By Dave Keehn
There is nothing like changes in one’s travel plan to reveal how we truly handle change. For myself, traveling with my family is a sacred obsession. I plan months ahead to get the best flights and reserve the “perfect” hotel to accommodate our sightseeing interests. As a family, we read travel books and blogs to find the out-of-the-way restaurants. With an itinerary in hand, we embark on our journey, only to be met with forced changes that were unforeseen. To say the least, I don’t deal with a “change in plans” well, especially when I am on vacation. Changes for me equal stress, hassles, and more work.
However, there is a common saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” While I don’t think God is malicious in his laughter; I do believe he wonders why I thought I had the right to determine my course in the first place. Proverbs 16 is filled with wise sayings that give the true perspective of who is in charge of “making plans.”
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” (Prov. 16:9)
Many of the wise sayings in Proverbs 16 identify that while it is natural, if not even good for me to make plans, I must recognize my future plans often may seem right to me, but are truly selfish and lead to bad results (Prov. 16:1, 2, 25). The good news is: God is in the business of changing our plans to His plan, resulting in something much better than I could hope for. This is what he did with his own disciples.
Throughout the Gospels, we read stories of the disciple’s ups and downs in the development of their faith, often rebuked for doubts and little faith (Matt. 8:26, 27). In Matthew 16:5-12, the disciples are still struggling with who Jesus truly is. Matthew 16 continues with a poignant discussion between Jesus and his disciples: Jesus questioning them, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). The disciples gave some political answers of the prophet foretold in the Old Testament that would come before the Messiah. Then Jesus focuses upon their belief, to which Peter proclaims Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter fully recognizes that Jesus is the promised Messiah and he attaches his hopes and dreams to Jesus. Jesus affirms this confession and blesses Peter with the purpose and authority to establish God’s church, with promised victory over Hades (Matt. 16:17-19). Peter may have had visions of vanquishing the Roman occupation as well, for this was a common political expectation of the Messianic work.
So we can only imagine the shock to Peter’s plans when Jesus started to predict his death (Matt. 16:21). So upset was Peter with Jesus’ talk of death that Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke him: “This shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22). We can read into these words: “That is not my plan!” The response from Jesus is stinging, associating Peter’s plan with Satan, perverting God’s path of salvation. The reason for this rebuke is ultimately Peter “does not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man” (Matt. 16:23). This reveals the true issue at the center of the “who’s plans do I operate by” debate: man’s thoughts or God’s thoughts?
Dealing with a change in plans requires us to have God’s thoughts in our focus!
It is no wonder Jesus immediately discusses the conditions of discipleship with all his followers at this point of Matthew’s Gospel. He insists if anyone has the plan to follow him, “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Following Jesus requires a change in my plans. I must relinquish (deny) my desire to plan, scheme, and insist on my way through daily surrendering my life to Jesus. While my salvation is secure through my Savior Jesus, the struggle to make Jesus Lord is a constant giving up my plans for God’s plan. I must daily fill and focus my mind with God’s thoughts, including his plans for my life.
That is why, when God changes my plans, I must refocus my mind, asking what is God’s design for this moment. A year ago, I was leading a large group from my church to attend the Urbana Missions Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference ended on New Year’s Day and I needed to be home immediately to teach an interterm class at Biola University. For unknown reasons, our group’s flight back to California was canceled, and the best I could do after hours on the phone was to get half our group out that day, with the remaining folks home the next evening. Needless to say, my stress level went through the roof. However, as I tried to focus on what God’s thoughts were, I began to experience some amazing benefits that made this delay a blessing in disguise. While true I was late in starting class by a day–which we made up through the videos Biola had already made of my teaching these lectures–I was able to experience a peace from God that replaced my frustration.
You may ask how or why? Simply because I was able to recognize my plans were not the authority the universe operates by. I was able to focus on God’s thoughts, which spared me the stress of worrying about things that were outside of my control. I did not waste time of fretting on what was lost, but rather realized God’s plan would allow for something better to happen. It was through this experience that I saw the implications of alternative teaching methods and now seek to offset all my courses with “outside” the classroom instruction. I also was able to receive new blessings of extra time with my students, even though I missed my family, in an extra day of celebrating the New Year. God opened up the home of a student’s out-of-state family to house and feed us this day, eliminating the frustration of sitting in an airport for hours. The benefits of keeping God’s thoughts in my focus also include less grief when I experience a change in plans, as I live with hope, knowing God’s best is coming because it is his plan I am now living.
So when God changes our plans, look for his blessing of something new and unexpected. While the pain of loss may be very real, God’s grace is sufficient to carry us into his next steps for our lives. For the “things of God” lead to life-giving plans.