Last week’s ideal plan didn’t translate itself into reality. Instead, life happened. While on an errand, I met a man and we talked for two hours; a friend called to say her father is dying and I went to visit him; and our water main sprung a leak, drenching the basement.
I’m traveling west for a retreat, so last week was filled with dozens of tasks to get ready. I use a planning app that helps me prioritize action items for each day. And then (hopefully) I complete all the items. But last week I failed utterly.
At the end of that “life-is-full-of-surprises” week, a well-known Christian blogger sent an email describing how “elite” entrepreneurs and executives accomplish their goals by eliminating the competing distractions. I thought, “Distraction-free life-management? Sign me up!”
And then I paused: How does it leave room for God?
When Our Plans Go Awry
When Moses led Israel out of Egypt, he never expected the plagues, Passover, and parted Red Sea. When Elijah heard the voice of God on Mt. Sinai, he expected to hear it like Moses did, in the fire, wind, and earthquake. Instead he got a still, small voice.
Because God loves to surprise us. You can’t put him in a box. He won’t fit in your iPhone.
Gideon planned to attack the enemy with an army of 32,000, and God whittled it down to 300; Paul expected to evangelize Asia, and God directed him to Macedonia; and I planned to prepare for a retreat, and God interrupted me with a stranger.
By all means, make a plan; but expect God to disrupt it.
How Can We Know God’s Will for Each Day?
Consider this famous proverb: “Trust in the Lord, not your own ideas; acknowledge him in all your plans, and he will direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5–6 par). Meditating on this proverb produced my paraphrase above and the following simple pattern for getting God’s guidance:
After prayer, counsel, and wisdom: make a plan.
Then: give that plan to God.
Finally: let God direct your path.
Giving our agenda to God means that he will frequently guide us down paths our original maps never envisioned. We trust in God to direct us, not in our own ideas; we especially don’t want to trust our own plans.
Plans are just nice starting points to get us moving.
God’s most common guidance is done naturally: sometimes with disruptions, sometimes through circumstances, and often through surprises. The non-formulaic nature of his guidance means we will take risks, learn through trial and error, and that we remain alert to God’s gentle nudges.
Which is perfectly fine. It means we remain in a conversational relationship with God.
Which was his plan all along.
God wants us to hear his voice; he wants a conversational relationship with us all. Please consider buying my new book, Hearing God in Conversation.
It’s written for both believers and non-believers. Give one to a friend.
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