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Three Lessons About God's Plan for Our Lives

Three Lessons About God’s Plan for Our Lives

On a recent mission trip to Malawi, Africa, I learned three lessons about God’s plan for our lives. Things didn’t go how I expected at times, but God’s agenda was better than mine. I hope these lessons encourage you when God’s plan seems different than yours.

When we took the trip to Malawi, there were two teams. I was on the teaching team that spoke at the Sola Scriptura Bible College the first week and the pastor’s conference the second week. One particular day began very frustratingly. I am not one to blame everything on spiritual warfare or see the devil or a demon behind everything bad that happens. Sometimes, things happen simply because we live in a fallen world. But one morning, it seemed like we had difficulty getting to the Bible college on time. I joked with the teaching team that maybe we had a few Billy Grahams in the Bible college class that the devil didn’t want us to reach. First, we got pulled over:

Then we got pulled over again:

Then we got a flat tire:

We broke down on the side of the road and had to wait for someone from the nursery to bring us tools to change the tire. Because we went to the Bible college each day from early morning until late evening, I hadn’t seen much of Malawi, so I decided to walk around. There were some buildings nearby, and I went to check them out.

God’s Plan for Our Lives Is Better than Ours

It turned out to be a school, but all the classes were canceled because it was a holiday. I was walking past the classrooms, expecting them to be empty, but one teacher, Mr. Moya, who you will meet in a moment, decided to have a class that day. I have no idea why he wanted to have class on a holiday, and I have no idea how he got his students to come to class on a holiday, but that’s what happened.

When I walked past his classroom, the students were excited because they saw a white person. I kept walking because I didn’t want to interrupt his class, but then I decided to walk back and see what would happen. The teacher, Mr. Moya, seemed like a serious man who wasn’t easy to read. So, I couldn’t tell how he felt about me at first, but I did get him to smile, which made me happy:

I wanted to stay longer with the class, but I didn’t know if they had the tire changed, and I didn’t want them to wait for me. So, I returned to the truck, but they still didn’t have the tools. So I asked Eddie if he wanted to return to the classroom with me, and he was glad to do so:

Now, there’s more to the story, but I can only show you so many videos, so let me briefly tell you what happened. Eddie told the class we would return the next day and bring them gospel tracts. When we returned the next day, Andrew and Andrey came with us because they wanted to spend one day at the Bible college. The school was in session, so we had to check in at the principal’s office. When we went to the principal’s office, she seemed glad that we were there and told us we could preach the gospel to other classrooms:

I couldn’t help thinking that day about how much better God’s plan for our lives is than ours. God orchestrated many things for us. For example, if we didn’t have the flat tire:

  • I wouldn’t have visited the school.
  • Eddie wouldn’t have shared the gospel with the class
  • We wouldn’t have returned the following day to share the gospel again
  • I wouldn’t have had the idea to visit another school the following week because it went so well the first time. I’ll share more about this in a moment.
  • And, of course, I have no idea why one teacher happened to be having class on a holiday.

God’s plan for our lives was much better than ours!

God’s Plan Often Involves Wondering What’s Next

When Eddie and I returned to the school, I liked how he said, “If the Lord provides an opportunity, let’s do it.” This summarizes what ministry often feels like: we don’t know what will happen next. We just step out in faith and hope God provides an opportunity. It reminds me of Jonathan attacking the Philistines with his armor bearer. Listen to what he said:

1 Samuel 14:6 Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. IT MAY BE THAT THE LORD WILL WORK FOR US, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”

This is a great example of what we say in ministry: maybe the Lord will work for us. It also made me think of the situation with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch:

Acts 8:26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Heading to a desert probably wasn’t attractive, but Philip was willing to do it. He was given step one, but he didn’t know step two. He didn’t know what he was doing or what he was looking for. This is what it means to walk by faith. If we could see the second step, we wouldn’t need faith because faith is what we don’t see:

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

After taking the first step, Philip gets to the second step:

Acts 8:29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

You probably know the rest of the account. Philip preached the gospel to the Ethiopians so he could take it back to Ethiopia. I feel like this is how ministry often goes. We don’t know what will happen. We move in a certain direction, and then, hopefully, things open up so we can tell whether to keep going in that direction.

Our Tuesday Night Group

A simple example from our lives recently is our Tuesday night group. We said we would do it for a few weeks to see how it would go, but when people kept coming each week, including two or three new people most weeks, we decided to keep it going.

Stepping Out in Faith Isn’t License to Be Foolish

But stepping out in faith isn’t a license to be foolish. We should combine faith and wisdom. I think it was unwise for me to go to a place with some drunk guys playing pool:

So here’s what happened: he did not want to take a photo with me. He wanted me to take a photo of him. After taking the photo, he told me I had to pay him money. I would have given him money to avoid a problem, but I didn’t have any money. Then the guy sitting on the bench and the other guy in the wife beater walked up and told me to give them money.

Fortunately, I was walking around with a nice man serving as my guide, and he grabbed me and yanked me out of there. Here’s his explanation of what happened:

So here’s my point: step out in faith, but be wise. Share the gospel, but only go in pool halls with drunk people if you’re super convinced God wants you to do that.

Sharing the Gospel with Another School

The following week, there was a day that I didn’t have to go to the pastor’s conference. Because sharing at the school before went well, we decided to visit another school. So Johnny, Elsie, and I went out to see if the Lord would work on our behalf. Turns out He would:

The administration was thrilled to have us. I thought the principal would let us visit one or two classrooms. But every time we walked out of the classroom, she kept bringing us to the next classroom until we visited every single one.

Here’s my son, Johnny, sharing the gospel with a class, which made Katie and me proud:

Another reason I said God’s plan for our lives is better than ours is that the teaching team was only supposed to minister to two groups: about fifty students at the Bible college and fifty pastors at the pastor’s conference. We ministered to those two groups, but Mark, Andy and Lisa’s pastor, observed that we also shared the gospel with over 1,000 students.

The wonderful thing about this is it wasn’t our plan to share the gospel with any students, let alone 1,000. But it seemed like God’s plan for our lives because he opened the door for us and gave us the favor to do so.

God’s Plan Requires Staying Married

Marriage was on my mind in Africa for many reasons.

  1. I had to be away from my wife for two and a half weeks, which made me thankful that I rarely have to be away from her.
  2. I was invited to preach at a church on Sunday. I preached on marriage and then had a marriage Q&A at the end of the sermon.
  3. I taught at the pastor’s conference, and Andy asked me to teach about marriage because marriages are hurting in Malawi. At the end of those messages, I received many marriage questions.

Nothing showed the weakness of marriages more than these questions. Here are three examples:

First, a pastor asked, “Who owns the family? I heard it’s the man.” I said Christ owns the family because he redeemed us.

Second, another pastor said, “I grab my wife and tell her to have sex with me, but she won’t do it. What should I do?”

Third, not to give the impression women aren’t also to blame, when I was preaching at the Pentecostal church, a man raised his hand and said, “What do you do when a woman beats her husband?” When the translator asked me the question, I thought he was joking. But he didn’t laugh, and nobody else did either.
I said, “Do women beat men in Africa?”
He said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Is the man here who is beaten by his wife?”
He said, “Yes,” and pointed him out.
I asked the man, “Is your wife here?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Where is she?”
He pointed her out. She was sitting two rows in front of him. I asked her, “Do you beat your husband?”

She came up after the service and said she doesn’t beat her husband, but it’s common in the culture.

Marriages are among the indicators of a culture’s relationship with Christ. Places that have the worst marriages, such as the Middle East, treat women worse than animals, and they are also the furthest from Christ. Strong Christian cultures produce strong marriages because Christ wants us to treat our spouse well, so if we want to obey Christ, we will do that.

Marriage also has much to do with Christ because it represents the gospel. In the New Testament, marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, with Christ as the groom and the church as the bride. In the Old Testament, God was the groom, and Israel was the bride.

At the heart of the Gospel is forgiveness. In the New Testament, Christ forgave his bride, the church, for our sins and unfaithfulness. In the Old Testament, God forgave Israel for their sins and unfaithfulness. Few things look as much like Christ or reveal the Gospel better than forgiveness, especially in marriage, where it can be the most personal and painful.

Dave and Naida’s Gomes’s Testimony

Katie and I have some dear friends, Dave and Naida, who mentored us in California and visited us when we moved to Washington. They shared their marriage testimony and have permitted me to share it again. Much of it revolves around Naida’s unfaithfulness to Dave early in their marriage before they were Christians.

Naida was unfaithful to Dave, even living with other men for stretches of time. Days passed when Dave didn’t know where Naida was or how she was doing. Naida returned home after living with another man, hoping to have pushed Dave far enough that he would divorce her. But Naida didn’t know that Dave became a Christian while she was gone. When she walked in, he said, “I’m glad you’re home because I was so worried about you.” Dave won Naida back, and she came to Christ after seeing the gospel through Dave.

Andy and Lisa Langdon’s Testimony

The final reason marriage was on my heart in Africa is that one day, I had the privilege of hearing Andy and Lisa’s testimony, which is similar to Dave and Naida’s. This was one of the other things I wanted to ensure I shared when I returned. Andy and Lisa graciously offered to share their testimony. NOTE: They shared during the sermon, and this link to the video is set to the moment they began sharing.

Dave and Naida are some of the godliest people I know. Over the years, they have faithfully served Christ and invested in countless people, such as Katie and me. But if they had divorced, it would be tragic to think about everything that God would not have been able to do through their marriage. God’s plan required them to stay married.

Similarly, when I was in Africa, I thought about all the things God would not have been able to do through Andy and Lisa’s marriage if they divorced:

  • the mission trip I was on with my son wouldn’t have happened
  • the week teaching students at the Bible college wouldn’t have happened
  • the pastor’s conference wouldn’t have happened
  • the evangelism at the schools wouldn’t have happened

And this is just the ministry while we were there. We can go back further and:

  • they wouldn’t have started the nursery together
  • many African adoptions wouldn’t have happened

God’s plan for their lives required staying married. So, here are three reasons to stay married:

  1. Stay married because God commands it. If for no other reason, this should be enough.
  2. Stay married because God can bring an incredible amount of good, even from relationships that look broken to us.
  3. Stay married to reveal the gospel.

Because marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, few things look as much like the gospel as a husband and wife loving and forgiving each other as Jesus did with us:

Romans 5:8 God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This describes the unconditional nature of God’s agape in that He loved us when we rebelled against Him and forgave us when we repented.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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