Seeking God’s plan for our lives—what could be more important? It sounds and seems like the calling. What is God’s plan for my life? Surely, I can do very little that is more important than trying to discover “just what is God’s plan for my life?”
However, after decades of deeply desiring to know God’s plan for my life and earnestly striving to live my life for Him and after a multi-year Bible study with a group of women about God’s plan for our lives, I have become convinced that knowing God’s plan for my life is not His will for me. In fact, I have come to believe that scripture teaches that God alone knows His plan for us and doesn’t intend to reveal it. During that very intensive study, I looked at every verse in the Old and New Testament that used the word or any form of the word plan that I could find. Perhaps the most succinct and direct statement about God’s plan for my life is found in one of my favorite verses in scripture and one of the three key verses of my study:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer 29:11)
Obviously, from this verse, we know that God has a plan for each of us and that it is to prosper us, to give us a future and hope, not harm. Read it again. Who knows the plans He has for us? He does. “I know the plans I have for you.” If that isn’t pointed enough, look at another verse from the Old Testament (the second key verse from my two year study) that uses the exact same Hebrew word–machashabah (plan) but translates it as “thoughts”:
For My thoughts [machasabah] are not your thoughts [machasabah] nor are your ways My ways. (Isaiah 55:8)
That translation does a bit of disservice to our study, but the Hebrew makes the connection very powerful. A reasonable restatement of the verse might be “My plans are not your plans. Nor are your journeys My journeys” or “My purposes are not your purposes. Nor are your paths My paths.”
As I processed through over 37 verses related to words that were translated plan in scripture, I found that none of them indicate that God ever reveals His plan for a person’s life to that person. Actually, account after account of the lives of men and women of faith born out in scripture, show that God did not reveal the plan to them. Abraham “went out not knowing where he was going.” Moses fled into the wilderness planning never to return to Egypt. Joseph could not see the palace from the pit, from Potiphar’s house, or from prison. Esther did not have a vision of saving her people; she had a challenging uncle who warned her that she might not escape death herself if she didn’t act.
At times God did reveal a step in the plan–calling Jonah to Nineveh, the burning bush, turning Paul from Asia to the call from Macedonia. However, I can’t find a single example or verse where God revealed His plan for the life of any person to that man or woman, except Jesus.
The thought of Jesus knowing the Father’s plan for His life brought to mind that none of the verses I had found in my search for “plan” or “plans” were about Jesus. So I went looking for those verses about Jesus knowing God’s plan. The first events that came to mind from Jesus’ life were Him praying in the garden of Gethsemane and the verse about Jesus not needing food because “my food is to do the will of the Him who set me.” When I found those verses, I almost glossed over the fact that the verses did not use the word plan. It wasn’t until I looked at the concordance to find related verses that I realized the word being used was not plan; it was not derived from machashabah. The word was will and it was translated from thelema.
I think, for me, some of the confusion comes with the blurring of those two words. I spent quite a bit of time looking at that during my two year study as well. I looked at well over 60 verses with the two different words with two very different meanings: machashabah and thelema. Machashabah or plan is used in about half of those verses and in virtually every one of them, the message is that God has made plans for doing good and great things for His people and for defeating evil and His plans will be accomplished regardless of the plans that men make which are often selfish and ill-advised. I could not find one that indicated anyone knew God’s plan for his life beyond the rare revelation of a limited and specific coming incident so that God’s will was accomplished.
Thelema or will is used in about half of the verses I studied and the message is quite different. God’s will is revealed to us and we are called to live within His will. Hebrews 10 struck me as a crystallization of my understanding of God’s will: 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'” … 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. … 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Over and again, scriptures do teach that we are called to know the will of God and to live out his will in our lives. We are not called to know His plan. We are called to know His will and to live fully within His will.
So, where does that leave me with my deep desire to know God’s plan for my life? Perhaps the changing title of my multi-year Bible Study is pretty revealing:
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. (Jer 29:11)
“My thoughts [plans] are nothing like your thoughts [plans],” 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 [plans] higher than your thoughts [plans].
Keep in mind, this study–represented in three simple short title revisions, the two above followed by the one final revision below–took place over two years. Near the end of the study, we found the third key verse of the study in Psalm 139: 16-17: You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
With that precious knowledge, the exciting reality settled in–moving from uncertain craving to a bit of fearful wondering to certainty.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! (Psalm 139:16-17)
The certainty that every moment of my life has been redeemed by God and written in His book breeds in me a deep commitment to focus on living each moment as though it is God’s plan for my life–because it is. God says so. I can’t change yesterday–and in view of God’s power and might–I don’t need to change it. I can’t prepare for tomorrow–He has laid it out. That is where the joy really began to take root in my heart–when I realized that this moment is the moment in which I am called to live within His will.
This moment, His moment. Near the end of our study, that became our mantra. This moment, His moment. I can’t change yesterday. Christ has redeemed yesterday. I am not promised tomorrow, and, even if I were, I can’t know what will come. God has laid out tomorrow. We do have an enemy, and he is at work to kill, steal and destroy. Tomorrow may have heartbreak, loss, wounding. I cannot avoid it by worrying about it. All that does is allow tomorrow’s trouble and lots of never-to-be-realized trouble to derail me from tHis moment. God will bring me through today and every tomorrow.
I have this moment, and in this moment I can live out God’s will for my life. I can love, as Christ loves me, whoever is in this moment with me. I can forgive, as Christ forgives me, the one in front of me in this moment. I can do the work, in the name of Christ, of this moment. If I think about whether I can love beyond this moment, I begin to fear. If I think about whether I can forgive more, later, I begin to waiver. He knows the plans He has for me–and they are far beyond what I can imagine. He is the keeper of tomorrow and eternity. I am not designed for that much weight. The heaviness of right now sometimes feels like more than I can handle! But, if I really focus right here–and on Christ’s will and work in only this moment, I can take tHis deep breath. I can take tHis step. This moment is where I am called to live His will.
This moment, His moment.