Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Best Laid Plans

Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also. (Romans 01:13-15, NKJV).

Having memorized a good deal of the Apostle Paul's New Testament writings, and being of the opinion that it is sometimes possible to see into the core of a man by what and how he writes about his own experiences, I suspect strongly that Paul was NOT impulsive.

He planned stuff (here, the Book of Acts and elsewhere), thought things through (the entire books of Romans, Ephesians and Philippians), and made lists (Romans 1, 2, 3, 8, 12; 1 Corinthians 12, 13, 14; Galatians 5, etc.). In many ways, he appears to be the quintessential (the most perfect or typical example) planner.

Yet, he freely admits when his plans fall through, and sees these failures as coming from His Lord for a higher and more perfect purpose. He lives in his heart this verse:

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9, NKJV).

This is a tremendous, practical, and pragmatic (sensible) model of behavior for each one of us, and it is best lived out in two simple steps. The first:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6, 7, NKJV).

And the second:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5, 6, NKJV).

Imagine a life lived in this way: decision points reached and managed with the assurance that God will work all things together for good; trials endured knowing each has its God-ordained purposes; losses accepted because there is a rock-solid understanding and faith in God's goodness and faithfulness.

This is how Paul lived, and it is the example he provided for us in Scripture.

Now it is humanly impossible to do this unless you have immersed yourself in who God is and what He is like as He has revealed in His word. For if you rely on your own image of God, you will base your beliefs on faulty information, and that is what much of the world does. They admit to a belief in God, but it is a god of their own making, not the God of the Bible.

People often pick and choose what they think they want God to be like, but if they thought it through, they would know that is the last thing they want.

For instance, if you want God to be like some kind of a wizard or magician who grants all your wishes, and ensures that all your plans are fulfilled, what you fail to take into account, is that your wishes and plans are based on the flimsiest foundation – your own thinking and knowledge.

Our wants and desires are often at odds with what is best for us. In fact, it is very likely that at one point or another in your life you will want or desire something that, were you granted it, it would be your destruction.

The best plan and approach to life is to rely on the One who knows the end from the beginning, Who knows the number of your days before there was yet one, Who knit you together in your mother's womb, and Who loves you with an everlasting love – the One Who spoke existence itself into being.

Reliance on anything or anyone else, makes no sense if you fully understand Who God is, and what He wants for you.

Remember what He says through Isaiah:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9, NKJV).

And, as is written in the Psalms,

Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works Which You have done; And Your thoughts toward us Cannot be recounted to You in order; If I would declare and speak of them, They are more than can be numbered. (Psalms 40:5, NKJV).

Here's the thing: human planning and preparation are part of good stewardship (taking care of that which God has given us for His purposes), but they are not ends in themselves. Nor is the fulfillment of our plans and preparations to be seen as a test of God's love.

He cares for us too much to allow our faulty and fallible thinking to be the sole force which governs our lives, and even if our plans are good and right and just, these may not be what is best for us at the moment.

Paul often planned to visit Rome, but always some circumstance prevented it until in God's perfect timing, and in God's perfect way, he was transported to Rome, not as a missionary, but as a prisoner, and only after being shipwrecked on the way, and bitten by a deadly snake.

Yet, even after all that, Paul understood that it was God who brought him to Rome, not the soldiers or even the ship. And it was God who prepared the way, with all the delays and mishaps, and while it may not have been the way the Apostle would have liked, that discouraged him not at all.


Because He trusted in His Lord with all his heart. So should we.