Jane’s plans to become a speech therapist ended when an internship revealed the job was too emotionally challenging for her. Then she was given the opportunity to write for a magazine. She’d never seen herself as a writer, but years later she found herself advocating for needy families through her writing. “Looking back, I can see why God changed my plans,” she says. “He had a bigger plan for me.”
The Bible has many stories of disrupted plans. On his second missionary journey, Paul had sought to bring the gospel into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus stopped him (Acts 16:6–7). This must have seemed mystifying: Why was Jesus disrupting plans that were in line with a God-given mission? The answer came in a dream one night: Macedonia needed him even more. There, Paul would plant the first church in Europe. No wonder Solomon observed, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the
It’s sensible to make plans. A well-known adage goes, “Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” But God may disrupt our plans with His own. Our challenge is to listen and obey, knowing we can trust God. If we submit to His will, we’ll find ourselves fitting into His purpose for our lives.
As we continue to make plans, we can add a new twist: Plan to listen. Listen to God’s plan.
When public debate erupted over a controversial Singapore law, it divided Christians with differing views. Some called others “narrow-minded” or accused them of compromising their faith.
Controversies can cause sharp divisions among God’s family, bringing much hurt and discouraging people. I’ve been made to feel small over personal convictions on how I apply the Bible’s teachings to my life. And I’m sure I’ve been equally guilty of criticizing others I disagree with.
I wonder if the problem lies not in what or even how we express our views, but in the attitudes of our hearts when we do so. Are we just disagreeing with views or seeking to tear down the people behind them?
Yet there are times when we need to address false teaching or explain our stand. Ephesians 4:2–6 reminds us to do so with humility, gentleness, patience, and love. And, above all else, to make every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3).
Some controversies will remain unresolved. God’s Word, however, reminds us that our goal should always be to build up people’s faith, not tear them down (2 Timothy 2:25). Are we putting others down to win an argument? Or are we allowing God to help us understand His truths in His time and His way, remembering that we share one faith in one Lord (Ephesians 4:4–6)?
When Denise began dating her boyfriend, she attempted to maintain a slim figure and dress stylishly, believing she would be more attractive to him in that way. After all, it was what all the women’s magazines advised. It was only much later that she discovered what he really thought: “I liked you just as much when you were heavier and didn’t worry about what you wore.”
Denise realized then how subjective “beauty” was. Our view of beauty is so easily influenced by others, and often focused on the external; forgetting the value of inner beauty. But God sees us in only one way—as His beautiful, beloved children. I’d like to think that when God created the world, He left the best for last—us! Everything He created was good, but we’re extra special because we’re made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
God considers us beautiful! No wonder the psalmist was filled with awe as he compared the greatness of nature with humans. “What is mankind,” he asked, “that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:4). Yet God chose to give mortals a glory and honor that nothing else had (v. 5).
This truth gives us an assurance and reason to praise Him (v. 9). No matter what others think of us—or what we think of ourselves—know this: We are beautiful to God.
In just six months, Gerald’s life fell apart. An economic crisis destroyed his business and wealth, while a tragic accident took his son’s life. Overcome by shock, his mother had a heart attack and died, his wife went into depression, and his two young daughters remained inconsolable. All he could do was echo the words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
The only thing that kept Gerald going was the hope that God, who raised Jesus to life, would one day deliver him and his family from their pain to an eternal life of joy. It was a hope that God would answer his desperate cries for help. In his despair, like the psalmist David, he determined to trust God in the midst of his suffering. He held on to the hope that God would deliver and save him (vv. 4–5).
That hope sustained Gerald. Over the years, whenever he was asked how he was, he could only say, “Well, I’m trusting God.”
God honored that trust, giving Gerald the comfort, strength, and courage to keep going through the years. His family slowly recovered from the crisis, and soon Gerald welcomed the birth of his first grandchild. His cry is now a testimony of God’s faithfulness. “I’m no more ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ God has blessed me.”
When it seems there’s nothing left, there’s still hope.
When his wife contracted a terminal illness, Michael longed for her to experience the peace he had through his relationship with God. He had shared his faith with her, but she wasn’t interested. One day, as he walked through a local bookstore, a title caught his eye: God, Are You There? Unsure how his wife would respond to the book, he walked in and out of the store several times before finally buying it. To his surprise, she accepted it.
The book touched her, and she began to read the Bible too. Two weeks later, Michael’s wife passed away—at peace with God and resting in the assurance that He would never leave or forsake her.
When God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, He didn’t promise him power. Instead, He promised His presence: “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). In Jesus’s last words to His disciples, He also promised God’s eternal presence, which they would receive through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26).
There are many things God could give us to help us through life’s challenges, such as material comfort, healing, or immediate solutions to our problems. Sometimes He does. But the best gift He gives is Himself. This is the greatest comfort we have: whatever happens in life, He will be with us; He will never leave nor forsake us.
When Siu Fen discovered she had kidney failure and would need dialysis for the rest of her life, she wanted to give up. Retired and single, the longtime Christian saw no point in prolonging her life. But friends convinced her to persevere and go for dialysis and trust in God to help her.
Two years later, she found her experience coming into play when she visited a friend from church with a debilitating disease. The woman felt alone, as few could truly understand what she was going through. But Siu Fen was able to identify with her physical and emotional pain and could connect with her in a special way. Her own journey enabled her to walk alongside the woman, giving her a special measure of comfort others couldn’t. “Now I see how God can still use me,” she said.
It can be hard to understand why we suffer. Yet God can use our affliction in unexpected ways. As we turn to Him for comfort and love in the midst of trial, it also empowers us to help others. No wonder Paul learned to see purpose in his own suffering: It gave him the opportunity to receive God’s comfort, which he could then use to bless others (2 Corinthians 1:3–5). We’re not asked to deny our pain and suffering, but we can take heart in God’s ability to use it for good.
The article in the local newspaper was short but heartwarming. After attending a faith-based program on building stronger family ties, a group of prison inmates were given a rare treat of an open visit with their families. Some hadn’t seen their children in years. Instead of talking through a glass panel, they could touch and hold their loved ones. The tears flowed freely as families grew closer and wounds began to heal.
For most readers, it was just a story. But for these families, holding one another was a life-changing event—and for some, the process of forgiveness and reconciliation was begun.
God’s forgiveness of our sin and offer of reconciliation, made possible through His Son, is more than a mere fact of the Christian faith. The article’s news of reconciliation reminds us that Jesus’s sacrifice is great news not just for the world, but for me and you.
In times when we’re overwhelmed by guilt for something we’ve done, however, it’s news we can cling to desperately. That’s when the fact of God’s unending mercy becomes personal news: because of Jesus’s dying on our behalf, we can come to the Father washed clean, “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). In such times, when we know we don’t deserve His mercy, we can hold on to the only thing we can depend on: God’s unfailing love and compassion (v. 1).
When a burly stranger approached my wife and me on a street abroad, we shrunk back in fear. Our holiday had been going badly; we had been yelled at, cheated, and extorted from several times. Were we going to be shaken down again? To our surprise, the man just wanted to show us where to get the best view of his city. Then he gave us a chocolate bar, smiled, and left. That little gesture made our day—and saved the whole trip. It made us grateful—both to the man and to God for cheering us up.
What had made the man reach out to two strangers? Had he gone around with a chocolate bar the entire day, looking to bless someone with it?
It’s amazing how the smallest action can bring the biggest smile—and possibly, direct someone to God. The Bible stresses the importance of doing good works (James 2:17, 24). If that sounds challenging, we have the assurance that God not only enables us to do these works, but has even “prepared [them] in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Perhaps God has arranged for us to “bump into” someone who needs a word of encouragement today or has given us an opportunity to offer someone a helping hand. All we have to do is respond in obedience.
When I was conscripted into the military at age 18, as all young Singaporean men are, I prayed desperately for an easy posting. A clerk or driver, perhaps. Not being particularly strong, I hoped to be spared the rigors of combat training. But one evening as I read my Bible, one verse leaped off the page: “My grace is sufficient for you . . .” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
My heart dropped—but it shouldn’t have. God had answered my prayers. Even if I received a difficult assignment, He would provide for me.
So I ended up as an armored infantryman, doing things I didn’t always enjoy. Looking back now, I’m grateful God didn’t give me what I wanted. The training and experience toughened me physically and mentally and gave me confidence to enter adulthood.
In Isaiah 25:1–5, after prophesying Israel’s punishment and subsequent deliverance from her enemies, the prophet praises God for His plans. All these “wonderful things,” Isaiah notes, had been “planned long ago” (v. 1), yet they included some arduous times.
It can be hard to hear God saying no, and even harder to understand when we’re praying for something good—like someone’s deliverance from a crisis. That’s when we need to hold on to the truth of God’s good plans. We may not understand why, but we can keep trusting in His love, goodness, and faithfulness.