When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Mark 10:47–49 (NLT)
In the 1980’s television series, The A-Team, the lead character, John “Hannibal” Smith, often proclaimed, “I love it when a plan comes together.” We can be reasonably confident that Jesus did not have a traveling secretary to keep his schedule. But if Jesus did have someone planning his itinerary, they would have been frustrated. Things probably never went according to “the plan.”
We can almost hear someone exclaiming, “if we have any more interruptions to the plan, we will spend the night in the wilderness again!” Of course, we know that Jesus’ plan always came together exactly as he intended. Nothing caught him by surprise or alarmed him. In reading the Gospels, we can note just how often ministry took place because of, not despite, the interruptions.
Whose Plan Is It?
For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. John 6:38 (NIV)
I have often participated in a group, praying for a church service or other ministry activity. It seems that someone will inevitably pray like this: “Lord, help everything go smoothly and according to (our) plan. Please do not allow any disruptions. Amen.”
I know they pray out of sincerity, but that kind of prayer is selfish and shortsighted. Once, after hearing a prayer like this for several weeks in a row, I spoke up. I gave just a few examples of how often Jesus responded to interruptions to help someone in need.
It is not wrong to plan, but it is wrong to be so committed to our plan that we leave no room for the Holy Spirit to change course. Life and ministry are simplified, perhaps, but are we here to do what we desire or to do the will of the Father? God is very good at upending our plans. Do we know how to respond?
When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:7 (NIV)
Paul had a plan, but God had something else in mind. Planning and setting future goals are associated with successful people. People who do no planning and just “go with the flow” are considered to be irresponsible. They don’t know where they have been, where they are, or where they are going.
At the other extreme are those who make a plan and stick with it no matter what happens. We do not give high regard to leaders who operate this way. How can we strike a balance? The apostle Paul knew what his mission was from God. His mission was to bring the gospel to the Gentile nations. To that calling, he was faithful.
Later, Paul testified before King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Paul was successful within the framework of the vision that God had given him. It was not a life that was without opposition and hardship. There were times when God did not reveal his plans until the last moment.
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)
We can go ahead and cast vision and make plans, but be ready to have those plans upended from time to time. Our plans may fail, but God’s desires will always succeed. Make plans but be flexible.
We can accept that God may change our plans, but what about when Satan opposes us and puts roadblocks in our way? Can we be as confident under those circumstances? Looking at Paul once again in Acts: he faced opposition almost everywhere he went. He was stoned and beaten, a demon-possessed fortuneteller interfered with the proclamation of the gospel, and he was shipwrecked more than once.
The opposition should not surprise us. Jesus told us we would encounter resistance: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV).
Our greatest challenge in this area is believing God can work even when our plans are thwarted or fall apart. We love it when a plan comes together, precisely our program or project, but we are uncomfortable when we are not in control. Or, should we say, when we think we are in control?
We attest to the idea, “The just shall live by faith,” but the reality is often stress and high blood pressure when we find ourselves having to live by faith. God allows our plans to be interrupted so that we will learn to trust him even when we cannot see how it will all work out.
The Opportunity of Interruption
When we finally learn that great opportunities await us when things do not go according to how we plan them, we will almost look forward to the next interruption. It may take some time, and we still may find it inconvenient, but our faith will grow to meet the challenges.
So maybe instead of praying that everything will go according to the way we have planned it, we will simply pray, Lord, have your way in our ministries and lives. Then we will be able to say, “I love it when God’s plan comes together.”
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