Embracing God’s Plan

 

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Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am working on accepting this as a good thing. Like many of you, I enjoy the satisfaction that comes with meeting deadlines and crossing items off to-do lists. I get frustrated and negative when my accomplishments fall short of my goals. Then, it takes awhile for my motivation to rebound and to get back up to speed.

But, life interferes with the best laid plans and the strongest of ambitions. Unanticipated problems occur, accidents happen, people need our help, the weather changes, income declines, health issues arise…and so it goes.

There are days, weeks, months, and seasons in life when we feel like we can never do enough and we will never be enough. We wonder if God really has a plan for our life and an agenda for each day. How do we accomplish his plan when all these problems keep slowing us down? Why doesn’t he help us out a little more?

Recently, I took these questions to Scripture and found reassurance. When things don’t go according to plan it can be a good thing. It can be a God thing. Here are a handful of truths to help us welcome God’s plan in our days:

  • God is sure of his plan for us.    

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

God made a plan for our lives even before we were born. He continually works in our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit to encourage our faith in his plan to grow. He leads us to try new things, puts teachers in our path, and instills confidence in our abilities. He nudges us to consider how the gifts he gave us might help others find faith and feel loved.

The decisions we make and the paths we take do not surprise God. He is there for us always, through everything that comes our way. He does not promise a life free of suffering, but he fills his believers with hope, and ultimately he brings good from all their hardships.

Of course, our free will allows us to embrace or resist God’s plans for us. But, he never stops pursuing and trying to reach us. His love for every one of his children is unconditional and unrelenting. Our humanity loves shortcuts, but there are no shortcuts to understanding God’s plan. Ultimately, understanding God’s plan requires understanding God.

As long as we are on this earth, it is never too late to invest time in getting to know God. Like any other relationship, we get to know God by spending time with him. This means spending time studying the Bible, reading Biblical interpretations, learning from pastors, and discussing faith questions with others. The more we learn about God, the clearer our role in his story becomes.

Embracing God’s plan means we commit to developing a relationship with him in our daily life.

  • God’s plan differs from our own.

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)

Oh, how we love the illusion of control. We get so caught up in busily achieving our goals that we can forget God may have an entirely different strategy in mind. He will not conform to our purposes; we need to strive to fit into his.

Throughout our lifetimes, we will cope with a myriad of difficulties perceived as obstacles in the way of achieving our dreams. Maybe these difficulties are not really problems, but possibilities God puts on the agenda to carry out an even bigger plan.

Perhaps God allows difficulty to enter our lives to capture our attention, to encourage us to check our direction, and to build a relationship of trust with him. Once we realize we cannot control our life, we start to contemplate and even anticipate the opportunities God sends our way.

Embracing God’s plan means we work on being flexible, good-natured, and inquisitive when unexpected events change our daily agendas. 

  • God promises to fulfill his plan.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 NLT

God’s work for us began when Christ died and offered us eternal life. His work continues within us through the Holy Spirit during our lifetimes, up until the moment we die. As faith grows, God helps his believers discover their talents and gifts which help carry out his plans.

Those slight nudges we get to serve others are also the Holy Spirit’s way of directing us down God’s path. Through our offerings of food, clothing, money, shelter, prayer, talents, friendship, etc. we deepen our faith and help the faith of those around us grow.

When we feel like we are not making any progress, it helps to remember God’s promise to finish his work. By diligently seeking and including him in our lives, we give him the green light to go to work. He will not give up on us.

Embracing God’s plan means remembering each of us is a good work in progress, and God promises to complete every one of his projects.   

  • God will always help us.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10 NLT

Fear and worry are part of our world. There’s no getting around that. God knew this, and thus packed the Bible full of his strength and compassion for us. When we feel stressed, the Bible is the greatest resource for renewal. We can find Scriptures and stories that relate to any situation and bring us guidance.

God also sends help in a multitude of other ways such as people, prayer, intuition, and events. When facing trouble, tuning into the world around us (instead of tuning out) opens up our eyes to the ways God helps us. We naturally start developing the trusting attitude God desires – that he is working all things together for our good, in his own time and way.

There will always be days when we wonder if God knows what he’s doing. Days when we are at the end of our rope and frustrated by our trials. God’s Word tells us time and time again, do not worry. He is always there for us. He loves us, and he holds us up.

Embracing God’s plan means reaching out to him for help and trusting him to follow through.

God makes an agenda for every one of our days. This agenda often will not match what we have planned. But, that’s okay. God’s plans are good and far beyond what we could ever imagine. We can meet each day with an air of expectancy, and be ready to embrace the opportunities God sends. For we know, there is a lot of work to be done in and through us. We fight against fear and worry because we trust God’s promises to help us. Rest assured, one day, he will raise up our hands, victorious in his plans.

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A Prayer for You:

Dear God,

Thank you for creating me with a plan in mind. Help me learn more about your goals for my life as I grow in faith. Teach me to remain flexible in my schedule and to see my problems as your possibilities. Thank you for trusting me with the assignments you have given me, and for your reassurances that I can handle them. Lead me as I work to conquer worries and fears, and as I strive to make you proud. May the first item on my to-do list always be: “whatever God hands me.”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Trusting God along the Eagle Trail: Isaiah 40:31

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“How hard could it be?” my husband and I joked, downplaying the warning of hiking difficulty at the head of the Eagle Trail. We were morning fresh, caffeinated, and ready to explore the beauty of Door County, Wisconsin.

A park ranger had suggested a half mile loop, starting high on a hill and winding along the scenic Green Bay shoreline. We started down a set of perfectly laid stone steps, expressing our approval for the gradual descent and nicely paved path.

Just a few side notes worth mentioning here before we continue. One, never mock a difficult trail sign. Two, no matter what amount of distance you estimate hiking, an empty hand should always carry a water bottle. And, three, for me, if an eagle is involved there is usually a reason. 

It did not take long for us to realize that those easy, well-kept steps were simply a deceiving welcome mat of sorts. After our descent, we crossed a threshold. Our man-made steps ended and we entered a home in disarray – a beautiful mess of a home called the forest. As the new definition of “difficult trail” dawned on us, a favorite Scripture verse replayed in my mind. I smiled, knowing God had just opened up his classroom door for us.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 New Living Translation (NLT)

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

Life is a lot like this Eagle Trail, I think, as I gingerly maneuver through piles of moss-covered rocks, climb over fallen trees, and stumble over a network of roots. Like this trail, life presents an obstacle course, and we have to figure out how to maneuver through it.

We naturally lean towards cutting our own path because we think we can control the outcome that way. But, a lot of the time we end up more lost, tired, and confused. Often, it is then, at the end of our own resources, we look up and see God’s signage marking a trail.

Trusting God to supply new strength requires studying his Word, conversing with him through prayer, and patiently watching for his direction. We cannot expect results overnight; sincere relationships take time, practice, and awareness. God waits. He waits for us to make the choice to diligently seek him, and when we do, he provides us with new strength to follow his lead on life’s difficult trails.

In the Bible, the eagle often symbolizes God’s renewal of strength. It is uncertain how many distinct species of eagles there were in Biblical times, but at least four types exist in Israel today.* Eagles, in general, are some of the largest and most powerful birds of prey. Eagles are also unique from other birds in that they molt or shed their feathers in old age, thus appearing to renew their youth. In Biblical times, the commonality of eagles, coupled with their notable characteristics most likely yielded the comparison of God’s strength to the eagle.

They will soar high on wings like eagles.

Following the trail toward the water, I imagine what it would be like to soar like an eagle. Certainly, God would love for us to feel that free. Trusting God with our worries and fears, allows us to soar above trouble and freely discover the purposes he has planned for us. 

The eagle uses a lot of energy when it flaps its long wings, so catching wind currents and gliding are very important for conserving strength. Eagles patiently wait for warm updrafts of air before lift off. Using their powerful wings, they climb 10,000 to 15,000 feet high then soar for hours with minimal effort. The eagle trusts the wind to carry him; this Scripture reminds us to trust God to carry us. 

Eaglets learn to fly by hopping around in their nest and then taking short flights to neighboring branches. Some eagle parents force their babies to fly by messing up the nest until they tumble out. Opinions vary on whether the eagle parent sometimes swoops below and catches the fluttering eaglet on the platform of their long wings. Whether or not this happens, the eaglet continues returning to the nest to try again until it learns to soar. The nests of our lives certainly get messed up sometimes. Maybe God allows this so he can teach us how to fly as well?

 

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Reaching the rocky shoreline, we marvel for a moment at the strength of the waves and listen to them crash mightily at our feet. Our best guess tells us we have accidentally strayed at least a mile past the park ranger’s half mile loop suggestion. Our morning freshness and caffeine have worn off. We wonder if we will come across a porta potty in this forest.

Continuing on, we occasionally meet other humans navigating their way on the trail. To my chagrin, most carry water bottles and walking sticks. “Did you come from the parking lot?” we feebly ask. “How long did it take you to get to this point?” “Does the path get any easier?” Looking at the cliffs above, we expect a steep climb up to the parking lot. What seemed like a hill starting out now appears to be a mountain!

We laugh at ourselves, and with the other hikers at our predicament. We know we will eventually reach our destination, find a bathroom, and drive to town for a slice of Door County’s famous cherry pie. There are times in life, however, when the length and the outcome of suffering is not so certain.

There are times when the only thing we can do is pray hard for strength to continue through each day. Strength to run and not grow weary. Courage to walk and not be faint. When we experience difficult days, we pray God will send us a trail sign or hope to cling to. On this Eagle Trail, I think about how in my life, when I needed strength and reassurance, God sent me to the Scripture verse Isaiah 40:31.

I love birds, especially eagles, so maybe that is why this Scripture captured my attention when my daughter became very sick with Crohn’s disease. Repeating it in my mind when I felt at a loss for how to help her pulled me through some tough days. Once, after visiting her at college and having to leave her there seriously ill, I merged onto the interstate and my eyes flooded with tears. I repeated Isaiah 40:31 under my breath, then happened to look up and see an eagle flying overhead. My tears stopped as my mind worked on comprehending this. I felt reassured that I could handle the drive home and whatever else I needed to do that day.

Eagles continued making appearances in my life during the worst of my daughter’s illness and since then. Last spring we moved into a town home with a walking trail behind it. One of the first evenings my husband and I went for a walk, a new neighbor pointed out an eagle’s nest high in a tree behind our house. “Be sure to watch for them,” he said. “Their babies will be hatching soon.” Coincidence or God’s reassurance for me?

The way I see it, a relationship with God helps lift us above this obstacle course we face on earth. He helps us learn to soar without worry. He is the wind that carries us so we do not tire. He asks us to trust his keen eyesight which sees miles ahead, foreseeing danger and assuring our good. If we have faith, we will always be strong enough to find our way along the Eagle Trail.

 

P.S. The day after our hike on the Eagle Trail, we received a troubling phone call from someone in need of our help. I was on the phone as we drove down an empty stretch of winding Wisconsin highway. My husband tapped my leg and pointed to the sky. An eagle, wings stretched out strong and wide, drew soaring circles in our sky. 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for your reassurances when life gets hard and messy. Your Word speaks to my heart and brings me strength to continue. Help me to remember that you see what is ahead, and that your plans always work for my good. Plant your hope firmly in my heart and lift me up when I am tired. Show me how to soar above concern and find joy through knowing it is all under your control. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

A Few Other Scriptures Referencing Eagles

  • “He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” Psalm 103:5 New Living Translation (NLT)
  • “..like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” Deuteronomy 32:11 New International Version (NIV)
  • “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4 NLT
  • “How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.” 2 Samuel 1:23 NLT
  • “Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar.” Job 39:27-29 NIV

Inspiring Eagle Resources 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eagle facts here 

Bald eagle frequently asked questions and answers here

Are eaglets really carried on their parents’ wings when learning to fly? Some say yes, some say no. More here

Commentaries on the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31 here

*Species of Eagles in the Bible here

Related Posts on Trusting God for Strength:

Prayer Walking in the Wilderness

Where is God when Life Hurts

Learning to Pray

Riding on God’s Back

A Fit Faith

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“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 New International Version (NIV)

Flipping a 150 pound tractor tire fifty times in a workout was never a line item on my bucket list. Surprisingly, however, this feat hijacked the list, and I crossed it off with pride on my fiftieth birthday. Ha, who knew?! This girl does have strength, coordination, and endurance.

A year ago, I considered myself a fairly physically fit person, but certainly not someone people recognized from the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical and I was good to go. I was not concerned about my biceps or my core, and I had no idea what a TRX or a burpee was.

After a great deal of salesmanship, my husband convinced me that strength training would be good for me to try. Strength training exercises use resistance from things like dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, and even your own body weight to cause muscles to contract. Physical benefits include improved muscle strength, tone, mass, and endurance. Starting slow, I worked with a trainer to learn proper technique and combine new exercises.

Gradually, I noticed changes in strength, and other, more unexpected things too. I finally understood how to properly lift heavy objects with my legs, and not my back. More conscious of my posture, I found myself keeping my shoulders back and down. Flipping a huge tire fifty times became a possibility. My body continues learning to speak this challenging new language every week. Stronger and wiser, my muscles thank me for it by surprising me with what they can do.

In much the same way, I never considered writing a blog about applying Scripture to life. A far cry from a biblical scholar, I attended church randomly most of my life. A good person equals a “fairly fit” Christian, right? I was not concerned about my spiritual biceps or strengthening my core beliefs, and Bible study classes intimidated me.

When a health crisis hit our family, I found myself desperately wishing my muscles of faith were stronger. I longed for courage, for answers to serious questions, and for peace of mind. I scrutinized how fit my faith was. I could not honestly say I was dedicated to loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

Perhaps striving to love God that completely would guide me towards a more “fit faith”? Gradually, I am discovering and adding new spiritual exercises into the routines of my life. Some ideas to power up faith:

Learn about prayer and make it a daily practice. Max Lucado’s book, The Power of a Simple Prayer is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about how to talk to God. Prayer does not have to be a formal, scheduled event; it can take place throughout your day like other conversations.

Express gratitude every day. Just becoming aware of the many things to be thankful for can help us think more positively and ease worry. Use a notebook, an app, or an online journal to record blessings each day.

Seek to understand Scripture. Start understanding and applying Scripture by reading devotions, a life-application Bible, or Christian teaching books. Focus on one verse a day and see what you can learn from it.

Join a supportive network of people who also seek a stronger faith. Support can come in many ways such as attending church, discussing a faith inspired book together, using creative talents, or working on a team project for the community.

Be still. Carving out time to simply sit with a quiet mind can be a very difficult task. Taking this break, however, can rejuvenate us for the challenges we face. Solitude eases worries, brings clarity, and reveals inner strength through the Holy Spirit.

As I see it, improving faith fitness is very similar to improving physical fitness. Exercises should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs. A variety of exercises work best to challenge the mind, body, and spirit. Consistent practice is important for long term benefits. And, the results can inspire others.

Like training in the gym, stretching our faith helps us grow stronger and wiser in new ways. Asking God for help no longer seems like an insurmountable task. Blessings become more apparent than ever before, and we feel grateful to see them. Recognizing the needs of others and showing compassion takes precedence over fulfilling our own needs. And, seeking answers to common faith questions is no longer scary and isolating.

Developing a “fit faith” continues to be a work in progress for me. I do not have a formula to follow for success. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am in better shape now to handle the next downturn in life.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for being my patient trainer as I seek a “fit faith”. Guide me in conversation with you and help me understand how to apply your teachings to my life. Fill my heart with gratitude as I count my blessings each day. Remind me to be still in your holy presence and listen for your direction. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)

Romans 4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How fit is my faith? Are my spiritual muscles getting the workouts they need to sustain me through the ups and downs of life? What can I change in my faith routine to strengthen my love for God?