Have you ever wished for the ability to change another person’s mind? Think of the implications if we possessed such a power. When applying for a new job, you could compel the employer to hire you on the spot. The mistreated child in the playground could tame the bully. The devoted baseball fan could force the manager to make a substitution for the struggling pitcher. The churchgoer could cause the the minister to select their favourite hymns to sing each Sunday.
Ah, but such a power will never rest with us.
And yet, the ability to compel behaviour is not beyond the God of this Universe. King Solomon writes in Proverbs 21, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).
The testimony of Scripture is that God possesses the ability to affect the way we think and act. Accordingly, we need to make some qualifications when we use the phrase “free will”.
There is no doubt that we possess a will. By our own volition we move about and do all sorts of things. We make real choices many times a day, every day of our lives. But to say that this will of ours is “free” of any overriding force does not line up with what the Bible says.
The Lord God of this Universe has the ability to trump our will and to even change our will. This is part of what it means for God to be all-powerful.
I’m not suggesting that we are robots operating according to a predefined program. Nor do I mean to suggest that we are like puppets who are being animated by a kind of cosmic puppet-master. I simply want us to be reminded that our will does not always carry the day (and this is a good thing!). We need to remember that “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes.“
In light of this, what do you do when trouble arises? What do you do when the land of your ancestors is in ruins? What do you do when the people you love are in great distress? What do you do when you are powerless to change your predicament?
You petition the great Heart-Changer to take up your cause.
This is precisely what Nehemiah does when confronted by the devastation in Jerusalem. Nehemiah prays, “When I serve the king his wine today, make him pleased with me and have him do what I ask” (Neh. 1:11).
If we track with Nehemiah we see that he is convinced of God’s power to change King Artaxerxes’ heart, but Nehemiah also understands the need to participate in the plan of God.
In other words, God’s plan does not preclude good planning.
Many Christians make the mistake of emphasizing one of these aspects over the other. Some Christians are so convinced of God’s sovereignty over all things, that they mistakenly retreat to a position of total inactivity. By contrast, there are others who immerse themselves in planning and strategizing without giving much thought to how God might enter into the equation.
Nehemiah avoids both of these extremes. He understands that God has a plan, and that prayer helps us to get in step with that plan. Nehemiah also understands the value of good planning. Nehemiah waits 4 months before approaching the king and asking for a leave of absence and a series of letters to facilitate his travel and acquisition of resources.
We read on and see that the king gave Nehemiah more than what he asked for. Nehemiah got the leave of absence. He got the letters for safe travel. He got requisitions for lumber, and he also got a small army given to him!
Why was the king so gracious? Why did the king change his policy and help Nehemiah to such a degree?
Yes, indeed, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wishes.“
Nehemiah recognized this and so he writes for our edification, “God was good to me, and the king did everything I asked” (Neh. 2:8).
I don’t know your particular predicament, but God does. You may feel that you are powerless to change your predicament, but you belong to a God who is all-powerful.
Pray to the great Heart-Changer and seek to connect to His plan. And as you wait for His answer, I encourage you to engage in good planning.
“God’s Plan and Good Planning”, based on Nehemiah 2:1-10, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 2, 2011.