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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:A Life Led by the LORD’s Counsel
Text:Proverbs 19:21 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 57:1,5                                                                    

Hy 1

Reading – Proverbs 16:1-9

Ps 111:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Proverbs 19:21

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

Hy 83:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, for many people, a new year is a time for making resolutions. It’s an opportunity to build some momentum or take on a new direction. “This year will be better! In this new year, I’m going to get serious about change.” Maybe we want to break a bad habit. Maybe we’ll resolve to read the Bible more, or get more exercise.

That’s good, but somehow a lot of New Year’s resolutions seem very breakable. They don’t have a lot of staying power—so many of us don’t even make them. Yet even if we’re not making specific resolutions, we’re probably all thinking ahead with some plans for the new year. There are goals we have set for ourselves, hopes that we’re cherishing, ambitions to pursue.    

Maybe this is the year we get married. Maybe we’re going to graduate and apply for a job, or go to college or university. Maybe we plan to buy a house, or a car. Maybe this is the year we’re going to retire. Maybe we just plan to have a better year than we did last year.

We may have a plan, and that’s fine. Yet it is good for us to pause a moment and gain the right perspective. For are we looking at the future like God would look at it? Are we planning to have the kind of year that will help us to grow in our delight for the Lord?

God calls us to lead a wise life, one that is governed by the fear of the Lord and guided by his Word. And God speaks these words of wisdom, “There many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand” (Prov 19:21). These words call us to humbly acknowledge that our life is ruled in all things by the LORD’s counsel, and that his counsel alone is good. And so we pray:           

May our life always be led by the LORD’s counsel.

  1. our many plans
  2. God’s prevailing counsel
  3. our wise response


1) our many plans: “There are many plans in a man’s heart.” That’s a realistic statement in a realistic book. When you read through Proverbs, that should strike you. The people who wrote these proverbs were very down-to-earth. They knew what life was like, and they knew how human nature can be.

Our text comes from the hand of Solomon. And even though he was a powerful king of Israel, wealthy and influential, busy with important matters of international politics and finance, he didn’t lose sight of what life is all about. For he knew that planning is basic to being human. Maybe not everyone will organize massive construction projects that last years at a time, like Solomon did. Maybe not everyone will undertake marine expeditions across the oceans, like he did. But Solomon knew that everyone makes plans of one kind or another.

Planning is natural to our human minds. It just happens, quite readily. Sometimes more than other times, but we will certainly plan. As we said, we all have a vision for the future. We look ahead and we plot a course that we would like to follow.

We have plans for our career and our business. We have plans for our family. We make plans for school. There are plans for fixing things up around the home. We have social plans, and plans for holidays. Things to buy, books to read, and people to visit. Yes, plans can accumulate after a while—big heaps of things we want to do. For some people, every day there’s a new “to do” list, and for every week, and every year!

And I think that planning is part of being wise. It’s part of being responsible in the place where God has put you. For God has given us precious time here on earth: a limited number of days and months and years. And while we’re here, God has also given us all kinds of blessings: we have spiritual gifts, meaningful relationships, material goods, and more. At the same time, God has given us opportunities: we have opportunity to grow in wisdom, to mature, to serve his kingdom, and to be a holy witness in this world.

So what are we going to do with this life, given us by God? The Lord always calls us to be good stewards. And that is not just about being a steward of money and possessions, but being stewards of all those valuable things He has entrusted: our talents, our time, our children, our position and knowledge. God wants us to use everything we’ve got to bring Him praise.

And planning is a part of that. What if we didn’t plan? We might be wasting our God-given talents, being careless with our resources. If we didn’t ever look ahead, think about where we’re going, we’d likely miss out on good chances to grow in faith or to serve others.

So as children of God, we need to think about the future. Looking ahead, we need to ask, “What are the most important things that I need to do with my time here? What is it that God calls us to do in this life, and how can I best answer his calling, here and now?”

We plan, because God has given us the ability to plan. He’s blessed us with functioning brains. He’s given his guiding and equipping Spirit, and He’s also given us reliable wisdom to apply to life. He has given these things so that we can humbly chart a good course and find a God-pleasing direction.

Now, perhaps some of you are thinking: “I don’t really make a whole lot of plans anymore. I’m at a stage in my life where I’m pretty much set. The big decisions have all been made, long ago already. My life for the coming years is pretty much mapped out by now. Oh, I have little plans—like my next project in the garden—but as I look towards the future, I expect most things to keep moving along, just like before.”

It may be true that you don’t plan much. But even our expectations are a kind of planning. Looking ahead, you might expect to remain in good health. You expect to keep busy at home. You expect to keep earning your monthly income, or collecting your monthly pension. You expect to have good times with family and friends. But even these expectations are like plotting a course for the future. Maybe you’d like nothing better than for things to stay just the way they are—that’s your plan, your vision for tomorrow.

Beloved, there is no denying the truth of what Solomon says, “There are many plans in a person’s heart.” Which means we should also take a close look at what’s behind our plans. For there is always something moving, compelling, and driving whatever we do. Beneath the surface of life is always a reason, whether or not we realize it, or admit it.

That’s what we read in Proverbs 16, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirits” (v 2). Maybe we barely give a second thought to our decisions. We might be too busy, or too caught up in the moment, to think about why we’re doing what we’re doing, but the Lord knows. He knows and He weighs our motives.

So also when we make plans, what are we planning for? What is the big, guiding purpose for our lives? Are we seeking to create a nice bubble of personal security around us? Do we want physical comfort and earthly prosperity above all? Do we just want to feel happy? To be accepted? Is our plan centered on having a good time, or being fulfilled?

With our future hopes and earthly plans, we might well be “pure in our own eyes,” as Proverbs says. We tend to assume we’re always motivated by good things, when we might actually be moved in a sinful way. It can be greed that motivates us. Selfishness. Laziness. Even as we make our small-scale plans for each day, we might be driven by pride or jealousy. We want to look good. We want to prove ourselves. We want pleasure. All our motives are known and weighed by God.

Even when we expect that everything in our lives will continue as it always has, what are we basing that on? Are we saying that things will be all right in the future because we’re resourceful people? Do we assume that we’ll be OK because the government will take care of us? Or because God gives good things to good people—that after everything we’ve done for him, God kind of owes us his blessing? What is the foundation of our confidence?

“There are many plans in a person’s heart,” but why are they there? And as we look to the future, are we planning to submit humbly to God’s plan, and to God’s counsel?


2) God’s prevailing counsel: Have you ever heard this saying? “Man proposes, but God disposes.” It means that you and I will often chart a course of action for ourselves. We will have everything sorted as best we can, a proposal nicely laid out for the future. But then God scatters everything in a shot. In an instant, He can dispose of our nice plans. So quickly, God can show the futility of trying to determine everything ourselves.

“Man proposes, but God disposes.” You won’t find that saying in the Bible, but Proverbs has a few that come close. Think of 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” We map our life however we want: school (primary, secondary, tertiary), courtship, engagement, marriage, children, grandchildren, retirement, and finally, our prepaid funeral. We plan and expect and assume and presume and decide—but it’s the Lord who has the final word.

That is the truth of our text: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand” (19:21). Here we need to focus on the most important words in this text: the LORD’s counsel. Just what is that counsel of God?

We can say that God’s counsel is his plan! It’s his goal. His counsel is God’s vision for the future, the things that God wills to accomplish with this world, his creation, and his people. There are many things that God desires to take place. Just like us, you could say, God has set a certain course for the future.

And the difference with God’s plan is that it will “stand.” So often, our plans fall over for lack of foundation, because we didn’t lay the right groundwork. Often, our plans fail for lack of ability, for we just don’t have what it takes to get it done. Our plans wither away because we lose interest and we move on to something else. Or we run out of time. Or we don’t have the will to stick with it. Just think of all the New Year’s resolutions, abandoned by the middle of February!

But God’s counsel stands. If God has decided, if He has planned—yes, if God has resolved something—then it will most surely take place. For He has no deficiencies or limitations, like we do. He is not bound by time, like we are. His drive doesn’t run out of steam, like ours so often does. His goals are always met.

And we need to see his counsel in a comprehensive way. All things are part of God’s purpose: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Think once more of Proverbs 16: “The LORD has made all for himself; yes, even the wicked for the day of doom” (v 4). Pick the worst of events you can think of—how about a virus that kills hundreds of thousands? Or a brutal genocide? Even these things have a place in his purpose! There are no loose ends in God’s world. There are no surprises for God Almighty. All of it He works out for himself, his own cause.

I think none of us would disagree with this. After all, it’s the clear teaching of Scripture, that God Almighty has everything in his hands. God is sovereign. The Lord’s providence is perfect, we confess in Lord’s Day 10.

Yet this teaching is not always so easy to accept. “The LORD’s counsel will stand”—we can confess that when godless people come into power, or when we see the ugly carnage from natural disasters, or when we hear of wars and rumours of wars. Then we are glad that we can say it: “In all of this, the LORD’s counsel will stand.”

But then are times it hits closer to home. Isn’t it harder to trust in God’s counsel when He chooses to send hardship? It’s hard to cheerfully confess that God is sovereign when we have a lot of plans that suddenly crumble. We start to wonder about his fatherly hands when life begins to seem pointless, or when life is rocked by tragedy.

For even though we know that God’s purpose always stands, we struggle. When there’s a heavy burden in the family, or a grave illness, when we have to live for many years with a disappointment, we don’t always see God’s purpose—we don’t see where God is bringing all this. We don’t see it at the moment, and sometimes we never see it. This makes submitting to God’s counsel a real struggle. What’s his plan? And will it be good for us?

In times like that, we should return to the key words of our text: the “LORD’s counsel.” I want you to underline the name that is used for God in this passage: the LORD. He is not just a Lord, one who rules over things, and orders people around. No, He is the LORD—all capitals. This is how English translations of the Bible often render God’s personal name, Yahweh.

This is the name that points us to the God of the covenant, the God who entered into a lasting relationship of love with his people. This is the LORD who appeared to Abraham and gave him his great and gracious promises. This is the LORD who delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. This is the LORD who sent his well-beloved Son into the world, even to die for our sins.

It is the LORD, the covenant God who has a purpose! It is the God of steadfast love who is always working out his will on this earth! And that tells us at once that his counsel is always good. For just as we did for our own plans, consider the spirit behind God’s plans. What is God’s motive? What is God’s reason for doing what He does? What drives everything He does and directs here on earth?

As God of the covenant, He wants what is good for his people! God constantly does those things that will make our salvation even more sure! Like we can read in Romans 8, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose” (v 28). Beloved, God works for our good: that’s his prevailing counsel! Because He loves us so much, He desires that everything in our lives will serve one goal: that we be his people and walk in fellowship with him.

Whatever God does, however God leads your life and guides this world, remember always his perfect purpose: that his people draw ever closer to him, in faith and in love! Because then God receives the glory. That, as always, is his ultimate aim, his greatest goal: that God would get the worship that is due his holy Name.

Our salvation, and God’s glory—this is the foundation of God’s unchanging counsel. And He will surely bring it about! As the LORD declares in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Indeed, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.”


3) our wise response: So what do we do with this? How should Proverbs 19:21 shape us? How should this affect the resolutions that we might be resolving, and the plans we might be planning? How do these words transform the life we’re living?

We could be cynical and say, “I might as well give up now. If God has everything decreed in his will; if his counsel overrides all things; then I might as well forget all my striving or desiring, let alone planning. Just resign myself to fate. Whatever will be, will be!”

But that’s not the kind of life God desires for his children. The LORD gives this text so that we would be wise about the future. Heading into the future, we need to be humble, in the first place. Humble, because we acknowledge our weaknesses. We’re only grass that withers in the wind. In wisdom, we are humble.

This humility means confessing that our gracious God is in charge of all. Think of what James writes, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (4:13-15). God’s counsel rules over all, even our best laid plans—be humble in that knowledge.

And let’s be patient. God’s plans aren’t always the same as our plans, and that means his timeline is rarely the same as our timeline. He answers our prayers, but in a different way than we expected, and in a different time than we hoped.

Yet this text also invites us to trust in God, and it gives our trust a firm foundation. Remember: the LORD’s counsel will stand! The God of the covenant never breaks his promises. The God of the covenant never forgets his people. And so we trust that God will provide for us. We trust that He’ll guide us. That’s actually the greatest expectation we could have as we head into the unknown and uncharted territory of the future: that God will be faithful!

And when we trust God, we must remember to seek his blessing and direction. We seek it in prayer. Such a simple thing—to pray—yet so often we forget it or minimize it. But through Christ, our words are heard by the God who can do all things! For every one of us then, our days  must be saturated in prayer, as we commit all our ways and plans and desires to him.    

In short, beloved brothers and sisters, this text calls us get our lives in line with God’s counsel. What would the LORD have us do? What is his calling for us in the coming time? Our Lord Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all things will be given to you as well.” And so we resolve to put God’s Kingdom first. For every day God has allowed us, we resolve to bring him praise!

And as we face the future, let’s keep our eyes on his ultimate plan. God’s plan is not that this broken world continue in all its misery without end, or that we continue in our sinfulness without end. But He has told us that this world is going somewhere, for it’s going to be refined in the fire, and made like new. We too, are going somewhere, for soon we’re going to be transformed to dwell with God forever.

Beloved, let us be of good courage, for we have a future, and we have a hope. That’s God’s counsel, and God’s counsel stands forever.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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