Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.Proverbs 19:21
I’m a planner. Literally. My undergraduate degree was in Recreation, Parks & Tourism with a concentration in Event Planning. I enjoy planning things. In fact, one of my “hobbies” is planning vacations that I’ll (probably) never go on.
The older I get, the more I bump up against this problem with planning: oftentimes, my plans don’t coincide with God’s plan. And it’s frustrating, and, at times, painful.
When God Had Different Plans for Me
At the beginning of 2013, I started to have debilitating pain in my joints. At the time, I was a riding instructor at a local horse farm. I would get home from teaching lessons at the end of the day and literally crawl up the stairs to our apartment because I was in so much pain. I started to see an orthopedic doctor and then a sports medicine doctor, and when neither helped, I went to a rheumatologist, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a physical therapist… the list goes on. I got a knee brace, shoe insoles, a plethora of medications and side effects, and a myriad of injections in my joints. Instead of getting better, the pain only got worse.
With every new doctor, I would hope that this would be THE ONE. This would be the doctor who would know what was wrong with me. This would be the therapy to finally “fix” me. This medication would make it all go away. But it didn’t. I found the truth in this verse: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).
Three years into my journey with pain, I was consistently walking with a cane and taking several medications daily just to function. The pain kept me up at night—I spent a lot of nights crying on the bathroom floor, praying to God, feeling so alone and defeated. I was unable to work, barely able to go to church. There were days when I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without help from my husband. This obviously wasn’t part of my plans.
Since then, I’ve found things that have kept me more functional, but there’s been no miraculous cure. I have good days and bad days but each day I’m reminded of my dependence on God.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.James 4:13-16
This passage is very convicting to me, and I think of it often. To be clear, this is not addressing the person who makes wise and careful plans. These verses are referring to people whose plans are not able to be influenced by anyone – even God. The person in this passage is NOT saying, “I HOPE to do this or that,” or even, “I plan to do this or that.” They’re saying, “I WILL do this.”
Here’s a few things I learned from this passage:
1. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow – but God does.
There is a reality in this verse that I’d like to ignore when I’m busy planning my life away: I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know what will happen a year from now, a week from now, or even one second from now.
But God does.
So when I make my plans, I need to have a constant awareness of God and His powerful hand working in my life and the lives of those around me.
This is one of the reasons why I’m thankful for my pain. If I weren’t in pain, I would just plunge into whatever it is I want to do for that day. I would be the person saying, “I WILL do this, no matter what.” I wouldn’t be forced to “check in” with my body, with what God is calling me to do.
So when I’m in pain, in a way it’s like God forcing me to pay attention to Him. It’s as if He’s saying, “Hey, what you were planning on doing today, it’s not going to happen. This is what I want you to do instead.” It makes me focus on what’s really important for that day.
Today, the important things are not the dishes or the laundry or organizing Finn’s toys. The important things are being present with my family. Praying. Reading. Praying some more. Writing about this pain.
2. Human life is fragile.
Human life is fragile – and every move we take is dependent on God. Many verses in the Bible reference how fleeting our lives are (Psalm 39:4, 102:11; Ecclesiastes 7:2; Job 8:9; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Luke 12:16-21).
Last year, a few weeks before my son Justus was born, my dad had a stroke. For a time, he lost complete motion on the right side of his body. And he was lucky, it could have been much, much worse. He has slowly regained some functionality – he is now able to walk without a walker or cane, though his gait is still clumsy.
Like never before, he is aware of his dependence on God. From one moment to the next, he lost his ability to do very basic movements, and even the motion he retained is by the grace of God. This humbles me and reminds me that “we live and move only at the permission of God” (David Guzik). Humility is when we have an accurate and realistic view of our own importance. The reality is that God’s plans and His will are more important than our own. So, how do we respond to that?
“This uncertainty of life is not a cause either for fear or inaction. It is always a reason for realizing our complete dependence on God.”Moffatt
3. If it is the Lord’s Will…
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?Lamentations 3:37
Our lives are truly in the palm of God’s powerful, sovereign hands – and He can do with them what He wills. Thankfully, He is all loving as well as all-powerful and in all things He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). However, I believe that God wants us to live our lives with an awareness of our fragility and our complete dependence on Him. He wants us to search out His will and “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).
What does this look like?
A person who is dependent on God prays constantly.
A person who is aware of her fragility is humble – she doesn’t make promises she can’t keep. She doesn’t presume to know more than she really knows. She readily admits her faults.
A person who submits to God’s plans holds on to her own plans loosely. She doesn’t force her will against God’s will.
I was planning on writing something else today, but it seems like that wasn’t in God’s plan for me. Maybe somebody needs to hear this. Maybe you’re in pain – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. Perhaps you need to take a step back, get yourself to be still before the Lord and ask Him what’s important for you to do today. Maybe the thing you thought you were going to accomplish today doesn’t need to get done (or maybe it does!).
Whatever the case may be, choose to check in with God. Ask Him what His will is for you today. Ask Him for His strength in accomplishing whatever it is you need to do or not do today.
God is greater than our pain, He’s greater than our plans and He’s got a plan for us that’s even greater than anything we can comprehend.