Seeing the Signs - Bob Sawvelle

When God Changes Your Plan

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year! We remember the birth of our Savior, celebrate with family and friends, and look expectantly toward the New Year.

As we gaze toward 2020, we also anticipate a new decade. For many of you, God is about to redirect your steps. He has been preparing you for change—embrace what He is about to do. Often, His divine interruptions are the greatest blessings.

We see this with Joseph and Mary, and the birth of God’s Son, Jesus. God interrupted their plans for marriage, to bring about humanity’s greatest gift and blessing. They had a plan, but God had a purpose.

Proverbs says,

A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Prov. 16:9 NKJV

God, who knows our lives from beginning and end, is working to lead us into the fullness of His purpose for our lives. We can plan, but it is the Lord who leads and directs us in the direction we should walk.

Make plans for your future but understand God may direct you differently than what you can presently see or understand. His ways are not our ways!

Trusting God through life’s interruptions and changes is important to remain in His peace and joy. Otherwise, emotions of worry and fear rule instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide. As we love and trust God wholeheartedly, His prophetic purpose unfolds in our lives—and it often unfolds in ways we didn’t plan. Change is inevitable in life, but trust is optional!

The Birth of Christ

In Luke’s gospel we read:

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.”

Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:26-38 NLT

Matthew writes:

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” Matt. 1:18-25 NLT

Imagine young Joseph. As the wedding date approaches, Joseph is preparing. Picture Mary, the date every young lady lives for, is about to arrive. Mary is excited as she and her parents make the wedding plans. She and Joseph have such dreams for their lives together. But then, God changes their plans! A divine interruption occurs, and their lives are forever changed.

It was never their dream for Mary to become pregnant before their wedding night. And certainly, the idea of becoming pregnant miraculously and giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God, was not in their thinking. Mary’s reaction to the news was one of perplexity. She asks the angel, “But how can this happen? I’m a virgin.” Luke 1:34 NLT

Joseph’s reaction was a little different. He has a decision to make. Should he believe that Mary has been faithful to him and that she had miraculously become pregnant with the Son of God? Or should he decide to break off the engagement?

In Joseph and Mary’s day, Jewish marriage customs were that the bride and groom went through a period of betrothal or engagement, which was virtually as binding as marriage. A betrothed couple was as good as married, and breaking off the relationship was seen as divorce, even though they had not been married.[1]

When God divinely interrupts our lives and plans, we are faced with a decision—to believe His miraculous intervention or disbelieve His supernatural ways.

In Joseph’s case, God intervenes his questioning by sending an angel in a dream, to comfort and assure him of the truthfulness of Mary. As a result, they did get married, she gave birth to the Messiah, and the rest is history.

Joseph played an essential part in the birth of Christ, but it’s easy to lose sight of him. But he was chosen by God, as much as Mary was, for prophetic purpose. The way Joseph acted proved he not only loved Mary, but truly loved God. He was willing to endure the humiliation to protect Mary from suffering shame.

My wife and I were recently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. We observed that the art during the Middle Ages in Europe focused primarily upon Christian faith, specifically upon the birth and death of Christ. With most of the paintings or sculptures portraying the birth of Christ, only Mary and baby Jesus are displayed—not Joseph. One could conclude from the art of this period that Joseph’s role in the first coming of God’s Son was not very prominent.

Someone once asked Leonard Bernstein, famed conductor of the New York Philharmonic, which instrument was the most difficult to play. His immediate response was, “the second fiddle.” The term “second fiddle” refers to something that plays a secondary role in support of something that plays a more major or leading role. Joseph played a supporting role to Mary, but his role was important in God’s overall purpose.

Joseph loved Mary devoutly because he loved God foremost. Do you think Mary ever doubted Joseph’s love for her? Perhaps there wasn’t a day that went by Mary did not remember the pain and the shame Joseph had endured as the village gossips speculated about the child growing within her. Joseph did more than feel love or talk about love; he demonstrated his love for God and his love for Mary by standing by her. Joseph displayed His love for God and Mary by obeying what God had revealed—though plans changed. He had learned to trust and obey God.

Our love for God is demonstrated by our obedience to Him. All of us want to prosper and live purpose filled lives. But how many of us are willing to obey God even when it will cost us something or we have a less prominent role? Or when God changes our plans, and it is beyond what we know or understand? How committed are we to Jesus and His Church?

I once read the story of Ruth Bell, a teenager who left her home in China for schooling in Korea, with plans to spend her life as an unmarried missionary to Tibet. Apparently, the thought of a husband had entered her mind, but her list of qualifications would eliminate most men. She wrote in her diary:

If I marry: he must be so tall that when he is on his knees, he reaches all the way to heaven. His shoulders must be broad enough to bear the burdens of a family. His lips strong enough to smile, firm enough to say no, and tender enough to kiss. His love must be so deep it takes its stand in Christ and so wide it takes the whole world in. He must be active enough to save souls. He must be big enough to be gentle and brave enough to be thoughtful. His arms must be strong enough to carry a little child.

Later, Ruth Bell would meet Billy Graham, and they would marry. God changed Ruth’s plan, despite her strict criteria for a perfect Godly husband! Billy Graham was a great man, but like any of us, he wasn’t perfect. Ruth had a plan, but God had a purpose. Our hearts plan our way, but the Lord directs our steps.

Mary may or may not have made a list of what she was looking for in a husband, but God knew who Mary needed, and that man was Joseph. Joseph’s love for God created a devoted love for Mary, God’s chosen girl. Together they embraced change and endured gossip and persecution. History was forever changed!

To fulfill God’s prophetic purposes in your life, know that God is with you as much as with anyone.

No one likes feeling abandoned, and perhaps we could understand if Joseph had felt this way, but there is no record of him complaining. We read of a patient servant who is willing to make sacrifices, even when it meant moving to Egypt. By the way, complaining and accusing others is the very language of hell!

God chose Joseph to be an earthly father for Jesus, to be the father who would shape his life. Joseph kept God first in his life, and God faithfully guided him through his life—through all the ups and downs of life. Joseph knew as reality that God is will never forsake us (Heb. 13:5).

God is with us not because we are good or because we have great faith; He is with us because He has committed Himself irrevocably to us. If God was with us only when we had success, success would never come.

You are valuable to God, and He has placed His Spirit within you. God is empowering you to fulfill His vision and purpose for your life. You are never alone and never abandoned with God—He will never leave you or abandon you. Don’t allow “orphan thinking” to hinder your prophetic destiny. God is for you and He is directing your steps for His purposes. Though plans change, God is always faithful and will bring about His promise and purpose.

One of the amazing aspects of the birth of Christ is the number of prophecies that had to be fulfilled. Hundreds of years before, these prophecies told of the coming of Jesus. The prophecies were specific; they did everything but give the names of the parents!

Did Joseph and Mary have a choice? Yes, as God gives each of us free will. Either of them could have sabotaged God’s plan, but neither did. God changed their plans, yet they loved the Lord more than their plans.

How many of you are doing what you planned on doing when you graduated high school? Most of the plans I had as a young person are radically different than what has transpired in my life. Some of the plans have changed because I have changed my decisions and desires, but even then, did I change or simply come into alignment with God?! Some plans changed because of circumstances beyond me—God! God is always loving, always good, but God is not predictable!

God has a plan for your life. Sometimes it’s in the transition, the uncertainty of the hour that God’s purposes begin to unfold and become clear.

Some of my greatest successes have come in transition and uncertainty with God. God extends His hand and offers something greater; I may not understand it at first.

Several years ago, Carolyn was laid off from her job as a contract software engineer for a large aerospace company in Melbourne, FL, where we were living at the time. We funded much of our short-term mission work during this season with money we both earned; we were modern-day “tentmakers” to further the gospel (Acts 18:2-4). Her job loss came as a sudden shock to us, but God was faithful even through the layoff process and subsequent financial changes.

As she walked into work that day, the Lord spoke to her, “Today, you will be laid off from your job. But don’t worry.”  She went to her desk knowing that God revealed what was about to happen, and she remained at peace. After lunch, she went into the computer lab to help correct problems with the software she and her colleagues were working on. One of the team members remarked, “Boy, I don’t know what we would do without your help on this project!” She thought to herself, “Well, you better be prepared to finish without me!”

While she was in the lab, she received a phone call from her supervisor requesting that she return to her desk. When she arrived, the supervisor and someone from security were waiting to inform her that her job had been terminated. She was instructed to log off her computer, sign her timecard, pack her personal belongings into an empty box, and then was politely escorted from the building. Carolyn remained at peace through the entire process because she knew that God was allowing this. However, her layoff still felt like a rejection. She had done nothing wrong; the company was simply reducing the size of their work force as the project neared completion.

Carolyn’s salary was about half of our income at the time and we had to quickly adjust our budget in order to compensate for the loss. Yet God also abundantly provided. For the next several months, she received a generous unemployment check which helped us during the transition. Ironically, before the layoff, we considered having Carolyn leave her job to stay home with our daughter, Hannah. So, what came as a shock was the hand of God giving us the desire of our hearts for our daughter. Carolyn could now take care of Hannah instead of using a daycare—a tremendous blessing for all of us.

God truly had something better for Carolyn and our family, and what looked like a setback was His grace. Sometimes God closes a door to move you through another one. Through that experience we learned the value of waiting upon God in complete trust.

God never promises that life will be free of trials—He promises that He will be with you always.

In the book of Nahum, the prophet declares, “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.” Nah. 1:7 NKJV

If you doubt God’s goodness during adversity, you will spiral downward into negativity. You may lose hope for a bright future; worse, you may walk away from Jesus.

Learning how to wait upon God—even when situations are overwhelming, and answers are delayed—is a key to walking victoriously in Christian life. To believe that God is good through all of life’s situations is essential to walking in peace and security in this life, with complete trust and patience while you wait. Trusting God through uncertainty is a hallmark of Christian maturity.

Mary chose Joseph within the will of God. Perhaps her own choice might have been someone else. Had she married a different man; the likelihood is small that God would have chosen her to bear His Son. Mary could have had a good marriage with another man but never have known the fullness of her destiny.

When we make life’s choices, the hand of God is quietly at work. If we seek Him with all our heart, He will grant us the ability to make them wisely. When the angel called on Joseph, things looked dark in the world, but God had a plan and would never forget His faithful servant or His people.

Wherever you find yourself today, be encouraged, God’s purposes are unfolding in your life. Change happens for many reasons, sometimes it’s the hand of God, trust Him!

2020 is full of promise! A new year and decade are dawning—let faith and hope sustain you! Allow closure where needed and embrace change to move forward in God’s purpose for your life! God has committed Himself to you through Christ!



[1] Stuart K. Weber, vol. 1, Matthew, Holman New Testament Commentary, 18 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

For a more in-depth look at this topic, watch the Passion Church message, “When God Changes Your Plan”

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Bob Sawvelle

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