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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:To be wise in the new year, plan, but always recognize that God is sovereign
Text:Proverbs 19:21 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Our Calling

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Psalm 90:1-4 (after the law of God)

Psalm 47

Psalm 33:1-3

Hymn 54

Scripture reading: Acts 22:30-23:35

Text: Proverbs 19:21

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

Beloved congregation of Christ,

It’s normal at the beginning of a new year to have all sorts of plans.  There’s a saying that if you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.  There’s definitely truth in that.

But that has to be balanced with another saying:  “Man proposes, but God disposes.”  Now those words don’t come straight from the Bible.  They were originally written by a medieval Dutch theologian by the name of Thomas a Kempis.  He wrote, “Man proposes, but God disposes” in his famous book The Imitation of Christ.  While the words don’t come from the Bible, they certainly express a biblical truth.  Man proposes – he comes up with all kinds of plans.  But God disposes – God brings to pass whatever he’s determined, despite what man has planned.

That idea is found in our text for this New Year’s Day service as well.  Here God’s Word reminds us of the wisdom we need as we look to the 364 days in front of us.  I preach to you God’s Word:  To be wise in the new year, plan, but always recognize that God is sovereign.

We’ll consider:

  1. The limits of human planning
  2. The infinite power, goodness, and wisdom of divine planning

Our text says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man…”  The book of Proverbs is full of simple observations like this one.  This is the way things are.  Look around you, look at your own life, and you know it’s true.  Everyone has many plans. 

There’s something inevitable about human beings making plans.  It stems from our creation.  Human beings were and are created in the image of God.  God makes plans.  Since we’re his image, we make plans too.  This distinguishes us from other creatures.  You might want to stop me here with what it says about the ant in Proverbs 6, “Go to the ant, O sluggard…”  Go to the ant and see how it obtains food while it can, in summer, preparing for winter.  You might say there’s planning in that – but it’s not thoughtful, conscientious planning.  Ants do that by instinct.  Only human beings created in the image of God use their reason to craft plans for the future.

So there’s something inevitable about planning, but Scripture still speaks to us about the need to plan.  Before the fall into sin, God spoke to Adam and Eve and gave them the command to have dominion over the other creatures.  That takes planning.  Later in the Old Testament, the Israelites had to plan and organize their lives around the feasts God had ordained.  They had to make their plans around the Sabbath too.  If there was work that had to be done by the end of the week, they had to have it done by Friday.  That takes intentional planning.  In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul made plans to visit cities and churches throughout the Mediterranean region.  He had to, if he was going to fulfill the Great Commission that Christ had given to his church.  So Christians need to plan.

When we say that, then we also need to recognize that the Bible speaks about different kinds of plans.  For example, Psalm 36 speaks about the wicked person who plans to sin while he’s lying on his bed.  He has plans to commit evil.  So there are evil plans and there are good plans.  There are plans that honour God and those that don’t.

Let me ask you:  what kind of plans do you have for the new year?  Do your plans honour God?  One of the best plans you can make for this new year is to plan for more spiritual growth.  Are you planning for that?  Loved ones, don’t forget to plan to become a more faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, to be a more fruitful and godly Christian.  To do that, plan to make regular use of the means of grace.  The means of grace are the way God works to feed and nourish his church as we live in this present age.  The means of grace are the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments.  Through both God brings the gospel to us, the gospel which transforms our hearts and lives.  Planning for spiritual growth is a good plan, one honouring to God.  One key way to plan for spiritual growth is to plan to make it your habit to be here every Sunday, every service. 

So planning is inevitable, planning is necessary, and our planning is to be God-honouring.  Having said all that, we also have to recognize the limitations that come with human planning.  These are limitations that have to do with who we are as creatures beset with sin. 

Our text says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man…”  Let’s note that word ‘many.’  We can devise many plans and some of them might be contradictory or inconsistent.  Let me give a couple of examples.  I just mentioned planning for spiritual growth in the new year.  Let’s say you hear that and you agree, “Yes, I should plan for spiritual growth so I can honour God more with a thankful life.”  But then you’re in a relationship where you’re not yet married, but you’re acting as though you were.  You’re doing things only married people should do and you plan to continue doing that.  That’s contradictory and inconsistent.  Or you hear about planning for spiritual growth by planning to be in church regularly, but then there’s a work opportunity this year that will require you to miss church regularly.  You could say ‘no’ to this work opportunity, it might mean less income, but you could survive.  But you’ve chosen to pursue that work opportunity because you want more income for whatever reason.  That’s contradictory and inconsistent.  It happens because we’re sinful.  Even as Christians, we have the remnants of an old nature that sometimes clouds our thinking.  It’s one of the limits of human planning. 

Other limits have to do with our being creatures.  Since we’re creatures, we’re limited in our foresight of whether our plans are realistic.  I once had a plan to be a fighter pilot in the Canadian air force.  It seemed like a realistic plan, but I couldn’t foresee that I wouldn’t pass the medical.  I was near-sighted in my right eye and didn’t realize it.  It actually was an unrealistic plan, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Similarly, we’re limited in our ability to carry out our plans.  This too is because we’re only creatures.  You might have a good God-honouring plan, but you might not be able to carry it out because of who you are as a weak creature.  As an example, you might plan to read through the Bible in the next year.  That’s a good plan, it honours God.  If you can read at a Grade 10 level, you should be able to do it.  Let’s say you do it for a week, but then you’re in a horrible car accident and receive a traumatic brain injury that affects your ability to read, or comprehend, or focus.  There goes your plan.  You’re not an invincible being, you’re a weak human creature and you’re frail and your plans face these limitations.

Part of godly wisdom is having the Holy Spirit open your eyes to these realities.  If you want to be wise in the biblical sense, you need to acknowledge the truth about who we are as human beings.  We’re created in the image of God, but we are not God.  We’re able to plan, but we have limits attached to our planning.  Really what we’re talking about here is humility.  An essential part of wisdom is to be humble – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” says Psalm 111.  Fearing God means having an appropriate humility and reverential awe before his great majesty.  Fearing God, we recognize the infinitely superior nature of divine planning.

In our reading from Acts 23, we see sinful and limited human planning at work.  Paul had been arrested because the Jewish religious leaders thought he’d brought a Gentile into the temple and defiled it.  They’d jumped to a conclusion.  But it got Paul arrested.  While he was in Roman custody, the Jews made a plan to kill him.  Well, man proposes, but God disposes.  Their plan came to nothing, because Paul’s nephew overheard the plot and informed the Roman tribune.  God had a plan.  Christ told Paul, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  That was the divine plan.  It surely came to pass.  There was no stopping it. 

Our text says, “but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”  Wisdom means recognizing this vital truth.  As we start off another year and make our plans, we have to realize that God is sovereign.  That means he is at the helm, not us. 

What is it about divine planning that makes it so different from human planning?  For one thing, it involves God’s infinite power.  God is the Almighty, limitless in his ability to do what he pleases.  If he plans for something to happen, it’s going to happen.  No one can stop it.  Our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 19 that “with God all things are possible.”  He can do anything consistent with his nature. 

God’s plans are also infinitely good.  The Bible contains many letters.  One of the most interesting is found in Daniel 4.  It’s a letter written by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  He tells of how God humbled him and made him eat grass like an ox.  After he gains his reason back, he praises God.  One of the things he says is, “…none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”  In other words, no one can legitimately question the moral quality of what God does.  Similarly, no one can legitimately question the goodness of God’s plans.  Because he is good, he does good.  That includes making perfectly good plans, infinitely good plans.

Closely related to the goodness of God’s plans is their infinite wisdom.  In the Bible, wisdom involves knowing how best to achieve a purpose or goal.  It involves knowing the most appropriate way to accomplish what you’ve got planned.  God has that wisdom infinitely.  When he makes a plan, he knows the best way to carry it out.  That best way culminates in maximum glory for him and maximum ultimate blessing for his people.

Up till now, I’ve been speaking about God’s plans in the plural.  However, if you look closely at our text, it actually says “the purpose of the LORD.”  That can also be translated as “the counsel of the LORD.”  It’s referring to God’s plan.  But it’s singular.  God has a single, cohesive plan or counsel for how things unfold.  So unlike us where we can have contradictions or inconsistencies in our plans, in God’s single unified counsel there are no contradictions, no inconsistencies.  Everything he has in his plan all fits together beautifully and perfectly.  Just like God is one, his counsel is one. 

Included in that is our redemption.  In God’s counsel, before the foundation of the world there was a good and wise plan to save us from our sins and what they deserve.  In God’s counsel, there was an agreement between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit about how to carry out that plan.  It would involve the election of the Father, the sending of the Son to suffer and die on the cross, and the application of the Son’s work to the elect by the Holy Spirit.

That part of God’s counsel came to pass in the fullness of time.  It was executed perfectly with the coming of Christ, as he lived a perfect life in our place and took our place on the cross.  It’s been and is being executed perfectly as the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of those whom the Father has chosen.  When this age is finished, God’s counsel contains one more component that will be perfectly executed:  Christ’s return with the clouds of heaven.  It’s all in God’s one plan and it all happens as he determines.  It’s all for his glory and for our blessing.

God’s purpose or counsel has the cross at the center.  This is really important to realize.  Nowhere is God’s wisdom seen more perfectly than at the cross.  Loved ones, you should think often of what Peter said in Acts 2:23.  He was preaching on Pentecost to the Jews and he said, “…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  The Jewish religious leaders had their wicked plans to murder Jesus.  He was the only truly innocent man who has ever walked on this earth.  Yet they wanted him dead.  God allowed their plans to come to reality.  But at the same time, it was part of his plan for our salvation.  The cross didn’t take God by surprise.  He ordained it in his counsel.  It was necessary for us to be saved.  At the cross, we see how God can take great evil and in his wisdom he can turn it to the greatest good. 

This is important to realize for two reasons.  First, this was how God made a way for your sins to be forgiven, including all your sins connected with planning.  Look to Christ on the cross, rest and trust in him.  He paid for all the times you planned evil.  He’s even paid for the times in the future when you’ll plan evil again.  He paid for every time in your life when you’ve had contradictory or inconsistent plans.  Every time that you’ve not taken God into account in your plans – it’s covered and paid for by the blood Jesus shed on the cross.  So loved ones, look to him and be encouraged to know that you have forgiveness through Christ.  In his counsel, God took the evil of the cross and turned it to the greatest good for you and for all who place their trust in Christ. 

The second reason to focus on the cross has to do with our plans and how they unfold in the future.  We can have good, wise, realistic plans and God may upend them.  He may have a different plan than ours.  When we look at his plan and how it’s unfolding, we may be tempted to doubt that it is in fact a good and wise plan.  We might be tempted to question God’s goodness and wisdom.  Maybe that happened to you in the year gone by, maybe it’ll happen in this next year.  When it happens, remember the cross.  I’m a sinful human being.  And so are you.  We don’t deserve anything good.  Any good we do receive is grace.  But now focus on the cross.  Look at the man hanging there.  He wasn’t a sinful human being.  Jesus was perfect. Christ deserved everything to be good in his life.  But at the cross it’s anything but.  He was there in love taking your punishment, taking the wrath of God you deserve.  It was horrible, the most suffering anyone has ever experienced on earth.  But it was for your good.  It was how God in his love brought his grace and forgiveness to you.  If God could do that with the cross, you can trust him in the new year with whatever plans he has for you.  You might not be able to see how those plans are good and wise, but you can look back and see the cross.  Loved ones, that’s how you learn to trust God, to trust his good and wise plan for you.  It’s through the cross.

Wise planning always takes God into account.  We’re called to plan, we’re going to plan, the question is whether we will honour God in our planning.  When we make our plans, also plans for the next 364 days, we ought to prayerfully lay them before God.  Ask him to bless those plans.  And as the book of James teaches in chapter 4, we should then say, “If it be your will…”  We should also say, “If it isn’t your will, I’ll accept that in humility, trusting that your will is always superior to mine.”  Whatever changes God makes to your plans will always be for the better.  If God completely discards your plan, it will always be for the better. 

So, loved ones, go ahead and have your plans for this year.  But be wise and recognize that God is God, you’re not.  Realize again that he’s on the throne and it’s a good thing he is.  Because only God is infinitely powerful, good, and wise.  Trust your sovereign God and Father.  Trust his love in Christ.  AMEN.


O Sovereign God,

We worship you because you are infinitely powerful, the one Almighty God.  Whatever plan you have, you will fulfill and you have fulfilled.  No one can stand in your way.  We worship you because you are infinitely good and wise.  The one place you’ve shown that to us most powerfully is at the cross.  Thank you that you took sinful human plans and you turned them for the greatest good, for our salvation.  Thank you for your great love in doing that.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to now trust you that your plan is always better than ours.  Please help us to submit to your counsel, to accept what you choose to do with humility, with joy, with love for you.  Father, we also look to Christ for forgiveness for every time we’ve made foolish and wicked plans.  Please wash away our sinful and inconsistent plans with the blood of Christ that was shed for us.  We ask for the help of your Holy Spirit in hating these sins and turning from them.  Help us always to honour you with planning that takes you into account.   

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

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