I have a love-hate relationship with Proverbs 16.9. It’s burned into my soul by now, but in case you aren’t as familiar with it yet, it goes like this:
“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.”
You can see where this is going now, huh?
I learned it as a new believer over a decade ago. It resonated with me as a college student, full of plans and timelines. And every time those plans blew up or the timeline came to a screeching halt, it was the one thing I could hear in the silence.
As I’ve grown a bit and made some significant life changes along the way, the Lord and I have a playful relationship when it comes to me and my plans. I Google things and ask lots of questions and research options A, B, and C. And most of the time I even have a contingency for each, just to be sure. But the irony in it all is that the Lord RARELY sees fit to go with my plan. He humors me as I scheme and strategize. But inevitably, at some point when I’m finally willing (or sometimes forced) to submit my plans to Him, He responds by kindly messing up my deal. Yep. I’m aware this is not the most articulate way to express it, but that is exactly what is happening. I throw my hands up and say “AGH! There You go again, messing up my deal!” and then He proceeds to order my steps with the most loving and gracious and good plans. Every single time.
I honestly hoped that I’d outgrow or outrun Proverbs 16.9 eventually, but it always seems to know how to find me. And most days I can be found at Renovatus, where I am inevitably reminded of this particular truth! Nevertheless, the proverb is a good one to own when you are a Spirit-led church, desperate to go where He sends you, resolved to faithfully do whatever He puts in your hands to do. But MAN it can be frustrating sometimes and is not altogether unlike trying to hit an ever-moving target! Because while the church is a living, breathing organism, dynamic and organic, she is also an organization that needs some semblance of structure and a plan! Amen?
In 2009 Renovatus began renovating a movie theater inside a shopping mall in great decline on the east side of Charlotte. It would become our offices and worship space. Everyone thought we were crazy. We had big dreams about what God could do through us in the community. We had big plans. We worked really hard on those plans. And 9 months after we moved in, the landlord filed bankruptcy and the entire mall went into foreclosure. We had 60 days to come up with a new plan.
Now on the one hand, we were heartbroken. We poured so much sweat and time and resource into upfitting the space and developing relationships in the area. We had persevered through some serious challenges to be there and it felt like we had just begun to dig in when our notice was delivered. (Quick aside: There is nothing quite like calling your lead pastor while he’s out of town to inform him that his congregation is being displaced in less than 2 months.)
On the other hand, no one panicked. No one plummeted into despair. There was no sackcloth and ashes. There was a deep peace and confidence surrounding us. Ultimately, we all knew there was no doubt that the Lord would give us somewhere new to go, something else to do. And He did.
The “plan” is never the end game anyway, just the means. And the Lord is infinitely creative with the means.
The lesson in all of this for me, for Renovatus, for anyone is simply to surrender. It is right and good and biblical to plan. It is God-honoring to steward resources well and to organize work effectively. But all of it must constantly be laid on the altar before the Lord. It must always be offered up in open hands raised high before the King. We do this so we don’t end up worshiping the strategy & systems we’ve created. We do this to avoid the subtle drift that leads us to bowing down before man-made 5 year plans that make us feel accomplished and productive but leave no room for obedience in a moment’s notice.
God, in His wisdom and by his grace, equipped us with minds and hearts by which we can make some truly amazing plans. But the minds, the hearts, and the plans–it’s all His for the taking. And no matter how frustrating or disappointing or confusing it can be in the moment when it feels like He’s once again “messing up your deal,” you cling to the knowledge that the Father is incapable of being anything but good and loving toward you.
You recognize that “deal” He is supposedly messing up was never yours to begin with and that His ordering of your steps is ultimately the only plan worth following anyway.