The management experts tell us we need to plan our lives. “Set goals for yourself,” they say. “Decide where you want to be and what you want to be doing one year from now, five years from now, ten years from now. Map out a plan for getting there from where you are, and begin to follow that plan faithfully.”
They even suggest that our plan should reach right down to our daily schedules, that the things we do today should be contributing toward the fulfillment of our ultimate goals. Each day, they say, we should make a list of the things we want to accomplish in order of their priority, then work our way through the list. “Plan your work and work your plan” is the catchy little phrase they use to encourage us. And the solemn warning is sure to follow: “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.”
Most of us want to be successful in what we do. We enjoy the respect that goes with success and the sense of satisfaction that accompanies accomplishment. So we may listen to the experts, lay out a plan for our lives, follow that plan precisely, and still fail. Why? Because for the child of God there is another factor to consider: God also has a plan for our lives.
The truest kind of success from God’s perspective can be attained only when we follow his plan rather than our own.
We may reach every goal we ever set for ourselves, and we may earn the admiration of all our friends and the respect of all our associates, and still feel a sickening emptiness inside if we have ignored God’s plan.
You see, God saved us to know and to do his will. In a message to a recent convert named Saul of Tarsus, Ananias declared, “The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.”1 Paul was chosen by God to come into an understanding of his will and to carry it out. He lived his whole life with awareness that God had a plan for him to follow.
That awareness made an immeasurable difference. Some twenty-five years after his conversion, in the face of great affliction, Paul confidently affirmed, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”2 The word “course” was used of the race course laid out for a runner to follow in the Olympic Games, the plan for the race which was prepared ahead of time by the judges. Paul’s great aspiration was to follow God’s course for his life.
And he did it. At the end of his life he reflected back over his years as a believer and said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course.”3 And he used the very same word he had used years earlier. He was writing, this time, from death row in a Roman dungeon. He was soon to be martyred for his faith. Yet his life was a success; he had fullness of joy and a satisfying sense of accomplishment because he had completed the course God had laid out for him. He had done the will of God.
Some will say, “Wait a minute; that was the great Apostle Paul. Sure, God had a plan for his life, but what’s that got to do with mine?” All right, here it is straight. God has a plan for your life, too. Unless you are convinced that he does, you will probably lay your own plans and choose your own way. And someday you may look back and say, “Well, here I am, right where I wanted to be. But why do I feel so hollow and unfulfilled?”
So we must firmly establish this basic biblical concept before we go any further: God has a plan for your life.
Nowhere is the principle more lucidly stated than in this pivotal verse: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”4 There is no doubt about how we got saved. We are God’s workmanship; we were created anew in Christ Jesus by the regenerating work of his Spirit.5 He did it all of his own grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”6 But there was one very important reason why God recreated us in Christ Jesus. It was so we might do good works.
“So what?” you say. “Everyone should do good works, shouldn’t he? Why is that so special?”
The special thing about the good works God wants each of us personally to do, is that they were selected ahead of time by him. They were “prepared beforehand,” that is, they were planned by God before we were even born. And now our responsibility is to accomplish those specific good works which God laid out for us so long ago.
When a football coach prepares for a big game, he lays out what he calls a game plan, a strategy for that particular contest. Before the game begins he knows exactly what he wants his players to do and how he wants them to respond in certain situations. They can choose other strategies, but the coach usually finds that they perform best when they follow the game plan he has prepared beforehand. Just so, there are many plans we can choose for our lives, many different directions we can go. But only one plan will provide the opportunities to do all the good things the divine Coach wants us to accomplish.
Only one road will bring us in touch with all the people he wants us to meet and influence for him. Only one direction will include all the circumstances he wants to use to mold and enrich our lives. We function best when we stick to his game plan, when we walk the path he has mapped out for us and do the things he has planned for us in advance.
Some Christians are convinced that they are too small and unimportant for God to be that interested in them. “People like the Apostle Paul, yes. But me? Never!” Do you not realize what God is saying in this passage? Each one of us is so important to him that he actually charted a course for each life before we were ever born. To think that he cares for us that much is almost too good to be true. And it is not an isolated fact found only in this passage of Scripture. Look at some others.
David said, “You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your Book!”7 The context assures us that while we were still in our mothers’ wombs, God was watching over us, superintending our development.8 But more exciting still is that he had already sketched out all our days for us. Before we ever saw our first light, he had designed the direction he wanted our lives to take and the events he wanted to fill our days.
Look at it again in another notable Psalm. “The steps of a man are established by the Lord; And He delights in his way.”9 The course which the believer’s life should take is fixed or settled by God. And what joy it brings to God’s heart when we follow the plan he has arranged for us. He delights in our way. Can there be any more doubt in your mind? God has a plan for every believer. He has a plan for you.
These simple statements of fact are enough to convince us, but there is still further evidence. God gives us an impressive array of living illustrations to cement this truth in our souls. Every reference in Scripture to a person doing the will of God reaffirms the fact that God actually did have a will for him, a plan for him to follow. There are many such examples in the Bible, as we shall see in the chapters to come. Look at just a few extraordinary ones here.
The first is Isaiah. While there is no doubt that the Servant of Jehovah in Isaiah’s prophecy refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah was probably speaking from his own experience as well when he said: “Listen to me, all of you in far-off lands: The Lord called me before my birth. From within the womb he called me by my name . . . the Lord who formed me from my mother’s womb to serve him, who commissioned me to restore to him his people Israel, who has given me the strength to perform his task and honored me for doing it!”10
God brought Isaiah into being in order to fulfill a particular task. He formed him in his mother’s womb for the purpose of performing a unique and urgent mission, that of calling Israel back to himself. And he assured Isaiah that he would supply him with the needed resources to do the job. God had a plan for Isaiah’s life.
Another great prophet comes into view. Listen to God’s encouraging word to Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”11 Jeremiah balked at first. “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth.”12
We sometimes do the same thing when we first learn about God’s plan for us. “Who, me, Lord? Certainly you must have the wrong person. I can’t do that.” But God is there with the answer. “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you . . . Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.”13
Many times Jeremiah must have thought back to the day he first learned about God’s plan for his life. The people to whom he preached taunted him, rejected his message, spread false rumors about him, threw him into prison, and broke his tender heart with their rebelliousness and sin. Jeremiah’s persecutors are seldom mentioned anymore. Few of us remember their names even after reading them in the inspired account. But Jeremiah’s name lives on with honor because he followed God’s plan for his life.
Let’s go back to the Apostle Paul for a moment. We saw that God saved him to do his will, but there is further evidence that God had laid out the course for his life even before he was born. Here is how he explained it: “But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.”14
Before Paul drew his first breath, God had already planned for him to pioneer the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentile world. That sense of divine mission gave him confidence and courage throughout his Christian life and ministry. In five of his epistles he introduced himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.15 He knew he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. He was fulfilling God’s plan for his life.
How can we talk about life plans without mentioning the earthly life of God’s Son? The Father’s plan for Jesus’ life was clearly settled from the foundation of the world,16 and the details of the plan fill the volumes of the Old Testament. On one occasion Jesus said, “All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.”17 They had to be accomplished. They were part of the Father’s plan, and Christ came to do the Father’s will. He confidently declared, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”18 Doing the Father’s will was his greatest joy and delight. It was more important to him than eating.
Do you remember that episode at Jacob’s well in Sychar? The disciples had just returned from the city with provisions, and they were urging their tired and hungry Master to eat. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about,” he said to them.19 When they questioned him further, he clarified his statement. “My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”20
To finish his Father’s work, to follow his Father’s plan, to fulfill his Father’s purposes—that was Christ’s highest goal. The writer to the Hebrews expressed the Savior’s sentiments like this: “Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.’”21
But again, we’re talking about prophets and apostles, and above all, about the Son of God himself. Aren’t there any little people to illustrate the point—inconspicuous folks like us?
How about an obscure, unnamed, unknown beggar who couldn’t even see? If God had a plan for his life, would you feel more like God might be interested enough in you to have a plan for your life? This particular man was born blind, and the religious leaders of his day always blamed such misfortunes on sin. So when Jesus and his disciples saw him, the disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?”22
Here is Jesus’ answer: “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”23 God had allowed that man to experience all those years of blindness so that at this precise moment in time he might not only give him his physical sight, but also remove the scales of spiritual blindness from his soul and provide an unanswerable testimony to others about the person and power of Jesus Christ. It was part of God’s plan for his life. And after he had experienced the joy of knowing Christ and the freedom of having his sins forgiven, I doubt that he ever regretted those years of blindness.
If God had a plan for that blind beggar, he certainly has one for you. And I can assure you that his plan is custom made to fit you personally. Nobody else has one just like it. And since it was made for you, it is the very best plan you can possibly follow.
You see, God never made another human being just like you. You are unique and distinct in all of his creation. And since he made you, he is the only one who knows you perfectly and completely. He knows you better than you know yourself. Therefore, he is the only one who can intelligently formulate a plan for your life that will utilize all of your potential to its optimum advantage.
God knows your abilities and he knows your weaknesses. “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.”24 He knows that some of the things you think are your strengths may really be limitations, and some of the things you think are liabilities are the very things which he can use with great power. Just as he made you, he also constructed a plan that is tailored to your personality and abilities. His plan has to be better than anything you could ever devise. In fact, his plan is perfect. That is exactly what the Apostle Paul calls it: “that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”25
He not only knows you; he also knows the future. Most of us want our lives to go well, and we know that the decisions we make will have something to do with that. We also want things to go well for the ones we dearly love, and we know that our decisions will also affect them. So we lay our plans and make our choices on the basis of what we think will be best for all concerned. But unfortunately we do not always know what will be best because we do not know the future. As Jeremiah put it, “O Lord, I know it is not within the power of man to map his life and plan his course.”26
We really do not know how things are going to turn out ultimately. But God does. He knows us and he knows all the possible consequences of every alternative we can choose. So it makes no sense to choose any plan but his. That is the only one we know will turn out right.
If you were traveling through a dense and dangerous jungle and had no knowledge of where you were nor what the next step would hold, you would be foolish to run off from your guide and try to blaze your own trail. He knows the way. He can lead you to safety. It is even more foolish for any of us to try to make our own path through life. Our Divine Guide knows the way. Following his plan will bring success and satisfaction to us and great glory to him.
7 Psalm 139:16 (TLB)
8 Cf. Psalm 139:13-15
10 Isaiah 49:1, 5 (TLB)
16 Cf. Revelation 13:8
24 Psalm 139:1 (TLB)
26 Jeremiah 10:23 (TLB)