We’ve been talking about following God’s will for a little while now, and after reading article after article about giving up control of our lives and letting God call the shots, you might be left thinking that setting any sort of plan or goal in life is a bad thing. I hope that’s not the case. But if it is, I’d like to apologize and take the opportunity to correct that misconception now. Because planning certainly isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.
In fact, planning is good. As we’ve noted before, God gave us our minds for a reason, and we’re meant to use them. The most successful people in life are those who are able to set goals, break those goals down into actionable steps, and then make those steps into reality. Planning is a skill God that gives us to enable us to do great things for him.
But there are a few caveats. As with anything God gives us, we have the ability to use this skill in the wrong way. Our plans can get in the way if we prioritize them over what he wants for us. So how do we make and execute plans without straying from or interfering with God’s will? Here‘s my approach.
Dare to dream.
Our goals and ambitions are often gifts from God, and he gives them to us so that we can pursue them. If you have a dream for your life that you feel is in line with who God made you to be and what the world needs right now, then you should by all means pursue it. Figure out what it will take to make that dream happen, and then start working towards it. You never know, it might just be your calling.
Too often, we spend so much time wondering whether or not a certain goal is God’s will for us that we miss out on the opportunity altogether. This is a shame. We would do better to start something and find that it’s not God’s will than to wait too long and realize that we should have begun long ago.
You know the old saying: It’s better to ask forgiveness than for permission. When we’re earnestly pursuing God’s will, he’s going to understand and forgive us if we accidentally take a wrong turn now and then. Better to try to do good and have to backtrack than to get stuck doing nothing. Sometimes, God uses those seeming failures to help clarify his will for us by eliminating certain options that would otherwise turn into what-ifs.
Don’t assume that just because you have a goal that you need to suppress it. God’s will starts with conviction, and conviction often comes in the form of passions and talents. Don’t be afraid to dream, because God can use those dreams to show you what he has in store for you.
Remember who’s in charge.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that we aren’t perfect. Our minds are subject to fallenness, and so our plans aren’t always the best for us. We’ve talked about this before, so there’s no need to go too deeply into it. But the basic principle still remains: The only person who should be calling the shots on the direction of our lives is God, and so our plans are always subject to his approval. If we’re simply pursuing our own ambitions without consulting him and following his guidance, we will find ourselves in a bad spot very soon.
So we’re supposed to make plans and try to follow them, all the while recognizing that those plans may not be God’s will and thus might have to be thrown out completely. That sounds hard enough in print. How are we supposed to make that happen in our day-to-day lives? That’s where a couple of really important skills come in.
Practice flexibility and hope.
The first thing you’re going to need to navigate this tension between planning and following God’s will is flexibility. God has this tendency to take all of our expectations and throw them out the window. It’s in his nature; it’s a part of his process of teaching us to trust him. And so we have to hold on to our plans loosely.
We have to be ready to change course as soon he tells us to. If he says, “Move,” when we don’t feel prepared, we still have to move. And if he says, “Wait,” when we think making a move is the best option, we have to be willing to trust him and do what he says, even when our plans say otherwise. (Patience, by the way, is probably the most difficult form of flexibility. Practice it early and often.)
Life with God is a journey. It takes a lot of twists and turns, and the only person with the road map is God. We can’t see the big picture the way he can. So there will be times when he asks us to do things that don’t make a lot of sense, that don’t appear to be in our best interest, that don’t seem to move us towards the goals we’ve set for ourselves. But if we practice flexibility and do what he calls us to even when it messes up our plans, he’s going to bless us and show us a better way than we ever could have imagined.
And that’s where the second skill comes in: hope. Hope basically comes down to believing in the deepest part of your soul that God has the best in mind for us. It’s choosing to have a mindset of trust in the one we’ve decided to follow. He’s our good guide on the path of life, and if we can maintain our faith in him even when the external evidence compels us to lose it, we can find hope in the midst of any life situation, and that hope will sustain us through to the other side of hard times.
And there will be hard times when we choose to follow God’s path. It’s not all happiness and sunshine. It’s a constant struggle to put yourself second and choose to put him and his plans first. There will be moments when you feel stuck and don’t see a way out. Or when you feel impatient because your plan isn’t playing out according to your timeline. Or when you wonder if what you’re doing has any value at all. But it’s in those moments that we need hope the most, and it’s in those moments that God gets an opportunity to show us his ability to use any situation for our good when we’re following him.
One last note on hope: I’ve found that the big breakthroughs in my life have always taken place right after overcoming the temptation to give up hope. It’s happened over and over for me. Whenever I feel a dream, a goal, or a plan slipping away and I choose to trust God and follow his will anyway, that’s when he blesses me with the desires of my heart.
The best example of this that I can think of is my romantic life. It’s so easy to get caught up in the dream of finding the right person and getting married. It can become an obsession, a distraction, and a huge source of anxiety. So a long time ago, I gave that dream over to God and said, “I trust you with this. If it’s a part of your will, great. If not, I’m going to follow you anyway.”
It’s not that I didn’t have a goal and a plan; it’s that I chose to submit them to him and his will. And believe me, there were times when I was tempted to give up hope. When my timeline was completely thrown off, my prospects were nonexistent, and my loneliness threatened to overwhelm me. But I chose to trust that whatever God had in store for me was the best life possible, no matter my marital status. And in the end, he blessed me by leading me to the person I’m meant to be with for life.
As backwards as it may seem, it’s only when we’re willing to trust God with something that he turns around and trusts us with it. It’s only in following his plan for our lives that we have any hope of seeing our own plans through. Because at the end of the day, the best possible plan we could have for our lives is his. And we can live out the perfect plan he has for our lives if we’ll only follow him.
So don’t be afraid to dream and to make plans based on the dreams that God has given you. But in the midst of pursuing those plans, remember to practice flexibility and hope in light of his will. It’s not an easy balance to find, but once you do, you’ll be able to dream and follow God at the same time, and that’s a really wonderful way to do life with him. May it be so for each of us.