimately sovereign he did not descend into dark despair. Delays, disappointments and unexpected events do not mean that God has lost the plot and things are out of control.
I often fly out of London’s Heathrow airport through wet, cloudy weather. Within a few brief minutes I am above the grey oppression in brilliant sunshine, looking down on the clouds below. I often remind myself of this on grey days when I go to my morning prayer room. My spirit rises up above my dull mindset as I begin to worship and sing praises to God. I emerge into God’s sunlight where I can bask in His presence, be freshly filled with His love and utterly assured of His power and providence.
Pure escapism? No! Pure reality! Drawing near to a sovereign God, who is daily working out His purpose is very different from ‘whistling a happy tune’ and entering a world of denial. 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).
Joseph’s brothers, moved with envy, sell him into Egypt, but God’s purpose moves forward. Potiphar’s wife invents a libellous 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? Inclined to throw in the towel and give up? What about God’s sovereign hand upon your life. Are you simply the plaything of circumstances or apple of His eye? Are you at the mercy of random events or His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for works prepared beforehand for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10)?
Paul calls us God’s work of art: pictures have light and dark shades. Will you only trust Him when all is straightforward and plain sailing? In the midst of a life-threatening storm at sea, Paul, a prisoner in chains, emerged from a prayer time and told his terrified companions “I believe God!” Then, though still a prisoner, he confidently took charge of the ship (Acts 27:25).
There are some teachers among the churches today who call themselves ‘open theists’. They hold that God knows the past and the present, but cannot know the future; freedom of choice implies that no one (even God) can know in advance what people 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) telling years in advance what will take place, such as that Bethlehem will be the Messiah’s birthplace, and that men will gamble for the Saviour’s robe. Yet no one is forced to act against his own will or preference. People make their own choices, yet find themselves fulfilling God’s great plan.
After the opening of the Red Sea Moses sang a great song of celebration (Exod. 15), full of prophetic revelation, with allusions to building a city, and a temple. Hold on Moses! Israel might change their minds! They might decide not to go to Canaan or capture Jerusalem or build a sanctuary. Who knows? Happily, God does!
‘Oh the depth of the riches 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? To Him be the glory forever Amen’ (Rom. 11:33-36).