Summary: God's purposes prevail even when our plans don't.
Expect the Unexpected
Rev. Brian Bill
When the unexpected happens, we’re prone to either become exasperated or to make excuses. Here are some actual unedited excuses received by a public school.
“My son is under the doctor’s care and should not take P.E. Please execute him.”
“Mary could not come to school today because she was bothered by very close veins.”
“Please excuse Ray Friday. He has loose vowels.”
“Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.”
“Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.”
While quite different from these parent’s excuses, our text in Romans 15:22-29 is also an absence excuse as Paul answers the question, “Why haven’t you visited Rome yet?” He may have felt like the Roman Church wanted to give him an unexcused absence. Instead of making up some excuses, Paul believes it’s normal to expect the unexpected.
In one sense, this section of Scripture may not seem relevant to us because it appears to be just a record of Paul’s travel itinerary from 2,000 years ago. But I want to suggest that we can learn a lot about how God guides His people from how he led Paul. My guess is that some of us need help in making important decisions related to a relationship, a job change, a move, where to go to college, whether to purchase a home or a car or some cheese…the list is really endless.
This passage, while not exhaustive, will give us some insight into these matters. But more than that, these verses have given me great comfort in learning some principles to help me deal with the unexpected. After all, life is filled with the unplanned, whether it’s a health situation, a relational rupture, a parenting quandary, or a technological temper tantrum (I had one of those this week).
Last week we learned that when we get the gospel we will go with the gospel. Today we’ll see that God’s purposes prevail even when our plans don’t. Let’s look at six certainties that will help us prepare for the unexpected.
1. Our plans are often hindered. We see this in verse 22: “This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.” This verse is really tied to what we learned last week. The reason Paul has been delayed is because as a pioneering church planter, verse 20 says that he was focused on preaching the gospel “where Christ was not known.” Earlier in Romans 1:11-13 Paul had made his plans pretty clear: “I long to see you…I planned many times to come to you…”
The word “hindered” means to cut in, to cut off, or to interrupt. Every way he turned his path to Rome was cut off. While it’s sometimes difficult to know in a specific situation why our plans are hindered, I can think of some possibilities.
• The Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-8)
• Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18)
• Other people (Galatians 5:7)
• My own lack of faith
• Shrapnel from living in a fallen world
• Godly priorities
In this instance, it was godly priorities that kept Paul from coming to Rome. Friends, let’s make plans but then let’s expect them to get messed up. If we expect the unexpected we’ll handle life much better. Beth and I were talking about this on Thursday morning. When I left for the office she said, “Hope things go well today…” And then she caught herself and added, “…but they won’t.” Let’s follow the wisdom found in James 4:15: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
2. Our place of ministry will sometimes change. After devoting a lot of attention to connecting the disconnected to Christ, Paul sensed that he had completed the task that he was given to do. That doesn’t mean that everyone in that region had heard the gospel but he had established reproducing churches and had equipped them to finish the task. Our mission statement of “connecting” and “equipping” follows this ministry model: “PBC exists to connect people to Jesus and equip them to be growing and faithful followers.”
Look at the first part of verse 23: “But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions…” Our family has experienced that sense of completion at different points in our ministry as I moved from being on staff at Moody Bible Institute in the mid-80s to an internship in a church to becoming a pastor in that church, to moving to another pastorate in Rockford in the early 90s and from there to Mexico City, Mexico and from there to life in Livingston County. We sense that there is still a place for us to “work in these regions” but when God makes it clear that we’re finished here, we’ll move to our next ministry assignment.