The Unplanned Life

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One of the geniuses of modern life is the plan. It is certainly the case that if you have a company and a product, or whatever passes for those in these days, there is probably a plan to go with them. Occasionally you hear from Christians, “God has a plan for my life.”

Several years ago I was flying from Dallas back to Tennessee and was sitting in the middle of two very interesting young seatmates. On the aisle was a very frightened young coed who gripped the armrest ever tighter with the slightest bump.

It was a summer flight – meaning lots of thunderstorms between Dallas and Tennessee –  and therefore lots of bumps. On my right was a young college student from one of the Christian colleges in the Dallas area.

After a particularly difficult set of bumps, the young man, in an effort to be helpful, turned to the woman seated on my other side and said, “You don’t need to be worried. God has a plan for my life. This plane cannot go down.” Apparently God had also told him what the plan was.

I thought to myself, “I’ve served God for many years and as far as I know, he can take me at any minute.”

Is there a plan for our lives?

The closest thing that I can think of in Scripture for “the plan” is this statement in Ephesians:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. (1:9-12)

 It seems to me that there is a world of difference between the sort of plan St. Paul describes here and the sort of plan envisioned by my young evangelical seatmate. Clearly, God has a plan. St. Paul says so. But the most essential aspect of that plan is that we are destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory – which, of course – one can do as the plane plunges to the earth as well as anywhere.

Our culture is marked by planning. We are all “teleologically” wired in our society – that is we are always thinking that we’re headed somewhere. Some of this is Christian – we believe that Christ will come again and that this age will come to an end. But there has been a “trickle down” effect of such notions into the very fabric of our culture.

Of course, one of the problems with this cultural habit is that it makes it very hard for us to ever be where we are when we are there (we’re always going somewhere else). And so it is hard to waste time (which is an interesting expression in and of itself). It is hard to pray (a thousand things lying just ahead in the future beckon us to leave such quiet moments behind).

But if we actually read St. Paul and think of what we have been told – then we realize that we can be “at the end” in any given moment. To “live for the praise of God’s glory” is always immediately at hand. And it is probably the case that when we are not doing so we are in fact in sin.

There are many questions which I cannot answer about my life. I assume it will be lived where I am (I do not “plan” to be elsewhere). I do not know the future of my parish (I am frequently asked, “Do you have plans to build a larger Church?”). I certainly hope to, but we do not have plans as of yet.

But the one plan that matters is the one St. Paul mentioned. I plan to live for the praise of God’s glory – is sufficient. This is not to throw planning out the window. If you’re going to take a trip you’ll likely have to plan what sort of things to take. And many things in our lives require such “planning.” But if in the middle of everything else you have forgotten the only plan that matters, then all the other “plans” will have been for nothing.

“To the praise of His glory,” an excellent plan indeed.

7 Responses to “The Unplanned Life”

  1. fatherstephen Says:

    The first valley in Zion National Park, can be seen from this hour-long walk up trails, or explored by driving through one of the finest tunnels in the States.

  2. Planning and goal setting in mission « Khanya Says:

    […] now Father Stephen has written about the unplanned life, and got me thinking about it again. I believe that on one level, he’s dead right. But I […]

  3. Steve Says:

    To me it seems like, yes, God does have a plan for my life, but there’s nothing to say He hasn’t included “crash in airplane at a young age” near the end.

    Christians aren’t invincible, and the more we project that aura the more people will get turned off. “He’s not invincible, he’s just well off!” We are more than conquerors, yes, and we should not be afraid, but there is a difference between the pride that keeps fear at arm’s length and the humility that holds me in God’s hands like water.

  4. Fatherstephen Says:

    I certainly think we can have plans, and in certain settings they are absolutely necessary. But it is also true that the outcome of anything is dependent upon God and not the result solely of my plan (that would be atheism).

    One can be unplanned, spontaneous and sinful as easily as we can be planned, closed to God and sinful.

    What I’ve wanted to raise here has been more the question of “God has a plan for my life.” Actually, I believe He does and that plan is for me to live to the praise of His glory. Everything in me that prevents that is a stumbling block to my salvation. And I believe my salvation to be part of God’s plan, which only He finally knows how it was to work.

    I make plans – you have to – but I cannot confuse those plans with God’s and I cannot forget in the midst of my plans that what matters is to live to the praise of His glory.

  5. Steve Says:

    I didn’t mean to disagree with you. I meant to agree. 🙂 Please forgive me. I wasn’t as clear as I would have liked.

  6. Anthony Says:

    Dear brother in Christ, it seems that our Apostle Paul and Saint Nicholas of Japan lived a planned life. In the case of our dear Apostle, in the Holy Scriptures, God’s call to be good and faithful servants, might require us all to live with the goal of becoming as Perfect as our Father in Heaven for a “minimal” goal 🙂

    Words of our Apostle in 1 cor 9:24-27
    Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

    In a similar sense, it seems that our brother and spiritual father, Peter the Apostle, left us with some great goals to set for our spiritual lives (i.e. 2 Peter 1,5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.)

    Most importantly, seems like our LORD has a call on all of us to have specific goal of taking up our cross as he had his goal of fulfilling our salvation by His Great Cross and Sacrifice: Luke 11,32 Jesus replied: “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’

    Would it not be wise for us to “plan” what our day will look like when we stand before our LORD and want to hear “Well done my good and faithful servant” as our LORD fulfilled the call of God in his life (i.e. John 17,4 “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”)?

    humbly in Christ and growing in His Grace always,
    Anthony

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Anthony,

    I think you are reading American pragmatic philosophy into the Scriptures. We cannot “plan” because we cannot act apart from grace and do anything good. We cannot “plan” because God has not revealed to us today’s agenda. Taking up your cross is not occasional but constant. Jesus did not come with a “plan” – but a work to be accomplished. God is not an engineer. I, too, long to hear, “Well done.” But I believe it will be (if at all) that I obeyed the voice of my shepherd and loved my neighbor (and my enemy) as myself. I’m sorry but I do not experience the world as a great place of “planning.” Rather I see planners forcing the world to fit their own ideas. Count me out.

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