Planning for God and Knowing His Will


Sermon Text: Romans 15:22-33
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”

Main Points:
I. Paul’s plan and prayer
II. Sure things and uncertain things
III. Planning for God and knowing His will

In today’s text passage, Paul talks about his trip plans and arrangements. He prays for his trip, and asks others to pray for his trip to be successful. But, let me ask this question – what does this have to do with us? What is the point of hearing Paul’s itinerary and future plan to visit places and do some things? We know that the historicity or antiquity of this record isn’t the point. Then, what is it that we should hear from this trip plan of a person who lived 2,000 years ago?

Our conviction is that this Holy Book contains nothing that is irrelevant to our salvation, but every word is carefully chosen, thus, recorded for our life and true faith in the Lord Jesus. If anyone finds any part of this Book vague or unintelligible, that’s due to individual’s spiritual sensitivity rather than inappropriateness of the word. This means that Paul’s plan and intended itinerary as well as his desire to do certain things at certain places are necessary information for our faith and life.

Then, what is it that we should hear and learn from it? The message is ‘planning for God and knowing His will’ for us. More specifically, the message for us to hear is about, first of all, what we should know when we plan things in our life for God and, secondly, how we recognise God’s will for us.

So, let us follow Paul’s plan and prayers, and hear the message for us.

Paul’s itinerary begins from Corinth which was an important Roman city in the southern part of the Greek peninsular. His plan is to go to Rome and meet Christians at Rome. He has longed to visit them but been unable to do it because of his busy schedule on the Greek peninsular. But now, he’s free as he has completed his works there.

But before coming to see the Roman Christians, he has one task to accomplish and that is to go to Jerusalem first and bring the material contribution entrusted to him for delivery by the churches in the areas called Macedonia and Achaia to Christians in Jerusalem. They need an urgent relief for famine. Once he finishes this task and brings the assistance to Jerusalem, he will come and visit the church at Rome.

But that isn’t the end of his travel plan; he wants to reach Spain to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ. Visiting Rome is to greet every Christian there and share fellowship and encourage them with the grace and love of the Lord Jesus. He also seeks a furlough in the midst of Christians at Rome. He plans to have a time of rest and recuperation, a time of temporary taking off of his heavy duty in mission. Then, when he is ready mentally and physically, he is going to go to Spain and, at that time, bringing the good news of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ.

So he shares his prayer points and asks those Christians at Rome to pray together for him and his plans. He says in v. 30, “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.”

In short, it seems a good plan and a thorough plan. I think Paul is an expert in travelling and organising his paths. As I love him with hundreds of obvious reasons, I admire him in this regard – he plans well.

Miyun often tells me that I’m obsessed with planning. Whenever we go away, I plan thoroughly – almost to a point of too much planning. Everything has to be clear in my mind as well as on a paper. I take this route for certain hours; I should take a break at a certain place for a fairly specific time. Accommodations and places to eat as well as for sightseeing or simple visit have to be preplanned. It might sound complicated and even excessive, but I believe every trip should be planned well because of limitations with time and finance. I believe many of you do the same. Maybe one day, I might lay down such a habit and simply go and enjoy. But still, I’d consider planning well is a good thing.

If I plan well for my trip, if you do the same for planning of your short trips, how much more should we plan well for our life as our faithful service to the Lord? If it’s our life in the Lord that we consider, we must plan well and thoroughly. It’s not planning for a time off from our works or daily routines, but planning our service to God over the time granted to us. The Apostle Paul plans well and carefully because he serves God to glorify the Lord Jesus through preaching the gospel to all people he will face. In this regard, his thorough plan that reflects his zealous plan for Jesus speaks to us loudly and clearly that we should also plan well for Jesus and His gospel and church.

Having said, I find in Paul’s plan something strange, that is, he is sure about some things, but about some other things he is not sure, he is uncertain. I said it strange because Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ and writing this letter to the Church, being inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is conveying a divine message to the Church of the Lord. Then, how come he mentions things that he isn’t sure about? To note such is strange.

Let’s consider this and see what he is sure of, first of all. In v. 23, he is certain that there’s no more work is left in the region of Macedonia and Achaia, and he is ready to visit those at Rome. In v. 25, he is 100% sure that he is going to Jerusalem. Then, he affirms in v. 29 that when he visits Rome, he’ll unquestionably bring the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

But that’s about it – that’s all he is sure of. His plan after that is – as he says in v. 24 – uncertain and he ‘hopes’ to go to Spain. His plan to have a furlough at Rome with fellow believers there is a part of his ‘hope’ and their support for Paul’s trip to next destination – that is, Spain – is also a part of that ‘hope.’ He isn’t 100% positive – I’m sure it would be over 80 or 90%, but not a concrete fact – so he ‘hopes.’

Moreover, the same is for his task of delivering the financial support to the believers in Jerusalem – he isn’t sure whether his service for Jerusalem would be, as we read in v. 31, acceptable to the saints there. Nor is his safety from the unbelievers in Judea. So, he seeks all Roman believers to pray together with him for these uncertain matters.

He definitely knows that his travel plan to Jerusalem is divinely arranged. In Acts 20:22, we read Paul’s own words on this plan, “behold, I am going to Jerusalem constrained by the Spirit.” Then, he tells us further in that verse, saying, “not knowing what will happen to me there.

In fact, this is what we almost always experience since our conversion. Since we confessed our faith in the Lord Jesus, since we became God’s children through faith, we plan and carry out our plans not really knowing what will meet us in the process. We ought to plan well and carefully for God; we must pray and seek to serve the Lord with all our heart and mind and strength. Yet, we don’t have a full picture of what we’d face. Of some things we are certain, but of many others we’re not so sure. Yet we should plan and plan well for God.

This leads us to our last point for us to hear and consider today, that is, what our plan for God should be and what to know in our planning.

First of all, we plan for God to serve Him to His glory and honour. That should be the sole and only purpose of our plan. In Paul’s case, he plans to visit Jerusalem and strengthen Christ’s church there. Then, visit Rome before going to Spain. All his plan is to bring glory to God’s name and honour Christ through continuing the work the Lord has entrusted to him. Even his plan to have a rest at Rome is not for himself but for his fellow members of God’s household at Rome. Then, being strengthened by mutual fellowship and having their support, he plans to journey into Spain.

What he plans is, in fact, full of difficulties and perils. The distance he would have to travel, the way and modes of travel, that is, by sea or on land, probably walking or riding carriages or on the back of a donkey or horse. The trip could be dangerous at every corner in addition to the danger he expected to face in maybe Judea or Jerusalem.

Paul prays for these but his plan will never be altered or withdrawn by any risks – he is absolutely determined to do his plan. The main and only goal of his plan is to carry out God’s commands and what He would be pleased. So should be our plan. You and I ought to aim in our life at accomplishing the very commands of God – no matter what it might cost us. In other words, any difficulty or peril of work expected should not affect the goal of our plan for God. Instead, we should have a firm conviction that God will guide us in His providence when we plan and serve Him seeking only His glory in Christ’s name. This principle should be the only principle that applies to our plan and search for jobs, marriage, relationships, travels and all.

This is the pattern we find from the people of faith in the Bible. We have a multitude of examples in the Bible. Consider Abraham. He departed his hometown, not knowing to where he was heading. Yet his plan was to glorify God through his obedience. David was not different; his heart was fixed on God’s promise. So he disregarded all troubles he experienced in the process. He only honoured the voice of God and that was his plan. Yet, the apex of our examples is Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, all others in the Bible were there to point out the coming Messiah who would save all His people. Jesus had no place to lay His head while He was carrying out His earthly ministry. But no trouble caused Him to deviate from His plan. His eyes were always on Calvary and His atoning death for us, His beloved. And His heart was always on the day of His resurrection by which all His dear ones like us would be freed from the dominion of sin and death, and His kingdom be inaugurated in our midst!

The story of Jesus recorded in Mt. 8 is an example for us to see how firm Jesus’ plan was. Being so tired, having no place to lay His head, He was asleep in the stern of a boat in the middle of a great storm. At last, the storm-stricken disciples woke Him up, asking for help. Then, the Lord said, as Mt. 8:26 testifies, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” He means, ‘Why are you focusing on this storm rather than what you see in Me and the message I’ve brought to you?’ He’s telling you and me a message like this, ‘Why are you afraid of winds and waves that shake you? I have a plan for you; I have given you a plan for Me; and I’ll never let you fall or blow away or sink – never! – and I hold you in My right hand!’ Hear what the psalmist says in Ps. 37:23-24 in this regard, “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way; though he falls, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” So should be our plan for God, aiming at His glory and the honour of the Saviour’s name! And once we have a plan for the Lord, we should not fret nor doubt but do it with joy to the glory of God.

But, not always is our plan what God wants from us. Sometimes our plan isn’t God’s will for us. Knowing this is important. Consider Paul’s case we have here in Rom. 15. He plans to go to Spain via Rome. But that won’t happen; Paul will not go there but Rome is the last place for him in his life. Some people argue that Paul might’ve reached Spain, but that’s a speculation with no biblical warrant or proof. We believe what the Bible opens to us and stop where the Bible stops. Moreover, Paul will not visit his fellow believers at Rome as a freeman; instead, he was on chains as a prisoner of the Roman emperor. Not all we plan please God and God stops such a plan.

This is not sad thing at all for us who believe. That’s because any failed plan of ours in fact leads us to realise and know God’s will for us. The Apostle Paul talked about visiting Spain, but when this plan is failed, he never mentions it again. But his focus is shifted to speaking to governors and kings bearing witness to Jesus the true and eternal King. Likewise, you seek to do things for God but occasionally experience failure and the door for what you’ve planned closes. Then, you feel confused and sad, if not discouraged or disheartened. But when God’s timing reveals to your eyes and heart that your failed plan wasn’t God’s will for you, you become astonished by God’s grace expressed in that failure, and you’re grateful to His favour upon you, deeply rejoicing with His good will for you. Hear what the Apostle Paul confesses in Phil. 1:6, having experienced all things in his life, including his failed plans, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

We plan things in our life, and we seek to do the things we plan for God. In our plan, we ought to be careful and see whether our plan is in line with God’s word. In carrying them out, we ought to be diligent and faithful, constantly trusting the Lord. But when things go other way, not according to the way you planned, you must not be discouraged nor confused, but remain calm in your heart and seek the Lord’s wisdom to know your Heavenly Father’s will for you which is always good and perfect. Be patient with Him, never doubting His faithfulness, till He finally reveals it to your eyes. Meanwhile, listen to the word Isaiah still speaks to us in the Spirit, “they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Let us know God and plan our life for Him. As we plan for Him, let us know more of His will for us. In this, the word of God spoken by the wise man in Prov. 16:9 will be made clearer to us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” ***

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