Probably many of you have set plans or goals for the new year. I don’t usually have time to think about it much until the rest of the family’s first work day after Christmas. Then, when I have some quiet moments to myself, I can sort through what I’d like to do in the year ahead.
I don’t make resolutions. I used to be against them as a set-up for failure until I did a study on the “I will” statement in the Bible. Then I saw anew 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 where Paul prays that God “may fulfill every resolve for good.” So it’s not wrong–and in fact, it’s much needed—to resolve by God’s grace and prayer to make changes. We’re not going to float into godly living. We can’t do it on our own, but we need to “think on [our] ways” and then “turn [our] feet to your testimonies” (Psalm 119:59).
Still, though a new year is a good time to take stock, I am more likely to make those kinds of changes as I see the need for them rather than on Jan. 1.
But I do like to make plans for the year. Sometimes the tasks are mundane: reorganize the pantry or closet; complete the dress I started last year (or the year before. . . ), etc. Sometimes the listed items are more involved and will take a major shift, like the changes that will need to take place if I am ever going to finish this book I am trying to write.
I know better than to make plans first and then ask God to bless them. I try to remember to pray, asking God’s guidance as I make plans. I take into account James’ admonition:
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.” (James 4:13-15).
When I pray and plan that way, I feel that any interruption or change of plans is a signal that something’s wrong. Did I sin? Did I miss God’s guidance? Is Satan trying to trip me up? Is someone else sinning against me? I prayed asking for God to guide me, so these plans must be His will.
But sometimes the change is part of the plan. I don’t know why God seems to lead people one way and then changes courses. Maybe to increase their trust and dependence, maybe because there was something they were to learn or do along the way. Sometimes interruptions are the ministry, not a hindrance to ministry.
Whatever the case, I am coming to learn that God’s highest blessing may not be having my plans and dreams turn out like I want.
Coming through this last Christmas season, I was struck once again by Mary’s willingness to have her plans totally overturned when the angel announced that she was chosen to mother the Messiah.
We don’t know what Mary’s plans for life were except that she was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter. He seemed to be a quiet, godly man of character. They would not be well off, but I am sure Mary planned a cozy domestic life with a good man and a house full of children.
She did receive those things, but with a major twist. Her firstborn child would come before she knew a man physically, and that child would not end up leading a quiet, obscure life once He came to adulthood.
We don’t know if Mary realized everything that bearing and carrying Christ would mean: the gossip, the possibility that she would lose Joseph, the sorrow to come at Jesus’ death. But she was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do.
I think of Moses, who had thought he was supposed to help his fellow Israelites in Egypt. But that hadn’t worked out so well. Now he was resigned to keeping his father-in-law’s flock in Midian. Then suddenly God speaks to him from a burning bush. Yes, God planned for him to aid Israel, but He had a much bigger plan than Moses had imagined.
Numerous people in Scripture were stopped in their tracks to change course at God’s direction: Abraham and Sarah were sent from Ur to a land of God’s promise; David was called from tending sheep to being anointed king; Zechariah and Elizabeth found out they’d be having a baby at an advanced age; all the disciples were called from their occupations to follow Christ.
We knew a young couple on deputation to be missionaries when one of their children developed leukemia. One of our former pastors was in seminary when he was in a car accident that left him a quadriplegic.
I think Elisabeth Elliot probably assumed she would be on a foreign mission field all her life. And when Joni Earcekson Tada went diving one day as a teenager, she had no idea how her life was about to change. But where would we be without the testimonies of these two dear ladies that came about as a result of their changed plans?
Sometimes it’s hard to know when an obstacle to our plans is from God or Satan. Isobel Kuhn‘s mother was violently opposed to Isobel’s going to Bible college. Isobel received wise advice from a mentor about how to pray and wait for God to open the way. He taught her to pray something like, “Lord, if this obstacle is from you, I accept it. If it is from Satan, I refuse him and all his works.” This stood her in good stead in later years when she and her husband were on furlough, ready to go back to China, and they received word that the way was closed. The other missionaries were ready to acquiesce and take it as the Lord’s will, but Isobel felt strongly that God wanted them to go. She didn’t argue, but she went quietly into another room and prayed—and soon they received the okay to go.
So it’s good to pray and wait when a situation isn’t clear. But when a change in plans is obviously from God, we need to accept it. I’m afraid I am more like Moses, arguing with God, or reluctant like Gideon, or, sadly, sometimes even resistant like Jonah, whether changes are minor or life-altering. Oh, for grace to be like the disciples who dropped their fishing nets or left their tax desk immediately when the Savior called, or like Mary, who readily yielded herself to God’s will.
Often it seems that when God changes our plans, the end result is a greater usefulness and greater display of His power and glory than we had imagined. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
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