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Planned and Prayed for, but Prevented

Romans 1:10,13 - I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you...13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now).

Read Romans 1:8­-15.

Romans 15:22­-24 - This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. 23But now there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, 24I plan to do so when I go to Spain.

Read Romans 15:17­-33.

Have you ever planned a trip or event--even prayed hard about it--and then been prevented because of some unforeseen circumstance? Who hasn't had this kind of experience? Disappointment is not the only result. When things don't work out the way we expect, we tend to get mad at the circumstances, get upset with the people involved, and even get bitter towards God. Certainly He should have been able to keep our plans from going awry! What happened anyway? Did we mess up somehow? Is God mad at us? Did we lack in faith? Did we plan and pray "out of God's will"? Did Satan foul things up? Every one of us has probably asked the above questions at one time or another.

"Thwarted" plans are always hard to handle. It's hard enough to understand why our plans for wholesome fun are "wrecked," but when our plans for the Lord's work are "ruined," it is extremely difficult to understand what's going on. In situations which involve our earthly happiness we can appreciate the fact that God's "thoughts and ways are higher than ours" (Isaiah 55:9), and perhaps, from God's point of view, our pleasure is not always the top priority in His perfect plan for our lives! After all, "all things working together for good" (Romans 8:28), does include more than our earthly happiness! But what about mission trips that we prayed about earnestly, and ministry events for which we sacrificed unselfishly? Plans which are made with the glory of God in mind should come to pass, we feel! What is the biblical answer to the problem of prayed-for plans--godly plans--being prevented from happening?

Before we look at our selected texts and other Scriptures which should shed some light on the biblical answer, let's mention a few points to keep in mind concerning this perplexing question. First of all, we need to remember that very often our prayed-for plans do come to pass exactly as we envisioned. Everything falls right into place, right on schedule. Let's not let the occasional times of prevention cause us to forget to thank the Lord for the many times our plans are carried out just the way we planned and prayed. It's so easy to take the Lord for granted when our answered prayers are standard operating procedure!

Another thing we must keep in mind is the possibility that our so-called "godly" plans are not so godly after all! Even though we may be planning and praying for the Lord's work, we may have some hidden selfish motives--some of which we may not even realize. The planned trip to the foreign mission field, for example, may actually be a way to get away from responsibilities at home or to enjoy travel abroad. "Giving of our time" to be part of the planning committee for a weekend conference or retreat may really be a means to get our names into the limelight or receive the praise of those who attend. The planned new ministry or Christian service project may ultimately be a way to get more power or prestige (or even money!) for ourselves. In such cases we can expect God to bring problems into our planning in order to help us examine our motives and get our priorities straightened out.

One final point to keep in mind is our reaction to prevented plans in the Lord's work. When things don't work out the way we expected, we should not assume that we've done something wrong and should therefore stop planning and praying. Prevention, as we'll see, is one way in which the Lord guides us. We should continue to pray about our revised plans.

Remember David's godly plans to build a Temple for the Lord. (See 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17.) He was prevented, but not because his plans were selfish or ungodly. God even commended David for his plans. (See 1 Kings 8:18.) But the Lord had different plans for the building of His House. King Solomon would be the one that God would use to build the Temple.

When David heard that his godly plans were prevented, he accepted, adjusted and adapted to God's design. Instead of getting uptight with people or bitter towards God, David worshiped, and then continued before the Lord with revised plans. He collected building materials for the Temple (1 Chronicles 22). He organized the priests, Levites, singers and gatekeepers for Temple service (1 Chronicles 23-26). He shared all the Temple blue-prints with Solomon (1 Chronicles 28). And he gave unselfishly to the Temple project (1 Chronicles 29). Would our reaction to God's prevention of our plans have been as magnanimous?

Keeping all of these points in mind, let's look at the case of the apostle Paul's plans for visiting the city of Rome. Here we have a New Testament case of godly plans being prevented. We see from our text that Paul had his heart set on visiting Rome. It was certainly not to see the Sistine Chapel or throw coins in Trevi Fountain!! His plans were to fellowship with the believers at Rome and help build them up in the Christian faith (vs11­-12). He also wanted to preach the Gospel to everyone in the capital city of the pagan Roman Empire (vs14-15). There were no hidden selfish motives on the part of the apostle--in fact he would actually put his life at risk by going to Rome! Paul had prayed about these plans many times (v10), but he had been prevented more than once from going there to do the Lord's work. Why?

We may have to wait until we get to heaven to know all the reasons why the Lord prevented Paul from going to Rome at that time. However, the New Testament does give us enough information about Paul's continuing itinerary to piece together a number of reasons why God's "higher thoughts and ways" called for a revision of Paul's plans. In Romans 15:22, Paul indicated that one reason why he was hindered from going to Rome was that he had extensive missionary efforts going on in other areas. Even though Paul was hindered from visiting friends in Rome, "all things were working together for good" because the gospel was being proclaimed in new areas. In our lives today, our good plans for the Lord's work may be hindered because God wants to guide us into ministry in other areas.

It is interesting to note from some other Scriptures how Paul's plans for the Lord's work were prevented and how the Lord guided him in his missionary travels. Before he received the Macedonian vision instructing him to bring the gospel to Europe, "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the Word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to" (Acts 16:6­7). Even plans for preaching the Word were prevented so that the Gospel could move more rapidly from Asia to Europe!

In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 we read, "For we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, more than once--and yet Satan thwarted us." Does Satan get involved in hindering our plans for the Lord's work? He tries, but is only successful when God allows it. And when God does allow Satan to thwart our plans, all things are still "working together for good." It may be a test of our faith (as in the case of Job,) or it may be (as in Paul's case) the Lord's way to keep us serving in areas and ways other than what we had planned. God is always in control of every situation and can overrule any of Satan's strategies and tactics.

In Romans 15:25­-26, we see another reason why Paul was prevented from going immediately to Rome. He was on his way to Jerusalem with a financial contribution which would bring relief to the saints there. Perhaps some of our plans for the Lord's work are redirected so that we can bring relief to Christians in need--physical, emotional, financial or spiritual need. Notice in 15:23­-24 that Paul's initial plans for going to Rome had already been revised to "a visit along the way" when he would travel from Jerusalem to Spain. Of course we know that even these revised plans were prevented from happening because of Paul's arrest in Jerusalem--in spite of the fact that he and the Christians at Rome had been praying hard that Paul would not be arrested (15:30­-31).

Paul's arrest in Jerusalem and subsequent imprisonment in Caesarea for almost 2 years is hard to understand from the human perspective, especially in view of Paul's earnest prayers. But once again the Scriptures give us some insight as to why God changed Paul's plans. Acts 22­-26 show us that as a result of Paul's arrest and imprisonment, he had the opportunity to publicly address the multitudes in Jerusalem (Acts 22); to officially witness to the Sanhedrin which was the governing body of the Jews (Acts 23); to boldly testify before two Roman rulers, Antonius Felix and Porcius Festus (Acts 24­-25); and to give a defense of the Christian faith directly to King Herod Agrippa II. Let us not be surprised if God gives us some "impossible" opportunities when our plans for the Lord's work are prevented from coming to pass!

What do you think Dr. Luke, Paul's co-worker and personal physician, was doing while Paul was in prison in Caesarea? Most likely Luke used this valuable time to collect data, to interview disciples, and to "investigate everything carefully" (Luke 1:3) for the two books of Scripture he would write. Remember Luke was from Asia and he needed time to consult the eyewitnesses of the historic events about which God would inspire him to write in Luke and Acts. While Paul's plans for getting to Rome were thwarted, God was accomplishing all kinds of good things. Who knows what blessed fall­out is taking place right now because your good plans for the Lord's work have been scratched! "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways" (Romans 11:33).

Paul did eventually get to Rome--as a prisoner. Hardly had he planned to get to Rome this way! For two more years he was chained to a Roman guard under house arrest in Rome while he waited for his case to be decided. What possible good could come out of this further delay and disruption of plans for the Lord's work? In Philippians 1:12-­14, we read of two good reasons. Because of Paul's predicament, the gospel made its way into the ranks of the imperial Roman guards. How long do you think a soldier would have been on duty guarding Paul before he heard the gospel? Talk about captive audiences! Through this imperial channel the gospel may have reached the servants and employees of Caesar himself. (See Philippians 4:22.) Have your plans for serving the Lord been exchanged for a "prison?" Does your situation appear to be a dead-end? Do you seem to have very limited opportunities? Look around you. The "limited" channels available to you may lead to great blessing.

Another reason for Paul's Roman imprisonment was that many Christians who heard of Paul's imprisonment were emboldened to spread the Word. Because of Paul's ordeal and limitations they were encouraged to witness and work more. Is it possible that God has hindered your good plans for Christian service so that other Christians who are not involved will be encouraged to get active?

And let's not forget that the apostle Paul wrote four New Testament books during his imprisonment in Rome. We can be eternally grateful that God changed Paul's plans for travel to His plans for writing the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon! The next time our plans for serving the Lord are prevented from coming to pass, let's remember that God may have other plans--plans to bring about great blessing for us and for others.

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