Job answered the LORD and said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
How do you respond to plans that have been thwarted? I become deflated when I have a plan written in my mind how events will develop and someone opposes, defeats, or prevents me from experiencing my vision. A gut punch is felt deep in my soul. I am astounded that my expectations don’t always work out. God certainly humbles me through these deflated moments.
Plan and reality do not always match. There is wisdom in remembering the proverb that says, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). History is cluttered with plans that never developed into reality. Developers of housing subdivisions will buy property, develop a site plan, get township approval, and then abandon a project because the business models have changed. Owners of sports teams will propose new stadiums with beautiful artistic renderings that fall flat when it comes time to actually secure financing. The wild visions and schemes of people can be thwarted for all sorts of reasons.
In my congregation we have also experienced plans that have failed to develop into reality. A few years ago, before our renovation, we considered building a community center with a gymnasium. We developed artistic renderings but this plan did not receive broad support. I found it necessary to take a step back and recognize we needed to do more to build a shared vision for our congregation. Last fall we hired someone to work part-time with young families. But even before he started, he was hired to work full-time somewhere else. Even before people knew we had a plan, reality set in and plans crumbled. We continue to make plans in this congregation knowing that we will make mistakes and stumble.
This year we continue in our church to make plans to move our forward in our vision of connecting people to Jesus. I know some plans will prosper and others will fail. How will we handle these ups and down?
Here are a couple of ways to handle the trauma of plans collapsing instead of reacting with resistance, complaining, and growing distrust. I am not a big fan of those kinds of response, though I find myself participating in some of these ugly response patterns.
First, I encourage you to turn your will towards God’s will. Trust in God includes remembering God’s will and desire for us remains true. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God’s will to save us. Whether I am in want and need or I have plenty, in all circumstances God’s desire for me is good. The trauma of my thwarted plans does not mean God’s plan for me is destroyed. So my first response to changed plans involves remembering God’s will for me is my salvation.
Second, be thankful and prayerful for every circumstance. The pause after collapsed plans gives us the perspective to see alternative ways God will be at work amongst us. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul knew that God had appointed him for preaching the gospel and nurturing the church, but Paul was arrested in Jerusalem. Paul appealed his case to Rome where he was kept under house arrest. Paul’s present circumstances when he wrote to the Philippians made it appear that God’s plans through Paul were being thwarted. Paul used his imprisonment to share Jesus with his guards. Paul also sent Timothy to different churches to establish and exhort people in the faith. Paul trusted in the will of God to be accomplished in all circumstances. We can respond to changed plans by being thankful for God to be at work in alternative plans. I invite you to regularly pray for the wisdom to discern God’s alternatives to your thwarted plans.
Third, I recognize that there is sin in this world. Satan is working against God’s mercy. Satan attempted to thwart God’s plan for creation by tempting Adam and Eve. Satan continues to tempt us to sin. The creation of God that was declared to be good experiences the conflict of Satan trying to corrupt all of God’s plans. Satan has persisted in this effort from the very beginning and he has not stopped. Before Christ returns and the last trumpet blasts Satan will attempt to destroy the people of God, the plan of God. I trust that Satan has failed in all of his attempts. I know that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that Satan has lost, and the Lord has prevailed. The traumatic crumbling of plans can leave us distrustful of God. Trust in Jesus Christ and lean forward into the next day knowing that Satan could not stop God’s plan of Jesus.
So in the moments when the world crumbles and the mountains crash around us, we will be people who submit to Christ as our Lord. We will lean into His wisdom. We will trust in His victory over all sin, death, and the Devil. We will in our hearts make more plans, and we will trust in God establishing His will.