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When God Knows His Plans, But We Don’t

Sometimes I get frustrated with God. Is it okay to acknowledge that? I think so. The Bible is full of people who say such things as, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me” (Job 30:20).

The particular frustration I have with God is that He doesn’t always show me exactly what I’m supposed to do, what decision to make, or what action to take.

I’m a person who likes to be in the know. Call me a control freak, but my life seems to go better when I have a plan, and I stick to it. I get fired up when I read a passage like Jeremiah 29:11—“`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.’”

The problem is that God knows His plans, but I don’t. Generally speaking, I know His plan includes my faithfulness and conformity to Christ, but when I get to specifics, the plan gets foggy. Should I take this job or that job? Should I buy this house or that house? Should we send our kids to this school or that school? Come on, God! What is your plan for me?

Sometimes I fail to take my next step, because I’m waiting on God to make the next move. I want some kind of sign that what I’m about to do is aligned with God. What I’m discovering, however, is that God is often waiting on me.

When I pray and trust in the Lord, and when a decision or action is in faithful obedience to the character and calling of Jesus, then I have to take that next step in faith. I’m learning that it’s only when I take a step in faith that God reveals the step that follows.

In Joshua 3, the people of Israel are lined up and ready to cross the Jordan River to enter the land of Canaan. Joshua told them, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5). The people obey, and God tells them to follow the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan. But it was only when the priests, who led the procession, stepped into the river that God parted the waters and the people walked across on dry ground.

They had to take the first step.

What is keeping you from taking your next step in making a decision or following through on a commitment? Is it fear you might be wrong? Is it frustration that God isn’t making the path clearer?

If you consecrate yourself to the Lord, then you are prepared to take that next step. Only then will God reveal step number two.

The Lessons of Fear

Have you ever let your fear of failing keep you from the courage of trying? I have. After a few setbacks, disappointments, and all-out mishaps, I can easily think to myself, Why try now? I’m just going to get knocked down yet again.

Whether it’s a failure in a relationship, a job, a goal to kick a habit or make a change, setbacks lead to flinches in ever trying again. People always say that if you fall off a horse, get back in the saddle. But what if the horse has ridden off?

Jay’s marriage ended in a painful divorce, and he vowed he would never date again. Sarah got laid off from her job, and she was gun shy in trying to find a new one. In my own life and ministry I’ve tried to initiate new ministries that failed. I’ve preached sermons that bombed. I’ve made decisions that backfired. And every time I add another failure to my life resume, I grow more leery to “get back in the game.”

For all of us who let failure turn to fear, here are a few life lessons I hope will help:

  1. Evaluate but don’t absorb. Evaluate what went wrong, but don’t absorb the deficiencies into your identity. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others, but then let go and move on. In my own life, I know this is easier said than done, but we have to shake off the dust and know that in Christ we can get a fresh start. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).
  2. Don’t confuse courage with the absence of fear. Courage is the fortitude to face fear. People ask me all the time, “Are you ever afraid to preach in front of a lot of people?” And my answer is, “All the time.” But my fear is not debilitating; it’s just a constant reminder that I can’t do this in my own power. “I can do all things through [Christ] who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
  3. Norm the process of dreaming, striving, failing, and succeeding. If you make failing a sin, then you will never go through a process of trying, because the risks would be far too great. Granted, when we fail at keeping our character and integrity in tact, we are sinning before God and need to repent and turn back to Christ. But when we humanly fail at trying to achieve godly goals, those setbacks become future opportunities to let us try again in a different way. Thomas Edison dreamed about making a light bulb commercially viable. He kept striving to accomplish that goal, and he failed 1,000 times before succeeding. Past failure is part of the promise of future accomplishment.
  4. Make obedience your goal, not success. God doesn’t always call us to win; He calls us to try. Humble hearts and courageous spirits manifest in obedience, not accolades. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). If we are faithful, we will succeed, even if we fail.

It’s time to reassess your fears. Get back in the game. The sweetest victory is the one that’s most challenging.

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