In the list of the top ten things Christian ministers say which I would argue with is this one:
“God has a wonderful plan for your life”.
Here are a few more:
“Satan always attacks you at your weakest point” (I’ve disproved that one);
“God wants you to be successful” (I disproved that one too);
“Jesus was a man’s man” (because he worked out at the gym for two hours every day and took protein supplements, of course);
“You can’t go it alone as a Christian”. Unfortunately the truth is that you have to go it alone sometimes in order to keep your faith.
The phrase “God has a wonderful plan for your life”, and others which are related to it, appeal to our selfish twenty-first century human nature, and we immediately begin to rub our hands with glee and think to ourselves, “Oh goody! There’s a cosmic fairy godmother who is just longing to fulfill all my dreams and make my life a wild roller-coaster of fun, success and fulfillment!”
I hate to break this to you who haven’t found out yet, but this assumption could not be further from the truth.
I do not doubt that some people are used mightily by God, that they have remarkable lives and testimonies, and that for some life may even be rich and successful. But for the vast majority of us, life can be very straightforward and uneventful, or even dull. Even if there is a specific plan for you, it may not seem wonderful at all. Many people, including Christians, are just struggling to get by: they work hard in a job which they hate but have to do, or perhaps they can’t even get a job; they struggle with ill health and go from one doctor’s appointment to the next; they are imprisoned unfairly; their relationships are damaged or broken; their spouse makes life miserable for them; their childhood dreams and plans are never realized.
Going even further than that, many people, including Christians, have events or chains of events and situations in their lives which have been so devastating and so disastrous that you could be forgiven for wondering, “Where in the world was God? Why didn’t he show up? Why wasn’t there a happy ending – a miraculous outcome which put everything right?”
In our selfishness we grow up thinking that “if” God is there, he’s supposed to wave his magic wand, to make everything go right for us, to answer all our prayers, to fulfill all our plans and dreams, and to make the world into a beautiful, safe, happy place for everyone so that we can all go about doing just what our little hearts desire. The truth that sometimes only those who persevere in their faith learn is that we are here to fulfill his plans. It is by so doing that we are blessed and fulfilled. We are expected to endure when the going gets tough, not necessarily to expect an easy – out option.
The idea that if God was really there he would automatically fulfill all our plans is false: it’s a lie. Equally false is the idea that God has a plan for each of our lives which will leave us reeling with delight and amazement as we see it unfolding. Even worse is the concept that we have to somehow search for God’s plan for our life, like some needle in a haystack, by divining the signs in a number of ways which are no more Biblical than is the art of tea-leaf reading.
Beware of those who are quick to tell you that the Lord told them what you should do: he’s quite capable of telling you if he chooses, and doesn’t need to go through some self-appointed or organizationally-appointed “prophet”. Sometimes these “prophets” can give the impression that God must be really confused or keeps changing his mind. Beware also of the notion that if you pray hard and hold your head at just the right angle God will whisper in your ear or send you a letter to tell you which college to go to, which girl or guy to marry, or even which box of cereal to buy. I all but lost my faith in a couple of periods of my life by begging God to give me a yes or no answer on hugely important life -changing decisions: they never came. I later came to realize that God gives us a large amount of free will, and he wishes us – in fact often requires us – to use it. There just may be times, however, when you do sense some guidance – its always good to pray for it.
Also beware of the notion that if things don’t just fall into place in one direction, that must not be God’s plan for you. I once chased a certain girl for over three years, and during that time she made it very clear she had no wish to marry, particularly not me. We’ve been married for twenty-six years.
Now, I don’t mean to put a wet blanket onto any young fires: keep them burning! Your dreams may well be within the will of God! I don’t believe for a moment that God is a cosmic killjoy. Neither am I saying that God wants us all to go into full-time ministry: he doesn’t. He wants us to “ bloom where we are planted”. There are a million different things you could do with your life. But I do want you to know that you will be far happier in the long run if you don’t make the huge mistake of thinking that God’s will is to fulfill all your desires.
As usual, the way for the Christian to get his or her thoughts straight on any subject is by looking into the Bible. I don’t mean that we artfully snip a verse or a part of a verse out which suits our idea of how things should be: I mean let’s get to the nitty gritty of the matter, to God’s view, and to the truth.
NOT EVERYONE IS CALLED FOR A SPECIFIC PURPOSE
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers…” (James 3:1).
This tells me that your station in life is not pre-selected so that you have to figure out beforehand what God has decided you must do. It sounds far more like a choice of the will, a wise decision based on your character and ablities. Even clearer is Paul’s instruction to Titus that:
“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14).
This thought is echoed in 2 Thessalonians 3::6-15. We work to pay for necessities and to lead productive lives, not because God has a plan for our personal success or because he has assigned us all specific tasks in building some earthly empire.
There is no instruction to stress and strain to find God’s map for your life.
PUTTING THE TRAILER BEFORE THE TRUCK
How many of us have had thoughts or even made prayers along these lines:
“God, if you will just arrange for such-and such to happen, I will love you and serve you for the rest of my life”.
I’m not saying that God will never arrange for such-and such to happen, but in the Biblical scheme of things, this is like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Scripture has the order the other way around:
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6).
Notice that Solomon didn’t say “…and he will make all your dreams come true”. And don’t forget the qualification: we have to acknowledge him. We have to consider him and his ways in our daily lives and before we make decisions, which should reflect his will and desire.
Again, Solomon said:
“The Lord detests men of perverse heart, but he delights in those whose ways are blameless” (Proverbs 11: 20).
If our hearts (our desires, our will, our way of thinking) are sinful according to HIS standards, he will take no pleasure in our lives or our desires. We may think we are “good”, but does he think we are?
David wrote that:
“…the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).
“No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84: 11).
This principle is carried over into the New Testament, where Jesus says:
“…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6: 33).
Notice that “these things” do not include a Ferrari, the most beautiful girl in the city, or a winning lottery ticket. Jesus was talking about food, drink, clothes: the basic needs of life. That being said, what you may achieve in life just might be beyond your wildest dreams. God has given us talents, gifts and abilities, and imagination. They are there for us to use, but with the right motivation and determination.
Why would God make our paths straight and our lives fruitful if we put him first? The answer is that if we are seeking His ways we will have the right kind of dreams and plans instead of being self-seeking. We will have dreams and plans that He will agree with and be willing to fulfill through us and in us:
“The plans of the righteous are just…” (Proverbs 12: 5).
“…if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5: 14-15).
More than that, if we are walking with God in our daily lives, he actually plants in us the right kind of plans and dreams to ask him to fulfill:
“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2: 13).
So to get things in the right order and perspective, Paul counsels us to:
“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
Notice that God’s will, his plans and dreams, are “good, pleasing and perfect”. This is in contrast to ours which, if we are not right with God, may be bad, selfish and potentially harmful or even disastrous. Even if our plans are not bad, God might not be be behind them if we refuse to acknowledge him. And it’s not enough to say, “Hey God, remember me? I’m going to do xyz and I need your help so make it work for me”.
THE TRUCK BEFORE THE TRAILER
Our model is Jesus Christ. What did he have to say about his future and his plans?
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6: 38).
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26: 39).
This is the kind of prayer that really gets God’s attention and approval! But look what happened – Christ was crucified, according to the will of God. He didn’t get a Ferrari, or a harem, or a mansion, or executive privileges on the board of any corporation.
And what should be our motivation for doing the will of God in our lives?
“The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2: 17).
GOD’S PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16: 9).
I really don’t think it’s necessary, or even a good idea, to weep and howl and search and scratch and beg for the Lord’s vividly clear guidance in your life. You have a huge amount of free-will and choice, and even if God has something specific for you, you do not have to “know” what he wants you to do before you do it: you will find that if you are walking with him in life, the events, the situations and the people he wants for you will come along anyway. Many Christians want to be modern day Pauls and Peters, and you may hear something like “the Lord told me” from them every five minutes. But If the Lord doesn’t tell you, don’t worry, because from my experience they are no more likely to have a meaningful productive life than you are.
Paul came across such people himself. On one occasion a prophet named Agabus told him that the Holy Spirit warned that Paul would be captured and made a prisoner if he went to Jerusalem. At this warning others begged Paul not to go (Acts 21; 10-12). But Paul had already decided that he was being compelled by the Holy Spirit to go (Acts 20: 22). Listening to wise advice is always a good idea, but in the end, the direction comes from God through you, even if you aren’t aware of it at the time, which leads me to the method by which you can live out God’s plan for your life.
If you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, your gifts, your passions and your compulsions, carefully aligned with the word of God, will take you in the right direction. If you are gifted or talented in a certain way, see that as a God-given gift or talent, and live to use it and fulfill it. If you have a passion, and it’s not something that’s ungodly according the word of God, then live your life in fulfillment of that passion.
Do not expect life to always make sense – it may not. But if you seek first the kingdom of God, you will be able to look back over it and see that he was there all the time.
If you find that life is not all you wish it would be, then patiently endure, because this is also God’s will.
Most fundamentally, this is God’s plan for you:
Your salvation in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1: 9-11);
Your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3);
Your witness to the world for Jesus (Matthew 28: 18-20).
God wants you to know his Son and to become like him. This is the plan and the will of God for your life.