“I don’t think I could handle eating rice and bugs, besides, foreign missions isn’t a part of God’s plan for my life.”
“I’ve been a member of this church for almost five years, but it’s hard to find a ministry fit. I guess I just haven’t found God’s plan for my life.”
“We’ve been living together for a couple years now, but we just don’t feel called to get married. I guess it’s not part of God’s plan for our lives right now.”
These are the kinds of ideas that result from the misguided theology that “God has a plan for my life.” Particularly in the American church, we tend to center our faith on our own personal experience and miss the beauty of what God has done. God does not have a plan “for your life;” He has a plan, and you have a place in it. This is not a simple matter of semantics, it’s a matter of worldview. That worldview is exposed through common phrases like, “Accept Jesus into your heart” (Jesus doesn’t need our acceptance, we need His), and “Invite Jesus into your heart to be a part of your life” (He is Lord of all, not a part of your life intended to make your sinful life easier). And God is not your co-pilot. All this gives God a secondary role as some kind of additive to our lives. In these cases, He serves us.
I know everyone is rolling their eyes and wondering if I’ve ever read Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” I’m wondering what filter we’ve come to read the Bible through that turns everything into a statement to individuals? Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t spoken to individuals. It was spoken to a nation; speaking to them, and their descendants, and having its ultimate fulfillment in the ultimate salvation in the Messiah. In fact, the majority of the “you” statements we read in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are plural — it’s “y’all” and “all ya’ll,” not “you.” We need to repent, and by repent I mean we need to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” — by changing the way we think. Here’s why that’s important:
The notion that God has a plan for your life that is somehow different than His Plan is a false Gospel
It makes the will and work of God subject to you, your preferences, and your desires. It leaves the door wide open to excuse, or even justify outright disobedience, and can even lead us to recreate God into our own image so our sin and disobedience fit okay into our version of “Christianity.” From Genesis to Revelation we see the progressive revelation and playing out of God’s plan. He has a Plan: the redemption of the world from sin to righteousness through conviction, confession, and repentance. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross and has set us free from the death penalty our sins deserve. With this life, God is calling us by His Holy Spirit to repentance that we may know true and abundant life. Having a plan of our own completely short-circuits this process of conviction, confession, and repentance by which we are saved from the consequences of sin. In this false gospel, we can simply excuse our sin and disobedience by virtue of this “personalized plan,” rather than confess it and repent of it. “Since we have now been justified (legal term, relating to penalty) by his blood (physical execution on the cross), how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath (giving over to consequences–see Romans 1:18-24) through him (through confession and repentance as we follow Jesus). For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son (there’s that unconditional forgiveness of the penalty through the death of Jesus), how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved (from consequences, both eternal and temporal) through His life!” (Romans 5:9-10). Too often we use this idea that “God has a plan for my life” to justify living a worldly, self-centered life rather than surrendering and submitting our lives to the lordship of Christ and actually following him. In reference to the above examples: God’s plan is to bring the good news to all people, and no one is excluded from that purpose and vision; God’s plan is that we love, serve, and encourage one another in our common faith; God’s plan is that we honor Him and pursue holiness so that the world will see the power of the Gospel in a life and see the glory of God through the lives of His people (see 2 Corinthians 4:1-12), and that can’t happen if we compromise … if we willingly live in sin.
As a witness and ambassador for the Kingdom of God, we serve God’s Plan, not the other way around
God does not exist to make your life better. Nowhere in scripture is there ever a promise that you get your best life now. Jesus did promise that “in this world you will have trouble” — living for Jesus, in Jesus, may overcome the consequences of sin, but we still live in a sin-stained world where following Jesus can get you persecuted because of your witness to His holiness. The primary function of the Holy Spirit is to “convict (assure/convince) the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgement” (John 16:8). He does this as he stirs the hearts of people, and he does this through the witness of the church (the people of God) as the Spirit resides in us (not “me,” us. That light shines brighter through our relationships with one another, where real love is demonstrated). If God has some different plan for your life, then you will shine your own “light,” not His, and conviction will not come and you will not be serving your purpose. The world will accept you as its own and see no need to repent. As servants of God’s plan, we are transformed and given a place in a much bigger picture. The church is a body, which is “made up of many parts, and though its parts are many, they form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-20). Christ has one body, not many, and each part has a place in the body. Likewise, God has A Plan, not many plans, and we each have a place in God’s plan. We serve His Plan, no matter who we are, where we are, or what we find ourselves doing. In everything — all we say, all we do, all we think, and the attitudes of our heart — we serve God and His plan. That means we will have to follow Him into things that we would rather avoid. He will lead His flock to green pastures, beside still waters, and also through the valley of the shadow of death, and it is our obligation to follow Him through all of it, not just the parts that suit us. The beauty of this is that in absolutely everything we do, we are serving God’s great Purpose. It means every opportunity presented to us is an opportunity to shine the Light of Christ into the dark places of people’s lives. “And we know that in all things (the good, the bad, the hard, the easy, the ugly, the mundane) God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that he may be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those He called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (revealed, put on display for His own glory)” (Romans 8:28-30). Living for God’s plan leads to surrender and sacrifice for the purpose and glory of God. Having our own plan that we’re hoping God will come alongside and bless is to serve and glorify ourselves. It’s mutiny, rebellion, treason — the very thing Jesus died to free us of the penalty. Why would we persist in walking in it, unless we really have an unrepentant heart and desire to live apart from the One True God, and live comfortably with a god of our own design?
Too much time is wasted in our search for “God’s plan for our lives.” He’s justified us and called us into His Plan, which has been unfolding since he covered the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. We have a place in His plan (much the same as we have a room in His house, not our own mansion – see John 14:1-4), and all we do serves that plan … at least it should. Unless we heed the Spirit’s conviction, come into agreement with God in regard to our sin and lack through confession, and follow through in repentance (which is looking to God the lead us to change, not trying harder in our own strength and wisdom, by the way), we are not following Jesus and we will be among those who say “Lord, Lord, but not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21-23). It’s that serious. We can do all the religious things available, but that doesn’t make us faithful if we’re only serving our own conscience. The sin in the Garden of Eden was not the eating of the fruit, that was the manifestation of the sin. The sin was in thinking that they knew as well as, or better than, God. Effectively, they put themselves in God’s position of authority to determine what is good and what is evil. We continue to do the same, sitting in judgment on the commands of God and excusing ourselves from obedience. If this is the case, then our worship is an offense to God as we “honor Him with our lips, though our hearts are far from Him.” As Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) Grace does not absolve us from obedience.
I want to encourage you to sit and seek the conviction of God, to come to a place of true surrender where you are willing, really willing, to follow Jesus wherever he is leading you — whether that’s across the world, or across the street; whether that’s to speak his truth in love, or to remain silent, but present, in that same love; whether that’s to serve in public ministry, or in obscurity; whether you receive great blessing, or spend yourself utterly with no earthly reward; whether that means your desires are fulfilled, or whether you “deny yourself and take up your cross.” Our lives serve a greater Purpose, an eternal Purpose. We have already known the benefit such amazing grace, and we have not even fully realized its glory. In this is our hope: Jesus himself. Abide in Jesus.