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

How to Perform for an Audience of One

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In her 1984 Oscar acceptance speech, Sally Field famously declared, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Her buzz worthy words were quickly adapted into the more quotable expression, “You like me. You REALLY like me!”

Many snickered about her statement afterwards, belittling Hollywood’s need for accolades. But, as much as we try to believe otherwise, truthfully, we can all relate to this drive for approval, and the success which often follows it.

Recently, I discussed the difficulties of writing a blog with some friends at church. I told them many things we do in life receive immediate and visible feedback, but that’s not the case with writing a blog. I asked questions like: How do I know I’m on the right track? Should I be concerned with approval? How do I measure success?

I received some wise advice stated in this one simple sentence, “You need to write for an audience of One.”

For a couple of weeks now, I have thought about that sentence, and how it really applies to everything we set out to do in life. Replace the word “write” with whatever your heart calls you to do for God.

In what areas has he gifted you? Is it in encouraging, teaching, healing, giving, leading, or organizing? Maybe you’re not certain what your gifts are or how to use them – that’s fine too. You can contemplate for an audience of One!

The point being we should seek to please God, not others. In everything we do, we can measure success by our drive to know, serve, and please him. Of course, we hope if we perform for God that our results also please others, but that is not something we can control.

Human nature desires results in large numbers, but God sees even one life changed as significant. Can we try to rest in knowing that? Maybe the difference we make will never be known to us here on this earth. Should it matter? If we work for God’s approval, not others’, we clearly see the success in our endeavors.

Here are three Scriptures teaching me how to perform for an audience of One:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 New International Version (NIV)

We spend so much time working to please other people – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, employers, and co-workers. Then, long after the effort, we worry whether we met their expectations…if they approve of us.

How would our actions and attitudes differ if we dedicated ourselves to meeting God’s expectations first? Yes, we will mess up – it’s guaranteed. So, is forgiveness.

Sometimes we may be asked to do some hard and unpopular things. As difficult as it can be, serving Christ faithfully requires us to stop worrying about what others might think and seek his approval above everyone else’s. Give God your best performance.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

Misusing our talents, using them only for our own enjoyment, or pushing them aside is not what God intended for us. It is never too late to pay attention to the places in our lives where God’s goodness or grace can shine through us.

If pinpointing your gifts is difficult, keep in mind that God may be preparing you before enlightening you. Or, perhaps he is protecting you from acting too soon. There is a right time, place, and person planned especially for your contribution.

Even with uncertainty, we can ready ourselves by serving in different ways and considering what trusted people tell us we are good at. God is glorified when others see him working through our talents. Dedicate your talent to serving him.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)

It is so easy to claim all the glory for our accomplishments. I wonder, if we take all the credit, all the time, then do we truly reach our full potential? Scripture tells us that no one is competent enough to carry out God’s calling in their life without his help.

Our own natural abilities can only take us so far; we need God’s strength to move beyond our limitations. If we invite him to our performance and ask for feedback, who knows what might happen? Thank him for coming to the show.

So here’s how I think it goes. You give God your best performance. You dedicate your talent to serving him, and you thank him for coming to the show. One day the curtain falls, and you wait to hear a call for an encore.

Peeking between the curtains, you see no one but God remains. Empty seats all around. Yikes, were you performing only for him all along? I don’t know.

But, here’s what I do know. After a performance like that, he will be standing, clapping for all he’s worth. There will be no denying that he likes you. In fact, he loves you. He REALLY does.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly measures of success. Help me look past the things that represent approval in the eyes of this world, and find it by serving you.

Lead me to people and activities that shine a light on my gifts. Show me the places to use these gifts to the best of my ability. 

Thank you for entrusting me with an assignment designed specifically for me. I pray that through my efforts others will see your goodness.

God, teach me to trust whatever plans you’ve got for me. Let me lean into you when the corners ahead look uncertain, and steady me with your confident hand to go beyond the limitations I place on myself.  

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Unearth Your Gifts

Unearth your gifts

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 New International Version (NIV)

My seventh grade English class took place in a portable classroom trailer. The room was sparsely decorated because it was seen as a temporary space used only when enrollment increased. Situated near the parking lot, there was a grassy patch behind it where some kids forged their way to coolness by smoking cigarettes before the 8 AM start bell.

A long sidewalk from the portable led into the junior high school. Back in the icy winters before parents sued schools for negligence, many students, myself included, took terribly embarrassing falls in front of their snickering classmates. It was in such a place that I first heard I should use my life for writing.

I remember the pride I felt as my teacher encouraged me and told me how she felt inspired by the words I wrote. She said I should really consider being a writer. I remember this place, these words, and the experience in that room vividly. But, I did not go on to pursue writing. Although I loved books, I had never met an actual writer who could model the career for me. In the world I lived in, business careers were the path to follow for success. So that I did.

I worked at having it “all”, but never felt like I did. I worked for big corporations, started a consulting business, and taught marketing classes at a university. I got tired of trying to keep it “all” together, so I changed course and became a stay-at-home mom. Life got easier in some ways and harder in others. While I was no longer stressed about finding care for my children, I found myself missing the learning, recognition, and challenges of the work place. But, I pushed that emotion aside and forged ahead, concentrating on my two young tasks at hand.

My two tasks are grown now. The youngest left for college this fall. For the first time in a long time, I find myself wondering what lies ahead for me.

Do you ever feel a yearning to do something that you do not know how to start or how you will ever finish? A yearning that stays with you through the years even though it gets blanketed with other responsibilities and false ambitions.

Have you ever stopped long enough that the clutter of your life clears, and you feel this desire that repeats itself like the beats of your heart? And, you know that ignoring it any longer will leave you feeling unfulfilled.

That is where I am, and it is why I write. Deep inside all of us lies a gift waiting to be shared. Do you know what it might be for you? What is the unique way only you can share it? 

Perhaps, in a moment you are overtaken and write a heartfelt letter. You create something beautiful on a canvas or in your garden. You cook something so fabulous you claim your tastebuds can sing. You connect the dots for a winning deal or keep researching a problem until you find a solution that makes sense. Maybe you explain a concept to a child in a way that you can see the light of understanding click on in their brain. These moments are God’s glimpse into the gifts we are meant to seek out and share. 

We may not feel qualified, but like my seventh grade English teacher, God encourages you and waits for you to unearth your gifts. He is ready to open the door for you and to light your path. Knock, wait for the door to open and the light to shine in. Take the first slow step outside and begin the walk with him.   

Prayer for This Week:

Lord, help me listen for your voice in all that I do so that I may identify my gifts and know how to use them to work good in the lives of others. Give me the confidence I need to display these gifts to the world. Lead me when I am too scared to follow. Remind me to humbly bestow the glory of my work upon you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Additional Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (NIV)

Matthew 19:26, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (NIV)

Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (NIV)    

Questions for This Week:

What activity or talent in your life causes you to lose track of time while you are busy doing it? When do you feel like you are working for a purpose greater than your own? How can you use your gift to help someone else in a way that works well with the other demands of your life?