Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Bible Doesn’t Say That: “God Has a Plan for You”

Over the last several weeks, I’ve talked about some of the many sayings commonly attributed to the Bible that aren’t actually in the Bible. Sayings like:
God just wants me to be happy.
God will never give you more than you can handle.
God is in control.
I believe when we make statements like these we mean well. Most of these sayings are meant to bring us comfort. They can also cause many of us to feel horribly inadequate. Because what if your life isn’t the picture of the American dream? Well then, there must be something wrong with you, right? Well, sometimes that’s true, but not always.

This series is meant to help us be more honest about Scripture, because this book tells us some wonderful things! This book contains the story of the God who created us and came to earth to fix our brokenness. A God who loves us more than we could ever possibly imagine! And so, I want us to hold on to those true, beautiful words that ARE in the Bible. Instead of trying to build our faith around those words that are NOT in here, I want to talk to you about perhaps the most common saying attributed to the Bible that isn’t actually in there. This one will surprise some of you, because it is quoted on a daily basis. And, again, I think we mean well when we say it. But this phrase has caused SO MUCH heartache over the years. The phrase?

“God has a plan for your life.”

Now, this line sounds so great when your life is going well! You have a good job and a nice income. You are happily married with wonderful children. You all love God and attend church together on Sundays! In those moments, “God has a plan for your life!” sounds great! But, can you imagine a time when this saying may do more harm than good?

Amanda is a single mother. She has not always been single. She married at a young age, right out of high school. Her high school boyfriend-turned-husband was not all she dreamed he would be. He could not support their young family and instead accrued a significant amount of debt. He drank too much and was even abusive on occasion. Finally, he left. She was glad when he left, but that only changed the name of her oppression. Now, she dealt with loneliness. Now, she dealt with the reality of working one full-time job and one part-time job. And all of this while raising a preschool-age daughter. At 22 years of age, she is living well below the poverty line. She is living in an old, small apartment she cannot afford. She receives a welfare check and food stamps every month, but she still barely has enough to pay for childcare, rent, and food. Let me ask you: Would you have the nerve to walk up to Amanda and say “Remember, Amanda, God has a plan for your life.” To Amanda, that statement means one of two things: God has a horrible sense of humor! Or, she missed the signs, made a wrong turn, and now it is too late.

Or, what about the young man who walked into my office several years ago when I was teaching at LCU. He also married at a young age. And he and his young wife struggled mightily. In fact, he decided to leave his wife, and he came in to talk to me, I think, seeking my approval for his decision. He said:
God has a plan for my life, and this isn’t it.
We’d both be happier apart.
I need to walk away so both of us can find the path God has laid out for each of us.
This phrase, “God has a plan for your life,” has been used and abused in so many ways. And one of the most significant problems with this biblical quotation: It’s not even in the Bible! At least not the way we use it. There is nothing in the Bible that says God has laid out a specific, individual plan for your life—that your goal in life is to find that mysterious path God has laid out for you. God has chosen a vocation for you, God has chosen your spouse, God has determined where you will live, God has determined what kind car you will drive, and if you make a wrong turn or somehow miss the signs, well, then, you will never be who God has called you to be. The Bible does not even come close to saying that. But that idea is pervasive in our American Christian culture, especially the Evangelical culture. We need to realize the harm it is doing and we need to understand better what the Bible does say about God’s will and God’s plan.

So, let’s take a look.

The phrases “God’s will” or “God’s plan” are all over the Bible. For example:
I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)
Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:10)
God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan. (Ephesians 1:4–5)
The Bible is filled with the phrase “God’s will” or “God’s plan.” Over and over, we read that God does have a plan for us and we read that God expects us to conform our lives to that plan. That much is absolutely true! But brothers and sisters, please do not overlook this extremely important part of God’s plan. It is no mystery! It is not hidden from you. And what’s more, God’s plan for you is the same as God’s plan for me. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God’s plan has always been reconciliation.

Sin separated God from God’s creation, and from that moment in the Garden, God has been implementing a plan to bring us back together again. That is why God told Jeremiah, you were set apart to help Me in My plan to restore Israel, because Israel will usher in My Son who will redeem the world. That is why God told us through Paul, before any of us were even born, God determined that He would adopt us all through Jesus. We are all called according to that purpose, to that “plan” of God.

One of my favorite texts of Scripture is II Corinthians 5. Listen to what God tells us about His plan for us.
So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, "Be reconciled to God!" God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:17–21 CEB)
God’s plan has always been reconciliation and He has called us to join Him in that mission. To use another metaphor, the world is fallen, and God has called us to help the fallen world stand back up again. Brothers and sisters, in case you’ve been wondering, that is God’s plan for your life. And this week, we were reminded once again just how much God’s reconciliation work is needed in our world!

I’m only 40 years old—some of you have wondered. I’ve only seen four decades, but I cannot remember a time when America has been so divided. We are divided politically, we are divided religiously, we are divided racially, and the tension and violence seem to increase all the time. It is so tempting in a fallen world to pick sides. To line up behind one position and dig in your heels.
This is all about guns; if we would just do away with guns our problems would go away.
This isn’t about guns, it’s about people; if we would lock up all of the criminals our problems would go away.
The problem is people who say “Black Lives Matter.”
No, the problem is white racism.
If the rich would just take care of the poor…
If the poor would just get a job…
If the police would quit brutalizing people…
If the thugs in the streets would quit breaking the law…
It’s so easy to pick sides. But church, God has not called us to pick sides! Resist the temptation to pick sides, because by picking sides we only perpetuate the division that is so common in our world. We are called to be voices of peace and reconciliation. So, this week we grieve with the family who lost a son in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We also grieve with the family who lost a son in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. And we grieve with the families who lost sons in Dallas. All of these moments in our time remind us just how essential is the work of reconciliation given to us. God has given all of us that same mission. That is His plan for all of us.

But God has given something to each of us that is unique. Listen to what Paul writes to the Ephesians.
He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son, God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes with teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from Him, and it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part. (Ephesians 4:11–16 CEB)
This is one of those texts people point to and say, “See, God does have a plan!” A unique plan for each of us! It’s up to us to figure out the specific path God has carved out for us! But, look closer, church. God’s plan is reconciliation. And He has gifted us in different ways to help us accomplish that plan. Some are preachers, some are teachers, some are prophets, some are encouragers, some are chaplains, some are peacemakers. Some are those who come into a room and force us to deal with difficult issues! We are all gifted in different ways. But our mission is the same.

Think of it this way: God’s plan is up here (holding hands above in an arc), and it is clear. We are down here living our lives. God has called us to conform our lives to that plan. If I marry Kim, I need to think, “How can this marriage help me join God in that mission?” If I work as an auto mechanic, I need to think, “How can I use this vocation to help me join God in that mission?” Whether I am single or married, childless or have multiple children: “How can I use this life to help God in that mission.” In other words, church, God calls us to join that mission in whatever place we find ourselves. I can please God and join God in His mission in so many ways: As a single man or as a married man, as a preacher or as a teacher, from Nairobi, Kenya or Tyler, Texas. I think God would have us spend more time focusing on that mission than on trying to discern some hidden plan for our lives.

A Christian blogger, John Greco recently revealed this about his own life:
For many years, I lived this way, walking through life very carefully, trying not to make a misstep. I grew up believing pastors and youth leaders who said, "God has a perfect plan for your life." I presumed it was my job to figure out what that plan was and then step into it with boldness. When I was a teenager, I began to worry that if I deviated from God's path, I'd be out of His perfect will—out on my own. The problem was I often felt uncertain about many of the particular steps I was supposed to take. My major in college, jobs I should accept, where I should live—these decisions never came with a blinking neon arrow illuminating the divinely chosen path I should take. The Bible says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take" (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT). But what if I haven't sought His will in everything I do? And what if He shows me the path, but I’m looking the wrong way? At times, I would look back and wonder, What if I've missed it? Over the years, I have discovered that I'm not alone. When there's a big decision to make, a friend will say something like, "I just want to make sure this is all in God's plan," or "I'm really seeking God's will for my life in this area." Maybe you've found yourself saying the same things. Sometimes the longing to know God's will is paralyzing, leaving us to look for a sign or divine confirmation for every choice we make. And while it's certainly not wrong to seek God's will, it's a dangerous thing to seek a divine path instead of God himself.
Folks, here is one of the other dangers of this statement, and the idea that surrounds it. We can spend so much time agonizing over our quest to determine God’s will for our life that we forget that our ultimate pursuit is not that secret path. Our ultimate pursuit is God Himself. I have found that when I pursue God with all of my heart, when I dive into God’s mission of reconciliation, when I use the gifts given to me for this mission, that is when I have the greatest sense of fulfillment. That doesn’t mean life is perfect. That doesn’t mean my life is void of suffering. But that does mean I have the sense that I am where I am supposed to be, and God is using me for just the purpose for which I was designed.

I pray God will use you too. But I’m not praying for God to reveal to you His “hidden” path. Because, His path for you is not hidden! I’m praying for boldness! That you would have boldness to find the gifts God has given you and to use them mightily in the work of reconciliation to which He has called you!

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