Paul wasnt supposed to be on Malta. God had clearly expressed His will. He had prophetically warned those in charge of the ship to stay in the safety of the harbor in Crete (Ac 27:9-11). And then, nearly two weeks later while they were helplessly drifting about in a storm, Paul scolded them for not listening to him (Ac 27:21). No, they werent supposed to be on Malta, they were supposed to be on Crete. Basically, they were on Malta because they had disobeyed God. They werent led to Malta; they were shipwrecked on its rocky northeastern coast after being carried 476 miles by a typhoon. Yet on the day they boarded a ship for Rome, how many of those who had been saved or healed or delivered from demonic oppression didnt thank God for that shipwreck? As they said goodbye to Publius and his father, and how many others, who can imagine that Paul, Luke or Aristarchus regretted for one moment the months they spent on that island? What began as an accident, the result of deliberate disobedience, ended up being one of the more important stops among Pauls missionary journeys. A mistake somehow became an assignment; an accident became a blessing. What might have been wasted was redeemed
to such an extent that it would be hard to say it wasnt part of Gods original plan all along. Yet we know it wasnt, so it appears we are watching one more example of Gods ability to cause
all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Ro 8:28).
This is a truth we need to let sink deep into our heart because so many of us have gotten ourselves into difficult situations because of foolish choices, or even deliberate disobedience to God. And weve assumed that because we started out wrong, the blessing of God would be withheld until we got back into the center of His will. We may have become despairing, believing that we ruined our lives, that once off-course we would never get back. Thats why were going to Malta, one more time. We need to remember that God can turn accidents into assignments.
So many of the major decisions of our lives are made when we are young, when we have the least amount of experience, the fewest years to give us perspective, and are only beginning to understand ourselves. Yet decisions have to be made, careers have to be chosen, jobs worked, schools selected, spouses married, roots put down somewhere. But as years go by we may look back on some of those choices and regret them. We may wonder what we were thinking at the time. The path we chose turned out harder than we thought, took longer than we expected, was less fulfilling than wed hoped. And thats when a real danger can arise. We can so easily begin to blame ourselves or others. And almost always, whether we admit it or not, we end up blaming God, at least for not stopping us, even if what we did was in defiance of Him. It seems He always loses in these situations. If things dont go well, it ultimately becomes His fault.
I know this kind of regret is one of the major causes of depression. The frustration and anger we feel over past choices can be turned inward on ourselves with a savage fury. We feel weve ruined everything. We assume that our future will now never be more than a plan B because we already missed plan A. Yet Malta proves that God is able to make plan B so good it looks exactly like plan A. When God says He can cause everything in our life to become good, I dont think we realize how good.
Releasing the promise (Ro 8:28)
But that divine force that turns accidents into assignments and mistakes into blessings, has conditions which must be met. Paul says God does this for those who love Him and have chosen to follow His call on their lives. He doesnt transform our bad decisions into something good by magic, and our luck doesnt change. Things change when we begin to pursue His purpose for us, one day at a time. And for that to happen, we first must die to our own purpose for our lives, our own notion of what is good, our own plan A, if you will. Youll notice Paul didnt escape his captors on Malta, and he didnt strike it rich. He spent those days simply being Paul, a man led by the Spirit, who gave himself fully to the opportunities that were in front of him. And the results were amazingly good by Gods standards and thats the kind of good were promised. Malta became a spiritual success because Paul loved God and kept being the man God called him to be. So even if the location was plan B, Paul treated those months as if they were plan A.
Think about it. The key that transformed Pauls situation in Malta was Pauls attitude. He might have wasted those three months sitting somewhere angrily moping over the fact that they were in the wrong place. They were supposed to be in Crete, not Malta! But he didnt. He committed himself to Malta as if it were Gods perfect will. He didnt hold back. He didnt minister half-heartedly. He chose to love the people of Malta as much as he had loved the people of Philippi or Corinth or Ephesus. He prayed for them just as hard as those he prayed for in places where hed been sent by a vision, and in doing so hes modeling for us a profound truth that King Solomon said this way:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going (Ecc 9:10).
Writing from the perspective of an old man, he warned us to take hold of the opportunities that life presents to us and use them to the fullest in serving God because, he said, life is passing by quickly and our days must not be wasted. If thats true, then our greatest enemy isnt the mistakes weve made, its our failure to seize those opportunities that even our mistakes place in front of us and to give them our best effort, our full commitment, because God never leaves us, even if we end up in the wrong place. His mercy will still be new every day. He will never stop guiding. The problem is we stop listening; we stop being who we were called to be. His call doesnt change regardless of where we are or how we got there.
To the man or woman who chooses to live what may have begun as a mistake, like its plan A, it becomes plan A. All of Gods grace will flow in to help us and He will transform everything. If we got ourselves into trouble by being defiant or immoral, then true repentance will be our first step, and then well have to seek Gods wisdom on how to repair the damage weve done. But in most cases the answer wont be to change our circumstances, it will be to change our attitude.
When God makes something good, He makes it totally good. The sin behind it is forgiven, the devils plan falls away, and what results is clean and beautiful. He could do it no other way. Listen:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, and [comes] down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, no shadow of turning (Jas 1:17; KJV).
When God blesses us He adds no sorrow to it (Pr 10:22). In other words, when He has caused things to work together for good, we arent partly blessed, but still partly cursed; we arent partly happy and partly sad, or partly fruitful and partly fruitless. The old doesnt linger into the new. Yes, of course, there may be decisions weve made, or others made for us, that have effects which carry on throughout our lives. But the poison is drawn out of them, the death is gone, the sorrow is removed, and whats left cant be distinguished from His perfect will. In fact, when Hes done, youd choose it again.
What makes this miracle possible is Gods overruling hand, combined with our wholehearted commitment to embrace our situation as an assignment, and then to be in the midst of that situation the man or woman we have been called to be.
Embracing the assignment
I would suppose that every one of us has areas where we feel we have missed Gods will, either through foolishness or disobedience, and in some cases, because of someone elses foolishness or disobedience. Yet how we start out doesnt have to determine where we end up. To transform an accident into an assignment requires only that our attitude change. In most cases our circumstances dont need to change, we need to change, and then the miracle can happen. First, we have to meet Gods conditions: we have to love Him and surrender ourselves to His call on our lives, which will always be focused on bringing others closer to Him. That must be our goal, and we must let go of our own ambitions, our rights, and our demands. And then, we must roll up our sleeves and do with all our might what our hand finds to do. We must fully commit to be Gods servant in the situation in which we find ourselves. And if well do these things, and keep on doing them for a long time, Hell transform that situation as completely as He transformed Pauls. And the day will come when we too will thank Him with all our hearts for that accidental assignment.
1) Have you gladly surrendered to Gods purpose for your life? When did you make that decision? What changes have you seen since you made it?
2) Have you ever seen God change someones plan B into a plan A? What happened? Has He ever done this for you? Tell us about it.