We are dreamers. A student dreams about graduating and finding a nice job. A business owner dreams about a bigger company. A recently married couple dreams about a house filled with kids and a friendly dog in the backyard. A missionary dreams about seeing many coming to the Lord. A pastor dreams about a church packed with godly people reaching the nations. We dream.
We not only dream and plan for things in the long haul. We plan in a smaller scale, too. We plan to wake up and have breakfast and do that in the house and go to that meeting and write this and read that, and so on. We dream and plan as we breathe and eat. It’s part of our being.
There is nothing wrong with planning and dreaming. I would go even further and say that planning is not only acceptable. It is desirable. But we all have experienced the gap between “planned” and “accomplished”. And this gap raises the question: “How do I respond when my plans are thrown away through the window?”
A Natural Answer
When I say natural, I mean a reaction from the flesh, our sinful nature.
I might get really confused if my plans seemed good and just, “Why, O Lord?” Then, this confusion plants seeds of bitterness that, if left unchecked and fed by constant frustration, might grow to a point of paralyzing discouragement.
But, by God’s grace, we can respond differently.
Take Paul as an example. He was not planning to get arrested in Rome. He was planning to go to the Gentiles and proclaim Christ and him crucified. Wonderful plan! Good and just. But God wanted to spread the gospel through another route. Paul ended in a domestic prison in Rome. How did he respond?
A Supernatural Answer
He responded supernaturally. Paul’s flesh could never do it. He said:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. (…) What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Philippians 1:12, 18)
Paul’s response to his frustrated plan was a supernatural rejoicing. Why? Because the gospel is advancing (v. 12) through the proclamation of Christ (v. 18). Right. But again, why? Why is Paul rejoicing in the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, if he is not part of this proclamation and his travel plans were frustrated by the Lord?
Because Paul learned to be content in whatever situation he faced.
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Paul received the gift of contentment. But he had to learn it: “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (v. 11). Contentment in Christ is a gift from God, but it comes through a learning process. And it seems that one of God’s favorite places to teach us contentment is the school of frustrated plans.
Those situations teach us in a concrete way that Christ is enough, His grace is sufficient, and His plans are better. When things are moving as planned, our joy might be in the success of our plans rather than solely in the Lord.
The test of our faith (and the source of our contentment) happens when what we planned doesn’t happen. Then the opportunity to respond naturally or supernaturally takes place. And when we receive grace to be content with God’s different plan, our faith is purified and God glorified.
God’s commitment is not with our plans. His love is greater than this. God’s commitment is to make us in the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is the plan where He gets the glory and we get the godliness we need to enjoy Him forever (as question one of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us).
If we are controlled by the desire to see Christ exalted even through the expense of our plans being thwarted, our hearts will rejoice in the one whose plans are never thwarted (Job 42:2).
Let us continue planning and dreaming big for God. Let us work hard and with passion for the Lord. But when He frustrates our plans, let us trust His wise and loving and better plans. And be content and be still, knowing that Christ will be exalted among the nations.