“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).
Proverbs 19:21 has always been one of my favorite verses, because it reminds me of how God turned my life upside-down. What I mean by that is that God pulled me out of my sin and into His marvelous light; He saved me, transformed my life, and eventually led me to pastoral ministry. He gave me a new heart, new loves, and new desires, helping me to fall out of love with the world and in love with Jesus and His people… I had all kinds of plans for my life but none of them involved becoming a Christian, and certainly none of them had anything to do with becoming a pastor. But plan and plot as I might, it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand, not mine; and God in His providence has, by His grace, purposed me to be a pastor.
Now, as a pastor in these crazy times that we find ourselves in, I find myself lingering over this verse again. Just a few weeks ago or so we were all planning and plotting; we had great intentions and purposes for our lives… But here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and thus now many of us are stuck in our homes for the most part wondering what the coming days will bring. All those plans and purposes we had have been pushed into the background, and now we are all focused on the economy, infection, and mortality. And honestly, the more we focus on those things the more anxious and worried we can get… That is, the more we focus on them wrongly.
It is perfectly fine to give thought to the economy, sickness and infection, and mortality, as long as we do it through the lenses of God’s Word and God’s good sovereignty. You see, we are to live and to plan, and to do all that we do with great intentionality and effort, yet all the while holding all of it very loosely, knowing that God can change everything or take everything away in an instant. I’m reminded of James 4:15, where James reminds us that we ought always to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (ESV). So, in applying this verse to our current situation, alongside Proverbs 19:21, we see that if we are to think about this pandemic and its effects rightly we must do so knowing that God is in control… that though we will certainly be surprised by many of the things that happen, as we’ve already been, God is not, and His will is being accomplished in and through it all. As Job 42:2 says, “[God] can do all things, and no purpose of [His] can be thwarted” (ESV). Indeed, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11 ESV). And as God’s Word promises, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).
Will our plans be thwarted? Absolutely… Will the coming days be hard and trying as much of our lives are put on hold? Absolutely… Will we be tempted to be fearful, anxious, and full of worry? Absolutely… But should we be fearful? Should we be anxious? Should we worry? Should we fall into despair? Absolutely not!!! Why? Because though many things have suddenly and drastically changed for us, nothing has changed for God. Indeed, as Proverbs 19:21 tells us, God’s purpose will stand. Though things may seem crazy to us, from God’s perspective all is going according to plan.
God’s good sovereignty is at the heart of what makes Christians so different; God’s good sovereignty alongside the gospel and our great hope in the gospel means that we can rest in Christ, trust in God, and be calm, content, and hopeful even when the world seems to be in chaos. This is what the Puritans called Christian contentment. Christian contentment is freely submitting to and delighting in what God chooses for our lives circumstantially; it’s knowing that if we have Christ we don’t need anything else… There are certainly things we need to stay alive physically, but in Christ we don’t need to stay alive physically, because we have the glory of heaven before us. To depart and be with Christ is far better (Philippians 1:23)… All we need in this world is to please God, do His will, and take whatever God gives us and magnify the glory of Christ in it, through it, and with it…
So, do you see how Christian contentment and Proverbs 19:21 go together? Though we have many plans, and indeed we should be planning and plotting for the glory of Christ and the good of people… we should be seeking to make the most of our lives for the glory of God… But though we have many plans we should know and we should always be content with the fact that it is God’s purpose alone that will stand. And that may seem hard to accept, especially in times like these, however, if we truly love and treasure Christ, if He is what we are clinging to most tightly then we can hold everything else loosely and still be content come what may, because no matter what we may lose, we will never lose Jesus (or better yet, He will never lose us), and He is better. That’s why God’s Word says, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 ESV). And God’s Word promises that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 ESV)… Not a pandemic, not the government, not sickness, not even death can separate us from Jesus.
So, though we are providential hindered from meeting together as a church, though many of us can’t go to work or school, and though most of us are now being called to shelter in place or be self quarantined by the government, and though our plans have seemingly been done away with, God’s purposes stand. Nothing can disrupt God’s plans. And two of God’s greatest plans that He wills and works all things together for are His glory and the good of is people. So, though we may not currently see it or understand it, this pandemic and all its effects are working for the good of the church and the glory of Christ. So, may we seek to be content in Christ, and because of our love for Christ obey our government, do our part to love our neighbor, and be a good witness in this time, pointing the world to the hope and contentment that are found in Christ alone.