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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Proverbs 16
“Good Plans”
August 10, 2014 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

         Last Friday we planned to meet our daughter and new son-in-law in Portland, collect the car they were borrowing, take them to the airport, then spend the afternoon at Powells Bookstore. We saw the kids off, but we never got to Powells. Our plan was totally frustrated by the fact that we lost each other in heavy traffic on the way to downtown.

         As our Gospel lesson opens we find Jesus’ disciples heading out in a boat with the simple plan He gave them to row across the lake, something they’d done many times before, just like all the times we’ve visited Powells before. Their plan was not frustrated by traffic, but by a storm. And they certainly hadn’t planned for the visit they received right in the middle of the waves.

         Chapter 16 of Proverbs starts out with some reflections on human planning. The exact meaning of the second part of the first verse is not real clear, but we still get the core idea when we read, “The plans of the mind belong to mortals, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” In other words, we can make our plans, but God has the last word about what happens. It gets very plain when we go to the last verse of the first section here, verse 9, and read, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”

         The first nine verses of Proverbs 16 want us to grasp the truth firmly that God is in control of our lives and of our destinies. We may ponder and plan and make choices, but the outcome is up to God. Part of realizing God is in control is to understand, as verse 2 tells us, that the Lord is discerning the motives which lie behind the plans we make. Our ways, our plans may look pure, may look good to us, but God discerns the spirit inside us which chooses those ways and makes those plans.

         We can do all the right things for the wrong reasons, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. I can give money to my church or to the poor so that people will admire me for my generosity. Or you can spend time in prayer so your family and friends will think you are really spiritual. And we can avoid bad behaviors like alcohol abuse or pornography just because we’re afraid of getting caught. Yet just like Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount and Paul talks about in our reading from Romans 10, there is more to living right than just doing all the right things.

         Romans 10 says we need to add faith to the law, to doing what is right. Verse 3 in Proverbs 16 says, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Don’t make your plans, don’t do your good work because it brings you some recognition or advantage. Plan in faith. Do whatever you do trusting that God is at work over and above all your work.

         Both Paul and the book of Proverbs teach us that all our ways are in God’s hands. All that we have done, and do, and will do, is known to Him and will be judged by Him. So verses 4 to 7 talk about how everything we plan, whether good or bad, evil or righteous, is known to God and will receive His appropriate judgment. Verse 4 shows God knew when He made us that there would be wicked plans and He planned to punish them.

         Verses 5 and 6 are a contrasting pair. If we are arrogant and make our plans and go our ways without considering God, then we will not go unpunished. But with loyalty and faithfulness to God’s intentions we have the blessing of God’s atonement for our sins and we will avoid punishment. We heard Romans 10:9 today, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Faith in the Lord Jesus will save you from your sins.

         That’s the ultimate “answer of the tongue” which is from the Lord in verse 1, to confess Jesus as Lord while believing in what He has done for us, that He died and rose again. Just as Proverbs is telling us, what we say and do externally needs to connect with how we believe and think internally. We cannot just plan whatever we like and have faith that God will bless it. Our hearts, our plans need to line up with His heart, His plans for us. When they do, then God pours out His blessings as verse 7 shows, “When the ways of people please the Lord, he causes even their enemies to be at peace with them.”

         This is one of those places in Proverbs where we might step back and wonder if that verse is really true, especially right now as we hear the news of Christians being tortured and murdered in Iraq. I’ve read there is a video of ISIS soldiers forcing a Christian man to convert to Islam at gunpoint and then cutting off his head anyway. A hundred thousand Christians along with tens of thousands of Yazidis have been driven away from their homes. Their enemies are not much at peace with those Iraqi Christians, even though they’ve kept the faith for centuries in one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

         So we need to say again that the promises of Proverbs are not absolute guarantees for whatever current situation we are in. They are general statements of God’s intent to do good in the long run, in eternity, for those who love and trust Him. We can be faithful, but still get into trouble in this world, like those disciples who rowed out on the sea of Galilee, only doing what Jesus told them to do, but found themselves in a thunderstorm.

         That’s why verse 8 pops up right here to repeat one of the themes we heard last week in Proverbs 15, “Better is a little with righteousness, than large income with injustice.” It’s better to do what is right and be poor and mistreated than to profit and get ahead by doing what is wrong. God sees and knows and will make it truly better in the end.

         So there are always two aspects to our plans. There are our own desires and intentions, and there is what God intends for us. It’s another way of looking at what Kay Strom talked about a couple weeks ago. God created us with free will to plan and act, but at the same time God knows and is control of everything that will happen. We live in a constant tension between what we do as human beings and what God is doing with us. Verse 9 holds up that tension for us when it says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”

         Our plans will often be frustrated. The Scottish poet Robert Burns was plowing a farm and turned over and scattered a field mouse nest. He watched the little creature scamper out of her hole and run away. Then he sat down and wrote a poem in which he reflected on how the mouse thought she had created a safe, warm home for the winter, for her children, but it was now all ruined by his plow. Near the end he penned the famous line, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”

         Our best laid plans get turned over by the plow of God. Iraqi Christians are running from homes they thought were secure like that little mouse ran from hers. We pray it does not, but it could happen to you or me. Our only hope is to know and trust that God is better and more able than an alcoholic Scottish poet and that if He overturns our security He will come again and give us a new and more secure dwelling with Him.

         We live in this tension between all our human planning and doing and what God plans and does. The middle of Proverbs 16 shows that tension again a couple times, first focusing on the human work of planning and ordering that a king does in verses 10 to 15 and then in verses 16 to 19 on the attitude of humility with which we ought to regard all our plans.

         Verse 10 expresses incredible confidence in human leadership, “Inspired decisions are on the lips of a king; his mouth does not sin in judgment.” The next few verses all hold the assurance that human government can be truly good, that those famous balance scales of justice will be kept honest and true and will always swing toward what is right.

         Once again, we might be very inclined to doubt it’s true. Our president just got his worst approval rating yet, a mere 40% of Americans who think he’s doing a good job. We’re not confident at all that human leaders will do what’s right or good. That’s why we need to take a close look at verse 11 and hear its declaration that “Honest balances and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” If a human government system has any honest, any real balance of justice, it comes from God. Once again, we only trust human plans when they balance with God’s plans.

         All the talk here about the goodness and righteousness of a king, even verse 15, “In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain,” is balanced out by the next few verses which emphasize that goodness and righteousness come when one is humble and seeks the gift of wisdom rather than power and wealth.

         The best way to live in that tension between our plans and God’s plans is to be wise and humble about everything. Verse 16 repeats the constant theme of Proverbs that it is far better to plan to seek wisdom than to plan how to get rich. Verse 17 promises life to those who make plans that guard them from evil rather than planning to do what’s wrong.

         Then verses 18 and 19 form a complementary pair teaching us to avoid pride in our plans, however good they may be. You may very well know verse 18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If we make our plans and proudly imagine we’ve covered all contingencies and that now all will go well for us, that pride is merely an invitation to disaster.

         Yet good planning is good, even if our plans never turn out as we hoped. Verse 20 says, “Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper…” Dwight Eisenhower gave a talk once in which he quoted a line he says he learned in the Army, “Plans are worthless; planning is everything.” By that he meant that any particular plan is doomed to failure caused by the unexpected. But the process of planning, of wrestling with possible problems and their solutions, of being “attentive to a matter,” as Proverbs says here, helps make us more prepared to deal with the unexpected and to succeed even when our plans go “agley.”

         Eisenhower was speaking at a conference for national defense. His idea of good planning was to rely more on science. He proudly cited the 5 billion dollars the armed forces was spending then on research and development. He believed that kind of planning would keep our defense sharp and ready for whatever comes. He did, however, briefly say that at least part of our defense was not in our armed forces, but in “spiritual strength.”

         I’ve no idea what Eisenhower meant by “spiritual strength,” but I know that after saying, “Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper,” the second part of verse 20 tells us “and happy are those who trust in the Lord.” Eisenhower was right. Plans are worthless, but spending time in wise planning is a great benefit, especially if it relies on and trusts in the Lord who knows all about how our plans will turn out.

         When we trust in the Lord He comes and meets us right when all our plans are falling apart. The disciples planned to row across the lake and a storm blew their plans to pieces. But then Jesus came walking across the water to first calm their hearts and then calm the storm. That’s the order He did things in and it’s often the order in which God comes to us. He asks us first to trust and not be afraid. And then He comes alongside and brings peace and order to our lives.

         Peter made his own little plan there. He forgot verse 18 here in Proverbs and proudly planned to walk out on the waves and meet Jesus. But in his pride, he started to fall, to sink, along with his brave plan. Yet he had learned this much, he had been attentive enough to the matter that he called out “Lord, save me!” And just like we read in Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So Jesus reached down and pulled Peter back up.

         That’s the spiritual strength in which you and I need to make all our plans, not in pride and arrogance imagining they are going to work, but in the faith that when our plans go wrong and we call out to the Lord, He will save us. And that, again, is the answer verse 1 says comes from the Lord. Jesus Christ is always ready to help and save whoever believes in your heart and calls out to Him with your mouth.

         Verses 21 to 24 here are about good words, pleasant speech, sweet persuasive language. I have to believe that the best and sweetest words we can to say to each other and to the world are that Jesus is there to save us. If that’s what we talk about, then verse 24 is gloriously true, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him aloud and He will save your soul and raise your body from death.

         That’s why at the end of our Romans text Paul wondered how people were going to know that wonderful truth unless someone speaks the good word, “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” But then just like Proverbs here, he pronounces a blessing on those who speak the good and pleasant words of salvation in Jesus, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

         We didn’t read the next verse in Romans 10, verse 16, which says, “But not all have obeyed the good news.” But that’s what Proverbs is concerned with in verses 25 to 30. Verse 25 sets the tone, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death.” There is good planning which trusts in God, but there are evil plans which lead to death. So the next few verses warns against plans driven by our appetites or by words which cause strife or a perverse spirit which divides people. So verse 30 says, “One who winks the eye plans perverse things, one who compresses the lips brings evil to pass.”

         Yes, our good plans may go all wrong, but if we let ourselves make evil plans, schemes to hurt and mislead and cause dissension, that’s all wrong from the start. It can only lead to disaster, both now and in eternity.

         So this chapter closes with a final call to recognize how God oversees and takes care of all our plans. Plan in righteousness and faith in the Lord, and it brings a crown of glory. In the Old Testament, that crown was simply the gray hair that appears when you live a long life. Beth and I just watched “The Butler,” a movie based on the life of Eugene Allen who served eight presidents in the White House for 34 years. We get to see him grow old and gray and then later honored by our current president. It’s a fitting reward for a man who served his country and its leaders faithfully and well.

         How much more will be the blessing for those who serve the Lord faithfully. As verse 32 says, the one who is patient and slow to anger is better than the mighty. Good and peaceful words will win out over angry words, and God will reward and bless those who trust in Him and speak the good words of His grace in Jesus.

         The last verse, verse 33, gives us a good perspective on all our plans, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is the Lord’s alone.” It’s picturing the use of lots to make decisions, just like we used a lottery to decide who was drafted when I was young or use a lottery now to decide who gets to transfer schools here in Eugene. Our plans are like that, a casting of lots, a roll of the die, but how they turn out is God’s work.

         This past week one of our early church members told me how he had come to Eugene to manage a business 30 years ago or so. He came with great hopes and plans, but the owners had no business sense and it turned out to be a wreck. He left with them still owing him hundreds of dollars in salary. But then he said, “It wasn’t all bad.” That business was where he met some lifelong Christian friends. It was where he learned about this church and was invited to attend for the first time. I could tell he had the sense that though his plans had gone agley, God’s plans for him in it all had worked out just right.

         Planning is good when we make our plans trusting in God. As Eisenhower and this last verse both suggest, those plans are still a crap shoot. We rattle our plans around in our hearts and minds and then throw them like dice against the wall, with no idea and no guarantee as to how they will turn out. But in it all our Lord is planning to save us, to bring us safely through the storm and into the boat of His grace and love. And that’s a good plan.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated September 7, 2014