The following article was first written and posted in March of 2007. I have added a few additional thoughts to the end.
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 [though today we are a little further down that road].
But the one plan that matters is the one St. Paul mentioned. I plan to live for the praise of God’s glory – this plan 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.
An additional reflection I would add to this original piece, is that the great “plan” for our life is found primarily in the Cross of Christ. Christians are specifically told that “anyone who would be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). St. Paul also enjoins us to have “the mind which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and describes that as the mind of humility that empties itself and is crucified (Philippians 2:5-11).
The path that our life takes is a mystery. Sometimes we see a pattern and sometimes we do not. There is no promise to us that we will know the shape our life will take – other than the promise that if we live in obedience to Christ our life will take a shape that is conformed to the image of Christ – most specifically Christ crucified. God will raise us up.