But God had a different plan

By Pastor Phil Stanley. May 21, 2023.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

God doesn’t need you to look around the obstacle you’re facing, He wants you to see through it.

A couple of weeks ago I had to fly out to Fayetteville Arkansas for a film shoot with Drs. Ken and Michelle Canfield.  I was asked to go by my friend Jackson Drumgoole and it was an amazing experience. 

The trip with Jack was an absolute blast and the canfields are some of the nicest and brightest people I’ve ever met.  They were very kind and asked me to share my life story.  I gave them an out offering the long version or short version and they chose something in the middle.  Like I said, very smart. 

I told them about the various ups and downs I’ve gone through in my initial 30+ years.  How I was angry about being called to pastor,  how weird my career has played out, and how Heather and I couldn’t have kids the way either of us planned.  

As I was sharing about Nikolai, Michelle stopped me and said, “wait, that must be your catchphrase.”  I didn’t know what she was talking about at all and my face clearly showed it.  She said, “with each part of your story you keep saying “but God had a different plan.”  

For some reason that struck me and so today my message is titled, “But God had a different plan.” 

I think it’s in our nature to want a plan.  A plan for the day, the week, month, year, 5 years, and some ambitious souls have a plan for 30-50 years from now.  

How many of you like to have a plan? 

I do.  Sometimes a little more than I should.  I want something to aim for, something to achieve, something I can look back at and know I didn’t waste my efforts on.  

Y’all know how much I like to win.  Some of you guys are going to find out tonight at the Men’s Cards night.  

Winning is okay as long as we don’t make winning an idol in our life.  

The epiphany I had on the trip is that just about every major moment of my life didn’t go according to plan.  

I changed majors two years into college, I had a few jobs go horribly wrong without any fair warning and certainly never as planned, I got called to be a pastor after pretty much declaring that I’d never ever become a pastor, my relationships went completely sideways and never once resembled the plan. 

So what was my plan?  I wanted to run a successful business, be married and have a couple of kids, I wanted to make money so that I could support ministries and work on problems like hunger, homelessness and missions.  Some of that changed early on when I switched from a business major to television and cinema.  The plan after graduating college was to figure out a way to create successful and inspirational television shows and movies.  

I thought I’d make it as a filmmaker because I could rally together a team but I soon figured out that filmmakers are straight broke unless a thousand things happen just right.  

So yeah, the plan wasn’t working out too well.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an amazing life with all sorts of fun and great things.  But it wasn’t how I planned it.  

But God had a different plan. 

Now, the Bible is filled with all sorts of moments where someone has a plan, but God has another.  I think of Abraham and Sarah with the whole Hagar and Ishmael situation. There’s poor Joseph, who probably never planned on being sold off into slavery by his brothers. Job had a lot going on that certainly wasn’t what he planned.  Even the disciples had a different plan than Jesus dying on a cross.  There’s a whole lot of scrapped plans in the Bible.  

Today, I want to look at a plan gone wrong from the Apostle Paul.   We’re going to hop around a little bit but we’ll start in chapter 1 of Romans.  

Romans is a different type of letter from Paul.  Unlike many other letters he wrote, this one isn’t really a letter of correction or even a letter of encouragement to a church he had helped. He is writing a letter to them basically to share his heart for the gospel and to hopefully build a relationship with them so he can visit and be sent on to further his missionary journey westward to Spain. 

Pretty good plan right? Let’s take a look at verse 8.

8 Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world. 9 God knows how often I pray for you. Day and night I bring you and your needs in prayer to God, whom I serve with all my heart[d] by spreading the Good News about his Son.

10 One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. 11 For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. 12 When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

13 I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,[e] that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. I want to work among you and see spiritual fruit, just as I have seen among other Gentiles. 14 For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world,[f] to the educated and uneducated alike. 15 So I am eager to come to you in Rome, too, to preach the Good News.

Paul’s plan is solid.  He can come and help disciple these believers, get encouraged by their faith, labor beside them to further the gospel and eventually get sent with a blessing to head out to Spain. 

But that’s not exactly how it happened. 

Paul doesn’t get to Rome the way that he had planned at all.  He first spends a couple of years working in Ephesus, traveling around Greece and eventually, he is compelled by the Holy Spirit to return to Jerusalem even though he knows it’ll lead to prison and suffering.  

The Lord approved of the plan by the way.  He wanted Paul to preach the good news in Rome.  

It’s not like Paul’s desired plan wasn’t approved by God, it just didn’t happen the way anyone expected.  

Paul’s back in Jerusalem, and as often is the case with Paul, there’s a mob of people trying to kill him.  It was a bleak situation but verse 11 of chapter 23 says:

11 That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Be encouraged, Paul. Just as you have been a witness to me here in Jerusalem, you must preach the Good News in Rome as well.”

That brings me to my first point this morning.

Even in our most dire situations, God’s plan is still at work. 

Proverbs 16:1 

1 We can make our own plans,
    but the Lord gives the right answer.

Proverbs 16:9

We can make our plans,

    but the Lord determines our steps.

Paul gets sent to prison in Caesarea and on the surface that seems awful. But when we look closer we can see God at work yet again. 

12 The next morning a group of Jews[d] got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. 13 There were more than forty of them in the conspiracy. 14 They went to the leading priests and elders and told them, “We have bound ourselves with an oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 So you and the high council should ask the commander to bring Paul back to the council again. Pretend you want to examine his case more fully. We will kill him on the way.”

Word of the plot got back to the Roman officer and listen to his response in verse 23:

23 Then the commander called two of his officers and ordered, “Get 200 soldiers ready to leave for Caesarea at nine o’clock tonight. Also take 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops. 24 Provide horses for Paul to ride, and get him safely to Governor Felix.

From the outside, it looked like prison but in reality, it was God’s protection. 

Here’s my next point this morning:

If you find yourself in a place you don’t deserve to be in, ask God to give you the perspective to see His plan.  

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

A straight path doesn’t guarantee an obstacle free journey.  It’s actually almost certainly leading you from obstacle to obstacle.  That’s when you feel bulletproof as a Christian.  It’s not when you go through life with nothing interfering with your plans, it’s when God time and time again gets you through impossible situation after impossible situation.  

God doesn’t need you to look around the obstacle you’re facing, He wants you to see through it. 

This past Wednesday was Nikolai’s chapel at his school Heritage Academy.  Each class takes turns running chapel service and this was his last one for the school year.  We love going to these chapels because you can just see God working in these young students’ lives.  Each year the school chooses a scripture to be their key verse and I wanted to share it with you today with a little help. 

It’s so incredibly powerful to hear your kid recite scripture.  Me, heather, and Maddie were there Wednesday and i think we were all fighting back tears.  Maddie was just letting them fly.  She started crying when they first said good morning heritage academy.  This is the scripture they recited:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:1-6

We can’t always see what God is doing, and we have to learn to be okay with that.  

One of the most tempting things about hearing from the Lord is to trying to fulfill the plan ourselves.  Just like Abraham and Sarah.  They heard from the Lord but because it didn’t happen the way they expected or planned, they made a costly error. 

I thank God for all the times my plans have fallen through.  If I had my way, who knows where I’d be but it wouldn’t have been here, and wouldn’t be the life I have now. 

I’m going to continue this message next week and I cannot wait to talk about how Paul got to Rome.  

As we close this morning I want to take the scripture I shared earlier from Proverbs and turn it into a prayer.  I want you to pray this with me. 

Proverbs 3:5-6

I thank you Lord that I can Trust in you with all my heart

    and lean not on my own understanding;

in all my ways, I will submit to you Lord,

    and I thank you in advance for making my paths straight.

I praise you and ask for your plan, your perspective, your patience, and your peace.