Fearing God's Plan for Your Life
"You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." (New Living Translation) - Proverbs 19:21
That verse may seem comforting to you, but for me it was not. I used to read it and cringe because it made me so uncomfortable. I'm a planner. A type A, stationary loving, perpetual to-do list making planner. Having a plan calms me. It reassures me. I like knowing the steps to get from point A to point B. I like being prepared, especially for big moments in life and I don't enjoy being caught off guard. This verse has always (and sometimes still does) made me feel a little uncomfortable. For as long as I can remember, I interpreted it as "you can make great plans Ashlea, but God can come in and wipe away all your grand ideas and replace them with another plan - one you may not actually want."
For years, I lived paralyzed by the idea that at any given moment, God could come crashing in, shake everything up, and rip my list of goals and "to-dos" to shreds. Then He'd replace it with a whole bunch of stuff I had absolutely no desire to do. Visions of being called away to go on a missions trip would flood my mind and I'd silently pray, "God please don't make me do that." Then, I'd hear a sermon about how I should let God's will be done in my life and I'd see it as confirmation. Yep, God is going to replace all my dreams, the true desires of my heart, all of my passions with His will and I won't like it. I was convinced that living a life surrendered to God meant living a life that I didn't actually enjoy.
Instead of seeing God's plans for my life as infinitely better than my own, I viewed them from a place of fear. Instead of realizing that the passions on my heart were actually given to me by God, I got caught up in seeing His will as completely antithetical to anything that I actually wanted to do and, because of that, I feared His plan for my life.
It can be hard to admit that you don't really trust God. When it comes to Christ, it's tempting to act like we have it all together. Even though the cornerstone of our relationship with God is His Son, Christ, "saving" us, there's a desire to come to God as an example of perfection instead of a picture of brokenness. But, in order to move forward and grow we have to be honest with ourselves and with God. We have to be vulnerable with Him, and when I got honest I knew that the fear I had of God's plan was a sign that I didn't trust Him like I thought I did.
Thankfully, the beautiful thing about being vulnerable with God is that He doesn't leave you in your brokenness to overcome struggles on your own. When we're completely open and honest with Him about our fears, God returns our vulnerability with direction and peace. When I finally decided to stop hiding my worries and doubts from God, as a foolish attempt to be "perfect", and just got real with Him instead, that's when things changed. I began to truly understand that His plans for me were good. That He wouldn't have laid dreams and passions on my heart if He didn't have a plan for them to be fulfilled. I realized that as long as I was living a life fully surrendered to God that I had no reason to worry, and that He wanted me to live a life full of passion, peace, and joy.
But what if you do end up on the mission field?
Being vulnerable with God and understanding He has a good plan is great and everything, but what if He asks you to do the one thing you really don't want to do? What do you do then?
Well, let's look at the classic example of God asking someone to do something they really didn't want to do - Jonah.
God told Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. Jonah didn't want to go, so instead of obeying, He tried to run away from God on a boat headed to another city. God sent a huge storm, the crew throws Jonah overboard, and he winds up in the belly of a huge fish. Three days later, after repenting and praising God, Jonah is spit up by the fish and on his way to Nineveh to carry out God's assignment. The people of Nineveh end up turning their hearts toward God and the city is spared from destruction because of Jonah's message.
On one hand I really feel for Jonah. Like, God, really? You know everything, which means You knew that Jonah was not going to want to do this. God had to know how this story would turn out. With Jonah spending 3 days in the belly of a fish, literally running in the opposite direction of the assignment God placed on his life.
But then I have to ask myself, how would the situation have been different if instead of running from God's plan, Jonah took the opportunity as a chance to turn his heart even more toward God. What if he had spent a moment to surrender himself more fully. What if in the midst of everything in him wanting to run the other way he boldly declared, "nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done." I suspect that his perspective on going to Nineveh would have been much different. I think his heart toward his assignment would have changed. Does that mean that the journey would have been easy? No, not necessarily, but he probably could have spared himself that whole belly of the fish experience.
While it's really easy to critique Jonah, if I'm being honest, I'm probably a little more like him than I'd like to admit. Maybe I don't run in the opposite direction whenever God comes calling, but that doesn't mean that I don't occasionally drag my feet and take my own sweet time to get to where I know He's assigned me.
In my most recent move to D.C. God has really shown me two things. One, that He will prepare me for His plans if I just keep my heart surrendered to Him, and two, as He was with Jonah, God is way more concerned with me fulfilling His plan and purpose for my life than my temporary discomfort.
If you asked me a year ago if I wanted to move to and work in D.C. I would have answered with a firm, resounding NO. I was focusing my job search on North Carolina, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia, and even South Carolina. I wanted to be somewhere I thought I would be comfortable and those were the places that fit the bill. I applied everywhere but nothing seemed to be working out.
Finally, I began to realize that maybe I was being a bit like Jonah. God hadn't necessarily spoken clearly to me about going to a particular location, but my heart wasn't completely open to hearing His will, either. So, as I was praying one morning, I told the Lord, "Look, I'm surrendering this over to you. Get me outside of my box. I'm willing and open to be wherever You want me to be." I decided I didn't want to be like Jonah, running away from God's assignment and into what I thought would be sea of calm and comfort.
After that prayer, it was like a shift took place in my heart. Over time, the idea of moving to DC didn't seem so horrible. More and more, it began to look like good fit and I even started to get excited about the idea of moving there. Little did I know that God was preparing me and softening my heart. Ultimately the Lord blessed me with just the right job in DC, and when it was time to move I had so much peace about the decision. Oh, and remember what I said earlier about being fearful that God would come in and replace all of my dreams with His will and that I wouldn't like the end result? Moving to DC has meant that I can pursue an LL.M. in my dream program tuition free, spend much needed time with my boyfriend, and have access to incredible opportunities. In the end, following God's plan, even though it was the opposite of my own, has actually gotten me closer to my dreams, given me the desires of my heart, and allowed me to pursue my passions.
Does that mean the transition has always been easy? No. Do I LOVE my job every single day. No. Is my life perfect? Absolutely not, and no one's life actually is. I'm in phase where I'm outside of my comfort zone in almost every area of my life, but I know it's temporary and for a bigger purpose. At times it can be challenging, but because I know I'm where God wants me to be, I have a confidence that in the end this season will be worth it.
God isn't some cruel taskmaster who wants to rip the rug right out from under us. He loves us and wants us to have a life that's even better than our wildest dreams. He also wants us to grow and fulfill the plan He has for our life. Sometimes that may mean stepping outside of our comfort zone and understanding that His plans are always much, much better than our own. We can rest assured that if God calls us to do the very thing we could never dream of - He'll prepare us. If we pour out our hearts to Him, surrender, and choose to trust Him, He'll make sure our heart and mind are ready for the journey every single time.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. - Jeremiah 29:11