Are God’s plans better than our plans?
One of my greatest strengths and weaknesses is that I am a planner. I love to plan my agendas for the day, the week, the month, the year, the decade. This is generally a good thing, in that I am able to accomplish many things because I set goals, prepare action plans, follow them through, etc.
But sometimes this passion for planning is not so good. I think someone once said, “If you want to hear God laugh, just tell Him your plans.” I have often become upset with God because it becomes obvious that His plan for me is much different than my plan for me. I have even been found guilty of “kicking against the goads”, from time to time.
I like to think that over the years (I am now 61), I have gradually begun to anticipate that God’s ways are different and better than my ways. And that even when the conventional wisdom of the day presses me in one direction I often anticipate that God is pressing me in another.
This is certainly the case over the last seven or eight years. It was in about 2006 or so that I began to discuss with my wife, Margaret, that I was feeling pulled back toward Oregon, to the rural area where I grew up and farmed until I was 40. I wasn’t sure why the Lord was directing me that way, but when I had felt that gentle pull several times before in my life, it was God’s gracious plan intervening into my agenda.
Margaret was open to the idea and as always, a good listener. I expressed that perhaps this was God’s way of moving me toward Oregon for retirement, when I was eligible for Social Security at 65 or 66. But somehow that didn’t feel quite right. That what God was calling me toward was not to be the societal convention of “retirement”, that is, of putting in my time somewhere, building up my pension, and then “taking it easy” and taking up golf and “the good life” in a retirement village.
That struggling with God’s plan versus “let’s take it easy”, reminds me of the occasional afternoon when my pastoral schedule would suddenly shift and I would find myself with an unexpected hour or two of free time. My first impulse is to think that I have some time to rest and take it easy, to kick back. But often what I find instead is that God has just rearranged my schedule to fit in someone He was sending to me, someone that I could never have anticipated. And that unexpected meeting is usually the high point of my day.
So it was with this movement in my spirit. God was preparing me to accept an unexpected event, an unplanned change in my agenda. And so it happened…
My mother, ten years younger than my dad, began to experience problems with her voice. In trying to determine the source of the hoarseness, an alert radiologist noticed a spot on the upper lobe of her left lung. More scans revealed that my mother, who had never smoked, had cancerous tumors in her lung.
Over the next four years leading to my mother’s death, God’s plan was revealed in full blown color and detail. I increasingly spent more time with Mom and Dad. I advocated in our family for them to stay in their home until they died. Margaret gradually and in her own unique way, decided that she would very much like to live in Oregon. I gained an associate pastor on my staff in Sandpoint, Idaho. I was encouraged in large and small ways to take seriously the role of caregiver for my soon to be widowered Dad.
And little by little, day after day, the Lord moved my agenda and plans out, and His much better plan in. Not long after Mom died, I helped locate a live in caregiver, and I went to ¾ time in my congregation, spending one week a month caring for Dad and giving respite to our caregiver in Oregon. As I spent that one week per month with Dad I was affirmed again and again that I was right where God wanted me and Dad needed me.
I moved my time of leaving my congregation in Sandpoint up from June of 2015 to January of 2015 as it became clear that our main caregiver would need to be replaced by then. And God moved Dad’s congregation in Oregon to ask me to serve as their interim ½ time pastor as their pastor left after conflict and decline in the congregation, a position for which God had been preparing me my whole ministry. Although the earlier move meant separation from Margaret for much of 7 months, God used that time as a time of healing in my new church and an affirmation to me of my new call.
When I began to feel pulled toward Oregon I had a vision of building a new house on our old farmstead and renovating and farming that ground. When it became obvious that my sister, who had been purchasing and living on that property, would not be selling, I began to question what God was doing. But just at the right time, my cousins approached me and asked me to buy their property, the old parsonage that their parents had purchased from the church. The 2 and ½ acre location was perfect for a rural homesite and gradually I realized that this was both more practical and suited me better than purchasing the old home place.
Margaret and I had hoped for an early sale of both of our houses in Sandpoint so that I could get an early start on a shop on the property. It seemed that one obstacle after another was keeping them from selling. When the houses did sell, each sold at just the perfect time to finance our shop and house plans, as God gave me time and expertise to work on them. Building more slowly gave me more time to develop deeper relationships with our neighbors and I saw God using His timetable to prepare both Margaret and me better for building and transition. God even held off the seasonal rains in Oregon until I had the roof on my shop!
As I continue on down this road of caregiving, pastoring, and building, I marvel at God’s perfect plan for me. The plan He has is not conventional nor predictable, not my plan at all. But it is the working out of His good and gracious will in my life for my good and as a testimony of His great love in every detail of my life. This is a plan that is not only helping my dad and a congregation and a building project, it is working His will in my life and giving Him glory.
The transition from a full time pastor to a combination pastor-caregiver-carpenter truly suits me to a T. I find myself in better physical, emotional, and spiritual shape than I have ever been in my life. And with each revealing of God’s plan for me, I find my heart more responsive to His calling on my life. I do not know what future plans I may have, but I know that God will mold them into His good and perfect will. For just such a time as this…
Copyright Steve Nickodemus