What kind of youth leader would look a kid in the eye and say, “Sorry, man. God does not have a plan for your life. He’s just watching over you, sort of like Santa. Try not to blow it, okay?”
No, most youth leaders I knew growing up told me how much God loved me, how he had a wonderful plan for my life, and was working everything together for my good, even the hard things. I was encouraged to maintain my relationship with God through prayer, daily devotions and sin management, and was challenged to discover his will for my life, asking him where I should go to college, what major to choose, who I should marry, and so on.
Naturally, with this mentality, Jeremiah 29:11 was one of my favorite verses:
“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.”
You may not have noticed this before, but look in my right hand. That’s right, I’m holding a giant can of worms.
The label? God’s Plan. The lid? About to come off.
Does God really have a plan for my life?
Why wouldn’t he? If God knows me and loves me, and can be anywhere and do anything, even transcend time itself, why wouldn’t he design a satisfying and productive life for me? Isn’t that what a good father would do?
Sure, I might stray a little along the way. Maybe I’ll go through a season of rebellion, trying to follow the American dream, or maybe I’ll let sin intrude on our relationship for a while. But Philippians 1:6 lets me know that God won’t let me stray for long.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
If I hold tight to the promises of Jeremiah and Philippians, I should live with a sense of peace and confidence that only believers can find in this life. I should see a divine purpose behind everything that happens to me.
If I get in a car accident, it’s not an accident. There are no accidents. I should think of my setbacks and injuries as a spiritual training exercise. Maybe this is how God plans to change the trajectory of my life in some way. Maybe he wants to give me a surprise blessing or a warning. Maybe he is protecting me from something much worse.
But what if we’re fooling ourselves?
What if this mentality makes us act like the ancients who saw a different god behind every act of nature? What if we’re acting like the medieval peasants who shied away from black cats, always stirred their pots in a clockwise motion, and thought the devil could enter your body if you sneezed? Nothing random. Always a reason for everything.
What do I do with Jeremiah 29:11 if my house burns down? What happens if my wife gets cancer? What happens if my kids are taken from me, or molested by a stranger, or something worse? Could this be God’s Jeremiah 29:11 plan for my life?
Learning patience or contentment or even joy in the midst of suffering is one thing. But watching the devastation of human life, any human life, sure doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a loving and sovereign God would plan.
Resist? Endure? Allow? Maybe. But plan?
Scripture is full of warnings about the seduction of the devil or demons or false prophets. It also warns of the deceitfulness of the human heart, urging people to obey God’s laws and walk by the Spirit. Why would God make plans for each person if the possibility for misdirection is such a genuine, daily struggle?
That would be like me making plans for a baseball before it’s been pitched. I may choose a home run for every pitch, but there are so many elements at play, very few will clear the fence.
If God is truly planning the lives of every believer, and promises to see these plans through to the end, we should see things ultimately come together for his people, like the script of a feel-good movie. Watching elderly believers should be a great fascination for us. We should be interviewing them, learning how God finishes the work he began in them, how he worked everything together for their good, how he prospered them.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of crusty old Christians that come to the end of their lives still harboring secret sins, still holding to their greed, prejudice or arrogance. Some suffer in their minds and bodies until their wills break and they welcome death.
Does that mean that heaven is God’s plan for his people? Is that the prospering, hope and purpose of Jeremiah 29:11? Is heaven the ‘completion’ mentioned in Philippians 1:6? If so, I’ve been taking those verses all wrong. And I’ve put too much hope in this present life, a life that, if I’m honest, seems to be a lot more random and self-determined than divinely pre-arranged.
What if God has no plan for our lives?
Does this thought make you uncomfortable? Does it seem to strip God of his sovereignty, leaving your future hanging in some kind of limbo? Do you feel a sudden urge to check the brakes on your car, or the locks on your house, or the numbers in your bank account?
It shouldn’t. We don’t put our faith in a plan. We put our faith in a person.
Even if there is no plan, God is still there. What more do we need? We can look at the world as a complicated interweaving of free choices, whether by God, angels, humans or animals. Accidents can be accidents. Mistakes, mistakes. Tragedies, tragedies. And within all of that, there can be genuine interventions, blessings and reconciliations.
But if that’s the whole truth, what do we do with prophecy? Isn’t prophecy just another word for plans? Prophecies don’t change when people fail or rebel. They might be delayed or changed, but they will happen. That’s kind of the point.
What if God has plans for groups of people?
I can sense the entire internet community of believers begging me to mention that the context of Jeremiah and Philippians mentions groups of people, not individuals. God’s plans were for Israel, and he was seeing it through with his Church throughout the centuries.
What if God is like the CEO of a company, making plans for the company itself, but not for each individual employee? Sure, the company provides benefits to its employees, including the finances to cover daily needs, health insurance and a retirement plan. But ultimately, the interests of the CEO are about the company and not the intimate, day-to-day struggles of its employees.
Can we say that when God works in our lives to produce righteousness, he is doing it for the reputation of the group as a whole, like how a fruitful branch could speak to the health and production of an entire grapevine? Can we say that when God moves us into various positions of leadership or wealth, he is doing it for the benefit of others, not just ourselves?
This may sound like a cold and impersonal perspective, but is it true? When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he started with “our father,” not “my father.” The spiritual gifts were given for the benefit of the whole, never to promote the individual.
Next week I want to work carefully through Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 1:6 and try to present a Biblical solution to this issue. In the meantime, how do you feel about it?
Do you believe that God has a plan for your life? Are you just a part of a much larger plan? Can your own choices dislodge that plan? Can it be taken from you? Or is there no plan at all?