By Kristen Wetherell
That term describes the number of times my plans have been thwarted throughout the course of my 26-year-old life.
Allow me to provide some examples:
Plan: To pack a full house on the opening night of the school musical, to sing my part well, and to celebrate with my fellow cast members after the performance.
Reality: Diagnosed with strep throat, feverishly lying in bed, and praying fervently that my understudy would remember her lines for opening night.
Plan: To move to New York City, to audition for theater roles, to get cast in several, and to love every minute of it.
Reality: Rehabbing a painful knee condition, working four non-theater jobs to pay the rent, while increasingly disliking urban living.
My guess is that you could add a multitude of your own “plan versus reality” scenarios to mine. And the conclusion would be simply this: just because we establish our plans does not guarantee that they will come to pass.
“The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
This is God’s grace and, ultimately, a wonderful way for God’s children to grow in faith as we seek to understand how the gospel of Jesus Christ beautifully affects our disappointments and dashed plans.
The Apostle Paul understood dashed plans well in his day. Led by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel across the nations, he was no stranger to unforeseen affliction and deterred travels. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes of precisely how his plan to re-visit the church there was dashed. And we can glean some incredibly helpful gospel-truths from how Paul responds to changing plans.
Truth #1: A gospel-driven response to changed plans means submitting to the changes because of trust in Jesus’ lordship. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind in Athens alone…” Paul and the missionaries in Thessalonica were unexpectedly driven away from the city because of persecution, and in an attempt to return, it was clear there was no way to see through the journey. Instead of stomping his feet and complaining, which I am guilty of doing when my plans go awry, Paul submits to the change in plans: “we were willing to be left behind.” Paul was certainly no stranger to the gospel—he was the one preaching of the Lord Jesus’ reign! So Paul’s submitted response to changing plans reveals his deep-seeded trust in the intentional rule of Christ over any and every circumstance.
When plans don’t unfold your way, is the inclination of your heart to submit to God’s plan? Or do you resist, complain and take matters into your own hands?
Truth #2: A gospel-driven response to changed plans may mean creating an alternate plan in accordance with God’s will, trusting in Christ’s power to overcome all odds. Now, this is not always the case when our plans go unfulfilled; in God’s sovereignty and mercy, He may be sparing us from circumstances unknown to us or protecting us from falling into sin. However, in Paul’s case, the Apostle knew with absolute certainty that God had appointed him for the preaching of the Good News and the nurturing of the church—two tasks aligned with God’s vocational will for his life—so he faithfully and creatively strategized a Plan B. He sent Timothy to Thessalonica on his behalf to follow up with the church there: “We sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in the faith…” (3:2). Knowing full-well that Christ is Lord and provides power through his Spirit to see God’s plans through to completion, Paul acted in faith in accordance with the will of God.
When your plans change, do you discern if God would have you create an alternative plan, in order to accomplish his purposes? If not, do you continue to submit to his lordship, knowing he works for the good of those who love him?
Truth #3: A gospel-driven response to changed plans means being thankful and prayerful for every circumstance, resting in the wisdom of Christ. We just read that Paul’s purpose in sending Timothy on his behalf was to exhort and establish the faith of the church in Thessalonica, to ensure that the Christians there were not being shaken by the persecution unfolding upon the missionaries. Oddly enough, this is what Paul learns from Timothy:
…for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction, we have been comforted about you through your faith…For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? (3:7, 9-10).
The Lord Jesus used this change of plans to comfort Paul! The faith of the Thessalonians was thriving, despite Paul’s absence and the persecutions occurring. Only God’s faithful hand could produce such faith and do so for Paul’s good. The work of Christ behind the scenes of the events of our lives may be unknown to us for a time, but we trust that he is most certainly at work in his wisdom. This realization of Jesus’ lordship over what seemed like a failed plan produced within Paul thanksgiving and continued prayer!
Do you find yourself thanking God for his wise, working hand in the circumstances of your life, even when his activity means the defying of your own plans? Does his wisdom spur you to pray for a heart of continued submission to him?
Most recently, a thwarted plan of mine meant coming up with creative ways to spend time with my husband during an abnormally busy week for us both. God’s hand was in the changes, and resting in the ruling authority of Jesus Christ ended up being our joy and spurring on our thanks to Jesus – even though the days looked different than we had planned.
In the midst of thwarted plans, let’s be people who apply the gospel by submitting to Christ as Lord, leaning into his wisdom, and trusting his will for our lives.
So, how will you respond to changing plans today?
Sovereign Lord, We trust your loving rule over every single event in our lives. And where we are struggling to trust you, help us. Deepen our faith. Show us your glory, that we would see more clearly your power and might. Show us how to keep acting in faith and obedience. We confess the times we have taken our plans too far and exalted them as idols. Thank you for making your grace possible by the cross of Christ.
[This post first appeared on Unlocking the Bible, September 15, 2014.]