Plans and Purpose.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)
I’m a planner. I like to plan. The world is made up in roughly equal measures of those who can relate to those statements and those who will recoil in horror from them. The methodical planners armed with complex spreadsheets or the last-minute spontaneous types who think on their feet. The Js and Ps (if you’re familiar with Myers-Briggs terminology). My brother is my opposite in this regard, and so is my wife, but just as they have learned to plan and benefitted from it, so I have learned to embrace the spontaneity and last-minute changes. Whichever you are, though, this verse in Proverbs speaks to you.
We all plan in one form or another. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart”. It’s true that Proverbs is a book where every verse isn’t universally true of all people at all times, but this one, I think, speaks to us all. It isn’t limited to the J-type hardcore planners who meticulously work out every detail long in advance. No, it speaks to anyone who has ever looked into the future and dared to dream. It applies to any man or woman who has ever longed or hoped for something. In our hearts we make plans for those things we’d like to do and achieve, the people we want to meet, the experiences we want to have, the legacy we want to leave.
Our plans are many and they are varied. Some are good, some are bad. Some of the good ones are well-intentioned but work out badly; some of the bad ones God in His grace uses for good (check out the story of Joseph, and his summing up of it in Genesis 50:20). But all are limited by the weakness of our human condition. We don’t know what will happen and we can’t control every influence that bears on our lives. A high percentage of our plans do not work out or come to fruition. Some are abandoned, some change beyond all recognition, and some are chewed up by circumstances. But what prevails is the ‘Lord’s purpose.’
‘Prevail’ isn’t a word we use often – what does it mean? A quick Google search tells you that to prevail is to ‘prove more powerful or superior’ or ‘to persuade (someone) to do something.’ What prevails is what stands in the end, what stands the test of time, what succeeds when all is said and done. This is God’s province. He is more powerful than us and is superior to us. Check out these words in the book of Isaiah:
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
God knows better, and He has infinite means at His disposal. He has none of our limitations, none of our foibles and frailties. His purposes prevail because they are better. Yet He can also persuade. Even a basic understanding of how God works shows that He doesn’t just bully or ride rough-shod over our plans. No, He persuades, He shapes, He guides, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).
After all, where do our plans come from in the first place? Did He not make us in His own image, creative souls who can dream and think for ourselves? This is good and Godly, but what’s not is the selfishness and pride that we insisted on throwing into the mix.
In Scripture we see both God frustrating the plans of people and allowing them to succeed. His sovereignty encompasses both, and in marvellous ways weaves it all into His great tapestry. It’s ok to plan. It’s more than ok, it’s good. We should plan. But we should allow God to shape those plans. We should submit them to Him and allow Him to say “Yes”, “No”, “Later” or even “Not in that way”. Consider what James says:
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:14-15).
‘This or that’ – a.k.a. planning. Predicate all your plans upon God’s permission. Season your recipes for tomorrow with the one essential ingredient: humility. Recognise and accept that things will go wrong and that things will change. It’s ok to plan, but don’t hold those plans too dear, don’t hold them too tightly. Holding too tightly to them denies us the chance for God to make them into something better. What we hold in our hearts might be far inferior to that which God wants to give us instead. In fact, it almost certainly is.
Yes, in one sense this is a battle of wills between us and God, a battle which can only have one winner ultimately. But it’s also about a relationship. It’s about letting God mould not just our plans but our hearts too. It’s a process of becoming more and more like Jesus so that our plans naturally start to look more and more like His plans. The best definition of humility I have heard yet is “being in agreement with God about who you are.” Having humility about our plans is not abandoning our heart’s desires or ceding all responsibility but working in partnership with God to be the best we can be with what He’s given us.
And notice too the difference between us and God – we have ‘plans’ but He has ‘purpose’. We can’t generate that purpose on our own. The purpose that God gives is infinitely better, far more satisfying and so much more worthwhile than any purpose we could set ourselves. Our plans should reside within and conform to God’s purpose.
If you are a dreamer like me, then I say to you: Don’t give up on your dreams. Chase them. But commit them to God. Involve Him at each step along the way, allow Him to shape them for the best, and trust Him with their fulfilment. What prevails is not down to us, but up to Him. The more we love and trust God, the more our desires are fulfilled, and turn out to be what He wanted all along anyway. So I’ll leave you with Psalm 37:4, which I encourage you to meditate on…
“Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”