The thing about making plans, I’ve found, is that things rarely go according to plan. At least not my plans. Which is frustrating, because if I’ve gone through the trouble of making plans, I kinda feel like things should go accordingly. I don’t think I’m particularly unreasonable - I just want things to go the way they’re supposed to. The way I planned. But they don’t. I’d like to think I’m really good at making plans. I’m just apparently not that great at making good plans.
I make plans for what I’m going to do today. I make plans for my family and our future. I make plans for work. I make plans for things like grocery lists, and vacations, and meals. Every day, I plan what the day is going to look like, because I like a good plan, even if I’m not that good at making them.
Interestingly, I’ve also found that despite my frustration, sometimes things are better when they don’t go according to plan - or at least according to my plan. Sometimes the plans I come up with are really bad. Of course, no one ever comes up with a bad plan on purpose. They almost always seems like good plans at the time, but honestly, sometimes they really aren’t.
Sometimes they don’t work. Sometimes someone gets hurt. Sometimes things break. Like the time when I was 5 and my younger brother and I thought it’d be fun to see if we could “fly” off the back of an armchair in the basement, onto a pillow on the concrete floor. It was a really bad plan. I broke my arm.
Or the time when I was leading a mission trip in the mountains of West Virginia, and had a great plan to get up early and hike up the mountain alone in my flip-flops and take a photo of the sunrise. I broke my leg. True story.
Sometimes my plans do work, and it turns out to be worse than if they hadn’t. Sometimes they don’t work, and it turns out I’m far better off than if they had. Recently I started noticing that more and more often that's the case, and I actually think that’s one of the ways God shows His grace.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 16:25
One of my biggest struggles is that I’m not all that interested in letting go of my plans - even when I know there’s something better. I suppose it’s a part of the human condition - this pride and stubbornness. I guess it’s not all that uncommon, but it’s not holy. It might be normal, but it’s not healthy. The author of the book of Proverbs describes the result as “death.”
Here’s the thing that gets me. We choose to go our own way, which we know isn’t going to end well, and then get mad when it doesn’t work out. The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe the reason we get so upset is that we’re not big fans of anyone who isn’t following our plans - even when it’s God. We make plans, and have expectations, based on God’s promises, and get disappointed that He isn’t following our plans.
Look, you and I aren’t the first people to feel this way. The Israelites had the very same struggle - and it made them bitter. It caused them to turn away from God, because God wasn’t acting according to their plans. This actually happened a lot. In fact, they’d get really close to God when some great thing happened, but over time, when the excitement of their “God-encounter” wore off, they’d drift back to doing their own thing. To be honest, I can relate.
This happened over and over, and it made God angry. Usually when God gets angry, He sends someone to warn His people that bad stuff is about to happen if they don’t get it together and keep their end of the deal. One of those people was Jeremiah.
Jeremiah had a really lousy job, as you can imagine. Basically, the God sent Him to let the people know all the bad things that were common because of their disobedience and idolatry. No one wants to be that guy. No one likes that guy. They definitely didn’t like Jeremiah, because most of his message was pretty gloomy.
But after a while, he writes a letter to “the surviving elders among the exiles… in Babylon.” (Jeremiah 29:1) It’s a pretty well known letter, especially the part in the middle - the part about God wanting to prosper us and make our lives perfect, and give us everything we could ever imagine. The part where it’s gonna be beautiful and life's greatest treasure is just right there for the taking.
Okay, that’s not exactly what it says, but I’ve definitely heard it preached that way before. And it’s certainly tempting to expect it that way. And when it doesn’t work exactly that way, I don’t know about you, but I find myself getting pretty frustrated with God.
The popular verse in the middle, the one everyone likes to quote actually says this: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
But what if that’s not even the most important part. In fact, in order to actually understand what God is telling His people right here through Jeremiah, you have to back up. Anyone know off hand what verse 10 says? Go ahead, look it up. I’ll wait.
Okay, it says “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” Did you get that? Seventy years. Um, I start to get pretty impatient when Netflix takes longer than 3 seconds to load the half hour show I planned for my kids to watch so I can get some brief work done. It didn’t even take seventy years back when Netflix actually sent you the movies in the mail.
That’s how long God told them they were going to be in exile. In fact, starting in verse 5, he gives them pretty specific instructions, to among other things, build houses, settle down, plant gardens, get married, have kids, and get your kids married. Yeah, they’re gonna be there a while. This was not what they had in mind. This was not their plan, and they weren’t happy because God was most definitely doing a different thing.
In fact, it’s only after He tells them to “get comfortable, you’re gonna be there a while,” that He then says the other part - the part we like. In fact, you can’t really understand verse 11 without the verses that come before it, especially verse 10. Basically, God is telling them, “listen, I know what I’m doing. I have a plan. It’s not going to make sense to you right now, and it goes against your every desire and fiber of your being, but I know what I’m doing. I have your best interest in mind, and I always, always keep my promises.
God ALWAYS keeps His promises. That’s faith, by the way. Believing that God keeps His promises. It doesn’t always make sense, and it almost never happens on our timeframe, but He never fails. In fact, when He describes Himself in Exodus chapter 34, He tells Moses He is “abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Faithfulness. He is faithful all the time. Even when we can’t figure out the plan, we can know that He is faithful. Even when it takes longer than we thought, or expected, He is faithful. Even when it doesn’t look like what we were expecting, He is faithful.
Let’s be honest, God’s promises rarely look like what we were expecting. But when that happens, the problem isn’t with the promise, it’s with the expectation. In fact, when God doesn’t do what you expected, or what you thought He should, it’s because He’s probably doing something far greater than what you imagined. You just can’t see it yet. He is always working out all things for your good, if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, so if it doesn’t look like what you expected, that just means God has something better for you than you expected. (Romans 8:38)
He hasn’t forgotten you. Just like He hadn’t forgotten the Israelites in exile in Babylon. He hadn’t given up on His plan, or gone off to do something else. He was busy working out everything detail of His plan according to His purpose. He’s doing the same for you right now.
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” Proverbs 16:9
Right this moment, He’s working out His purpose in your life in whatever situation you’re in. Right now He’s moving the pieces around you, ordering the steps in front of you, and inviting you to walk along with Him as His plan unfolds. It won’t look like what you expected, and He’s not likely to act according to your plan. But if you can get past that, and let go, He really does have a plan for you. And it’s a really good one.