Away from a Plan and into a Promise
I’m a planner. Think Monica on Friends but with less of a focus on organization. I mean — I really don’t care how my cleaning products are arranged. But planning? For anything? I’m in. And it doesn’t even need to be a plan that involves me. Need help with your wedding? Ask away. Want me to recommend a restaurant? Tell me the occasion. As a kid, I was the odd one to stop at the brochure counter on vacation. I know; it’s sad. You’d find me, the fanny-pack dad, and grandparents who were looking for fun (but not too much fun) all perusing the assortment of pamphlets boasting the “Most Adventure” or “Best Value”. I grabbed the ones I could reach. I also grabbed maps. The more detail the better. I wanted to know where I was, where I could be, and how long it would take to get there. No, I wasn’t in charge. I was a kid. But I could plan.
Today, I no longer collect brochures. Until recently, though, this didn’t mean that my outlook on planning had changed. Instead of printed brochures, I clicked “save to favorites.” And instead of backpacking trips, I was now planning for a mortgage, car repairs, family budgets, and career moves. The choices were larger and the stakes were higher, but the process was the same. Thankfully, the Lord is sovereign and has His own plans — plans that obviously not only supersede mine, but that don’t require my input either. In fact, the more I’ve come to know the Lord, the more I realize that He desires my obedience more than my input and my faithfulness more than my idea of success.
The Three Step Plan
“Whereas God was waiting for me to surrender 100% of my life to Him, I was wanting to do 100% in my life for Him. ”
My old way of thinking — though never verbalized — revolved around three actions: research, plan, succeed. It was a fairly repeatable formula for nearly every aspect of life. Was it idealistic? Yes. Did I think it worked? Yes. But “think” is a key word. You see, up until this point, though I knew God had his OWN plan for my life, I had always felt like I needed to do my part. I truly believed in God, His plans, and His promises, but I felt that a large portion of His plans hinged on my involvement to complete those plans. Whereas God was waiting for me to surrender 100% of my life to Him, I was wanting to do 100% in my life for Him. This may sound like a nuance in meaning, but the difference is vast. Even though my actions typically aligned themselves with submission, my thinking had yet to be transformed. I would eventually submit, “not my will, but yours be done,” but only after starting with a carefully crafted three-step plan for achieving my goals. I had twisted Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6 — “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” — to form a new montra. By changing the word anxious to planning, I could now, in my skewed thinking, NOT be anxious, and “plan for everything, and in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let my plans be made known to God.”
Obedience > Sacrifice
So long as I’m submitting my plans to God, it’s okay, right? On the surface, the answer would be “yes.” However, such a view misses the point of Paul’s words. Paul advises us to not be anxious and to enter into prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving BEFORE making our requests known to God. I, however, have been apt to simply go before Him and make my plans known through prayer. After all, I don’t want it to seem as though I haven’t thought about things. Look at my planning and hard work! More often, though, we’re circumstantial in our planning, desiring God to change our situations while the entire time he is wishing to bring a change in our hearts.
“Our job then is to put away our ‘perfect’ plans and seek to understand His perfect will.”
In all things and at all times, God is doing more than what we can see. If we know this to be true, why do we plan as if we have the whole story? God’s promises are always meant for more than our own benefit. Our job then is to put away our “perfect” plans and seek to understand His perfect will. The promises of God will not be accomplished through our ability to sacrifice, but through our ability to follow His lead.
God’s Promises, God’s Plans
Planning as a practice isn’t inherently wrong. In fact, planning is necessary. However, the Lord has shown me that it’s when I begin to focus on the plan MORE than the promise that I lose sight of Him. I can become so eager to make the pieces of my life fit together, that my planning becomes exhausting and my efforts become a hindrance. A hindrance to what? To the promise. In Genesis 16, we see this truth played out in the life of Abraham. Though God had promised him a son, decades passed and he and Sarah thought God might need their help. Perhaps He was waiting on them to make a move. Perhaps He forgot what He said. So in an effort to fulfill the promise, Abraham sleeps with Hagar the servant girl rather than waiting on the Lord to fulfill His word through his wife Sarah.
“…the promises of God always require a plan that challenges our assumptions, confronts our fears, and builds our faith. ”
When our efforts to plan outweigh our efforts to pray then we set ourselves up for disappointment and disillusionment. When God issues a promise, he has a plan in mind. And the promises of God always require a plan that challenges our assumptions, confronts our fears, and builds our faith. Time and again in scripture, God used the most unlikely of people in the most unexpected places to accomplish an unimaginable purpose. Knowing this, we can do more than submit our plans to Him. We can submit our lives. We can rest — knowing that “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6)