Man’s Plans, God’s Plans


ChecklistI read a Christian book on leadership when I was 20 years old. The major teaching I took away from it was that wise Christians plan out every part of life.

So, I did.

I prayed, fasted, and came up with 10 plans that covered my spiritual, financial, educational, social, and physical life. I would work on them for 10 years, and on my 30th birthday, I would review them all.

So, I did.

I’d sealed up those 10 plans in a plastic tube, time capsule-like. More dramatic that way when I opened them, I guess. Still, I knew what they all were. The grand opening—yeah, just drama.

At 30, one of those 10 items had been accomplished about halfway. The other nine and a half had stubbornly refused to play out as intended. Not that I hadn’t tried and tried hard. And with a lot of prayer. Fasting too.

To me, “circumstances” had walked all over those plans. Today, you might call them “black swans” instead. Unforeseen caltrops on the road to glory.

Perhaps I had been too ambitious. I sat down, rethought it all, and revised down to five plans. I vowed to work even harder on those plans.

So, I did.

At 40, I evaluated my five plans and saw that for all my determination to achieve those plans and goals, I’d accomplished one item on the list. Another black swan invasion.

Hmm. Perhaps I was working too hard on my plans.

This time, I revised the plans and vowed not to overthink them. Plus, I’d not let them go 10 years, only five.

So, I did. Sort of.

Turns out that perhaps I treated them too lightly, because it was seven years before I did the review. One plan out of five accomplished. Those pesky swans.

What was going on here?

For every Joseph or Nehemiah in the Bible, men who seemed to have a plan, whether surviving a famine or rebuilding a city, there were other men who didn’t. The Christian leadership books never use those unplanned men in their examples, coincidently.

Abraham, for instance, set out into the unknown. He had no plan except to follow God’s leading. When Abraham tried to force God’s plans, he birthed a son who was NOT the promised one. Any check of today’s news will tell us the unforeseen impact of that son Ishmael and his seed.

Peter had his plans knocked down by Jesus Himself:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.”
—John 21:18

Paul had plans to carry the Gospel to Asia. Those plans didn’t go as he intended:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
—Acts 16:6-10

James warns about loving our plans too much:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
—James 4:13-16

Or, as the old Yiddish saying goes:

Man plans and God laughs.

Time and again, when I go back to Scripture, I see the same truth over and over: God plans, and His plans are what come to pass. Man can plan all he wants, but ultimately, God is in control. Man is not. All a man’s plans are wishful thinking.

Which takes me back to all those Christian leadership books.

I was reading in one of those books the other day, and after tossing out all the pop psychology and pithy quotes from dead Chinese, Roman, and British leaders, there’s still an underlying message that if you wake up every day and say, “God, what would you have me do today?” then you’re an idiot.

That saddens me.

Jesus said this:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
—Mark 10:15

Anyone who has been around children for even a short time knows they are the most unplanned creatures on the planet. For this reason, they also have few cares and worries.

I had many plans. I worried about them too.

I think Christians who try to teach us to plan all parts of our lives have good intentions. I also think they are off track. The true leader IS the one who acknowledges all his lacks and goes to God every day and says, “God, what would you have me do today?”

Isn’t that in keeping with the following words from Jesus?

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
—Matthew 6:34-35

This is not to say that we should never plan anything. But I think that man’s plans must take a distant second place to God’s plans. Always keep your plans subordinate to God’s and allow God to “black swan” your plans in favor of His—and without complaint.

Because that black swan is really a white dove.

5 thoughts on “Man’s Plans, God’s Plans

  1. Meredith

    I really appreciate this.

    A verse that has anchored me since my baby christian days in college is Prov. 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

    God is so good – as are His plans for us!

    • Meredith,

      I considered using that verse, but I wonder if it can be interpreted two very different ways:

      1. Man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps within that planned course.

      2. Man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps, regardless of man’s planned course.

      Anyone have any thoughts on those two renderings?

      • Meredith

        Great question.

        In my understanding, number 2 all the way.

        Eph 2:10 says we are “…created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

        I find that this is a topic I can easily over-think and confuse myself.

        So I try and just take God at His word ‘I make a plan – God determines my steps’ & ‘good works prepared in advance for me to do’.

        It would seem impractical for us not to plan at all. We plan every day – grocery list, to-do list, how to spend a free saturday with the kids, even choosing a career path.

        That being said, we pray, then do so with an open hand and open eyes, knowing that there are works already prepeared and waiting for us to walk in.

        So when I go to the grocery store – God could have me run into a friend that needs encouragement. The saturday at the park could allow me to meet an unbeliever who needs the gospel.

        Or in choosing a career path – I may choose which jobs to apply for, and in the process of interviewing, I could talk to someone in the waiting area who lets me know of a completely different job that I never knew about – thereby changing MY direction into the plans God had for me.

        I guess my thinking is, we can easily stall out and never get out of bed in the morning if we over-analyze and over-pray “God what is your will for me today?” “Should I go to grocery store A or B? Should I buy Fuji or Gala apples? Should I go the highway or the back roads?”

        So for me, I do ask God, “what is your will for me today?” Then I get up out of bed and just start making my plans, and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me as I go along the road and see what unfolds – what He has waiting for me!

  2. Tryphena

    This is really, really powerful in its simplicity and affirms the truth that this is not my story. It is God’s story. Praise God that, by his grace, his plans do bring us true joy, because he is a good and kind parent. But he is in charge and his plans are ultimately for HIS glory. And I think so many times my plans are not wrong, they’re just not timely. A child may think it’s a great plan to visit a friend, go on a trip, have cake, take all the toys out of the closet and reorganize. All good things, really. But if carried out at the wrong time could bring chaos and weariness, not joy. God give us, your children, sensitivity and submission to your Spirit! Thank you for this admonition, Dan. I needed the reminder.

    It surprised me to see Joseph used as an example of a man who had a plan. I see what you mean. But what a journey he was on to get to that point! Did God use “black swans” to train Joseph to walk by faith and to be sensitive to his Spirit. Sold into slavery, falsely accused and imprisoned for three years… probably not in his 10 year plan. Maybe there is a connection between being given the wisdom for surviving a famine and having deferred to God’s plans in the past.

    • Tryphena,

      Sounds like Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and we are merely players.”

      As to Nehemiah and Joseph, in truth, even they weren’t the planners, despite how they are sometimes portrayed by folks looking for godly men who planned well. Nor was Noah. God was the planner and the plan deliverer. Godly men just follow His lead.

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