Romans 8:28

“All things work together for good” is the part of the quotation usually given while omitting the words “to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” That is one fact to remember—when quoting the verse, include those words. The fact is, unless one has been called by God (through the Holy Spirit who then also “draws” him to God), the promise should not be made in counseling. Moreover, the promise is to those who “love God” as the verse teaches—a fact often not stressed even though quoted.

What is this promise? It is a statement about the providence of God.  He is not a God Who fails to care for His creation, but One Who plans His work, then works His plan. He is personally directing the circumstances involved in whatever a person’s situation may be at any given moment. That is why the promise makes sense, and can be relied upon.

The verse is one that should be used frequently in one’s counseling ministry. Why? Because it is reassuring to those who find themselves in situations that seem to indicate God has forgotten them. This verse indicates that God is in the problem (it is not a random occurrence), that He is up to something in it (there is a definite purpose to it) and that He is up to something good (to be learned, later, perhaps in the distant future or even after death).

Use the verse, stressing that one must be a believer (effectually “called”) who loves God, and that there is something that He has in mind (the difficulty is not without “purpose”). Use it often but explain it as you do so that your counselees will understand the facts about it which are often neglected. When these are neglected, the verse often loses its meaning and fails to bring its comfort—the very things for which it was given and which you quote it.

Providence and Reasons Unknown

God’s providence is a wonderful thing; by it we know that all things work together for the good of His children. In counseling, or preaching, a man of God is able assure others of this fact. He should often revert to that comforting doctrine.

But some are not satisfied with that assurance. They want more. They insist on finding out how God is working out good in any given situation. Sometimes it is apparent how God is providentially at work (or at least partially so), but more often than not we are unable to do more than conjecture about it, Paul—an inspired prophet and apostle—at times found that he could not say for sure what God was doing providentially. In the situation in which Onesimus, a runaway slave came to know Christ through that experience, he writes “perhaps” that is why the event occurred (v.15), but (having no revelation of such facts) will go no further. It would do well for us most of the time to do the same. What we have in this little book of Philemon, interestingly, is an inspired “perhaps.”

Paul (or You) In Prison

In discussing problems with Christian counselees, we often find ourselves deeply involved in matters concerning the providence of God. People want to know “Why?” But it isn’t always possible to respond to that question in any specific way. If it is, fine; but that is the exception, not the rule.

So what do we say? Well, of course many different things—responses that fit each individual situation—but there are some principles (abstract as they may be) that people usually find helpful.

In referring to Paul’s imprisonment at Rome (Philippians 1) we show how God used it to convert soldiers as well as encourage others to go preach. As we open up the passage at some length, the following encouraging principles emerge:

  1. God is in your problem
  2. God is up to something in your problem
  3. God is up to something good

Whether or you are able to see all or even only part of what it is that He’s up to, you can rely on the fact because of Romans 8:28,29.

What is providence? It is the working out of God’s plan by God Himself. Unlike Deism, Christianity teaches that God plans His work,then works His plan. Deists believe that having created the world, He no longer is concerned with it. He wound up the clock, now it can run on its own. Rather, we believe He made and maintains the world. And that He personally does things in it—in particular, in people’s lives.

If you’re in some trouble today, reread those three facts, believer, and you should be encouraged by them—even if ‘right now you can’t see how God is at work in your problem. Some day—now or in eternity—you may understand fully. But it’s your task at the moment—to believe, and look forward to whatever outcome God may bring from it. In the long run, you may even be privileged to discover (as Paul did) what God was up to—and that you will see that it truly is good!

Whose Plans Are Accomplished?

Many think that God proposes, but man disposes. But they have it dead wrong!

Man simply doesn’t change God’s plans, as that statement indicates.

From all eternity God planned (rather than proposed), and man does what He planned in the first place. Now, this happens in such a way that man does what he intends to do (without any pressure exerted upon him to do it), but it always turns out to be exactly what God planned for him to do.

What man does fulfills God’s plans.

If you don’t believe me consider Genesis 45:5,7 and Genesis 50:20—

Now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.

God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

Joseph’s brothers had one intention, which they carried out, but God had an entirely different intention—which they also carried out! Both their intentions and God’s were accomplished in such a way that they were rightly held responsible for their actions, and God’s will was carried out by them.

For more biblical instruction in this matter, consider—

this man, delivered up by God’s predetermined plan the foreknowledge, by hands of lawless men, you killed by crucifixion!     Acts 2:23

In this city it is true that Herod and Pontius Pilate together with the Gentiles and people of Israel gathered together against Your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You anointed to do those things that Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.  Acts 4:27-28

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Yaweh will prevail.         Proverbs 19:21

Man proposes; God disposes!


What is providence, and of what importance is it to counselors? That’s the matter before us.

There are few other doctrines which are more important to the work of counseling. A tragic event in a believer’s life occurs. How will you help him handle it? In large measure by explaining the biblical doctrine of providence.

“Could you explicate?”

Certainly. Christians are not Deists. Deists believe that God made the world and then walked away from it to allow it to function on its own. We believe, in contrast, that God had a plan for everything and everyone, and then stayed around to see that the plan is carried out. That is to say, God is at work in His world today.

“But how does that affect counseling, tragic events, and the like?”

This way: God is always up to something in everything that happens. He planned His work, and He is now working His plan. When something takes place that calls attention to itself—one ought to ask, “I wonder what God is up to?”

“Is He up to something only in tragic or otherwise noteworthy events?”

No. God is at work in everything that happens. But it’s often in noteworthy events that people begin to ask questions about where God is and whether or not things are out of His control (take a look at the Psalms, for instance).

“OK. But what should the fact of His providential working mean to us?”

Simply this—God is not only up to something’ He’s up to something good!

“How do you know that?”

He told us so.

All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

That truth is the believer’s warrant for saying that

  1. God is in his problem
  2. God is at work in his problem
  3. God is up to something good in his problem.

It’s great that Christian counselors have such a wonderful promise to bring to the counseling table!

“Is it possible to find out what God’s up to?”

Generally, yes; specifically, not always; comprehensibly, never.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. We know that it’s something to help us grow when we handle the event His way. In Romans 8: 29, He makes it clear that such things are sent to make us more like Christ. We can know that generally. Specifically—exactly how this is so—may or may not be apparent immediately (or perhaps ever—until eternity). Finally, because all that happens in one event affects so many others, we’ll never know comprehensively all God is doing. All things works together to accomplish many things. In God’s providence, what happened to Joseph affected not only him, but the entire nation of Israel (and Egypt, for that matter).

“So, you are able, then, to bring the truth of God’s providence—that He is up to something (working out His infinitely good plan) for good—to reassure believers who are in trouble.”

You’ve got it!

Providential Care

In my opinion, unless a counselor is well aware of how God works for the good of His children, and is able to communicate something of those facts to counselees in times of distress, he will be a pretty sorry counselor.

I like what Chrysostom had to say about the providential care God showed for Joseph in the house of Pharaoh. He points out that Joseph was really in a far worse prison when living in Pharaoh’s household near a wild, lascivious woman than when he was jailed. He sees the imprisonment as blessed relief! Of course, he also goes through Joseph’s entire life to show how, at every turn, step by step, ordering each event, God was working out everything for His ends and Joseph’s good.

Providence, as we have previously noted, is God at work in His world doing those things in both general history and personal histories to achieve goals that, at the time when He is in the process of effecting them, may seem only puzzling or even tragic. That is because we lack the comprehensive knowledge that He possesses. Yet, all the while, nothing is actually meaningless, haphazard or unplanned. The tragic automobile accident in which one life is taken and another spared, was really no accident. It was but one element in the working out of God’s benevolent purpose to every believer that it involved.

But to believe in providence, one must also believe that God is in charge; that He is sovereign over all things and all creatures. If He were not, there could be no providential ordering of events according to a plan that was moving forward toward gracious outcomes for His own. Yet, perhaps in order to preserve some sort of unbiblical freedom for men, some foolishly deny this sovereign sway of God over His creation. In their world, man is the maverick, a loose cannon on board ship. But whenever this is postulated it turns out that man becomes more than he really is, and God less than He actually is. He turns out to be a god foreign to Scripture, and man is jacked up until he become a creature foreign to our experience.

Providence, to put it simply, is the true God doing what He pleases. And, praise Him, the thing to remember is that pleases Him to bless His people!

God’s Timetable

calandar1Listen to what Isaiah the prophet said (13:23) about mighty Babylon when it seemed to everyone that there was no hope to escape her ruthlessness:

Babylon’s time is almost up; her days are almost over.

God has a timetable! Things in our world—no matter how desperate they seem—are not out of hand. He is waiting to deal with the murderous, destructive forces at work at present until the time He has set to remove those who perpetrate them. When that time comes, He will “give rest” to His people (14:3) and cause them to sing a “song of contempt” (14:4) over those cruel, iniquitous oppressors who now have the ascendency over the just.

Take heart. Wait patiently and prayerfully. Remember, God has a timetable! His calendar may even now be in His hand!

What’s It All About?

I’m referring to the Book of Jonah.

There are other aspects of the Prophecy for sure, but I want to mention one dominant one. Listen to the following:

The Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea.   (1: 4)

Then the Lord appointed a great fish.   (1:17)

Then the Lord commanded the fish . . .   (2:10)

Then the Lord God appointed a plant.   (4:6)

God appointed a scorching East wind.   (4:8)

What describes what was happening? What do these words mean to you? If you had to, could you think of one word?

The word is PROVIDENCE.

God was in charge—everything went His way.  No matter what Jonah or the sailors tried, God countered it.

Providence means that God plans His work—then He works His plan!

Think about this a bit, and see how it helps you, as His redeemed child, when things aren’t necessarily going your way!


Providential Living

3I can say that it is only because of God’s providential working that today I look back on my ministry as primarily a pastoral and teaching ministry. If you were to ask my wife, at the time she married me, what she thought we’d be doing for the next 60 years, she’d probably tell you, as she has told me, that she thought I’d become a missionary or a traveling evangelist. Instead, I have, at various times, been a Youth For Christ Director, a pastor, a professor, and an author. I suspect that at the time when I graduated from seminary in 1948, I would have also thought along similar lines as my wife. But at that time, only one of these objectives was in view—the pastoral ministry.

How, then, did things change? Not by any deliberate about face. Rather, it was a multitude of little providential happenings that moved me out of one ministry orientation into another. Looking back, I can say that, if what has occurred in my life is typical, God surely rules over each one of us in ways that, at the time, we don’t quite understand, to bring about His will.

How did things turn out as they did? It was in that first pastorate that some of my writing began. And teaching, from the start found its way into my life. Because of my concern about the liberalism in the community I wrote a tract exposing error and contrasting it with biblical truth. The tract clearly indicted the apostate Presbyterian USA denomination, a congregation of which was in the community adjacent to our church. That caused something of a furor as the pastor protested to my presbytery—which backed me, but urged me to be careful about how I presented myself in such matters. Then, writing also became of an increasing interest as I did an exegetical study for Wednesday evening prayer meetings in the Book of Revelation. Some people got wind of this, and wanted me to explain my views. Others also wished the same. Soon, I found I would be doing little else, if I didn’t write it out and distribute it instead. That, my first book, which was published in 1958 was the beginning of a writing ministry that I would have laughed at you for suggesting it at that time.

Interest in teaching also began in that pastorate in Eighty Four (the home of 84 Lumber) Pennsylvania. Two other pastor friends and I began a Bible school in nearby Canonsburg. There I began preparing syllabi, and learned something about teaching in a formal academic manner.

Things went on from there to the present, in unexpected and largely unplanned ways, until I found myself inextricably bound to the type of ministry that had been carved out for me long before I knew anything about it. Even the publication of Competent to Counsel, the book that made me more widely known, was not planned. I had no notion of publishing it. It was intended to be a text for my students at Westminster Seminary. But, since it was produced in smeary mimeograph of the day, I asked a printer friend to make a stiffer cover and bind it for me. He was doing printing for P&R Publishers at the time, showed it to them, and they asked if they could publish it. This, perhaps the most significant event in turning my ministry toward counseling, was likewise unplanned, as you can see.

Many, many other matters have happened this way. God’s providential work in my life has been noteworthy. I could never have charted such a course as I have taken–including a ministry of blogging in my old age! He alone could have fitted so many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together so as to make some sense out of it! No wonder I think providence to be a significant doctrine to proclaim.


There is evil in this world—all sorts of evil, and in every sort of place, including the church. I don’t need to tell you; you know about it and could give illustrations innumerable of it. But if God is good—how come? How could this be true?

There are two common answers:

  1. Evil is coeval with God; He can do nothing about it. But if that were true, how could you worship Him, ask Him for things in prayer, etc.? He would be a feeble, god not worth calling upon, since He might be unable to respond. Such a helpless god could want to change things for the better, but is unable to do so.
  2. Evil exists, God knows it, but from time to time allows evil to occur.

Both views present a god unworthy of worship.

Well, then, what is the truth?

Simply this: God controls all things, even the existence and activity of evil.

We must remove the word “allows” when speaking  of God and evil.   He doesn’t merely allow evil to occur. If so, there would be another power, or force, in the universe as great as (or nearly so) as God. It is a force wanting to express itself in various evil ways, but must seek permission from God to do so.  So when evil occurs, God has given way to this force and allows it to have its way .

But God is in control of all things.  What does that really mean?  Think about it—who is the force that determines if and when evil occurs-for His own purposes? There is no second god-like force; He is the sole force in the universe.  All evil is according to His determinate purposes—always for some good purpose. God doesn’t allow evil; He has planned all good and evil.  Actually, all the “evil” we talk about today is actually a good that we shall someday see to be such. God  doesn’t allow it—He foreordains it.