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When You’re in the Middle of a Mess: Knowing God’s Plan
But we aren’t talking about that here. What we are talking about is when you are considering embarking on an effort and aren’t sure if this is something that you should do or be involved. Proverbs 3:5-6 states:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
All that chapter gives excellent advice for living a good life, but I want to focus on verse 6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Other translations render the “direct” as “make smooth.” I take the second part of verse six to me that God will not only guide you, but open the way, make smooth the path.
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
But what about the first half of verse six, “in all your ways acknowledge Him?” What does that mean. Up until the time I started writing this lesson and typed the previous paragraph, I have always taken that verse to mean to publicly acknowledge God in what you do, not to be a hidden Christian. And that is probably also true, but I don’t think is the main meaning of the verse.
The verb translated as “acknowledge” is the Hebrew word yada. This is the Strongs description:
יָדַע yâdaʻ, yaw-dah’; a primitive root; to know (properly, to ascertain by seeing); used in a great variety of senses, figuratively, literally, euphemistically and inferentially (including observation, care, recognition; and causatively, instruction, designation, punishment, etc.):—acknowledge, acquaintance(-ted with), advise, answer, appoint, assuredly, be aware, (un-) awares, can(-not), certainly, comprehend, consider, × could they, cunning, declare, be diligent, (can, cause to) discern, discover, endued with, familiar friend, famous, feel, can have, be (ig-) norant, instruct, kinsfolk, kinsman, (cause to let, make) know, (come to give, have, take) knowledge, have (knowledge), (be, make, make to be, make self) known, be learned, lie by man, mark, perceive, privy to, × prognosticator, regard, have respect, skilful, shew, can (man of) skill, be sure, of a surety, teach, (can) tell, understand, have (understanding), × will be, wist, wit, wot.
After reading that, what are your thoughts? It seemed to me that it is more about seeking God’s will first, asking him to guide and direct you. Then I went to my go-to translation when I want to read the most literal translation in English, which is Young’s Literal Translation. This is how verse 6 is translated:
In all thy ways know thou Him, And He doth make straight thy paths.
Which seems to be in agreement with understanding the verse as “have knowledge of God” in everything that you do.
So what does this look like practically? I’ll be honest, I don’t always do this before I get myself involved in things. I will be asked by a friend to do something and it is something that I think is a good thing and something I can do, and I don’t think twice about jumping in and helping. To be honest, I can think of several times just in the past year when I’ve done this and doing that thing because someone asked for help delayed, if not derailed, something else that I should have been doing.
We just need to ask, and then expect an answer. There have been many times I have prayed for guidance about something, and then didn’t recognize the answer when it came.
When I volunteered in a healing room, another volunteer said, “The only reason I’m here is because God told me to be here. I realized I hadn’t even thought about asking God if I should do it. I had heard stories about what was going on and I wanted to see it for myself.
When I applied for admission to the apologetics program, it was something that I wanted to do, but I had no idea how I would make it all work as a single mom going to graduate school. I remember the day I applied, it was New Year’s day 2015. I had followed Louis Markos’s work for several years and because of that, knew about the launch of the apologetics program.
When I read that Lee Strobel was coming on staff at HBU, I thought, “I have no idea what is going on there, but whatever it is I want to be part of it.” I realized that if it was something that I wanted to do, that no one was going to come knocking on my door and ask me to join. I needed to start taking steps towards it. I submitted my application, the FAFSA, and sent off for my transcripts. And I prayed, “God, if this is something you want me to do, you will have to open the doors. If not, keep them shut.” And that is what happened. That is a longer story that I tell in a video titled “The book that changed my life.”
God did open the doors and bring it about, but I had to take actions towards it. God provided the path for me to walk, but I had to get up and walk down that path. And I didn’t get through it alone. I had friends that helped me through it: pastors and people in my church who were praying for me and encouraging me, and friends that helped with computer problems and who picked up my girls from school when I was on the other side of town in class.
There were many times in the apologetics program that I felt like I was just getting through day by day. Read the next page. Write the next reflection. Make that next school run. Sometimes it all seemed very overwhelming … and this is for an endeavor where what needs to be done is clear and well-defined.
Word by word. Line by line. Just take the next step.
Coming Soon! Straight Pathways: Knowing God's Plan
This Bible study is part of Straight Pathways.
So often, I prayed, ‘God, you have to help me with this.”
And he did.
When I realized a reflection on art and apologetics was due in three hours and I had no idea what to write about. [The Fountain of Trevi]
When I had to write an essay exam on abstract objects and the aseity of God and I’m not even grasping the terms. [Read Job] . . . “God, I need to understand Platonism!” . . .[Read Job]. What do you know, God was right.
All of this for a program and degree that I had no idea where I would apply it. It was something I wanted to do. It sounded fun, and so I went for it.
Sometimes, it is that thing that we really want that is part of God’s plan for us. He put that desire within us. He has a plan for us and a purpose. We are each wired in a very particular way so that when we are doing the thing he designed us for … that is living. We are in the fullness of life that we are meant to have.
This is what Jesus meant when he said in John 10:10:
The enemy does not come except to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.
Or as the NIV puts it, to “have it to the full.”
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. NIV
And in John 15:11 when he said:
these things I have spoken to you, that my joy in you may remain, and your joy may be full.
He has come so that we can be in relationship with him and clear out all the “stuff” that is keeping us from being the person he made us to be and fulfilling the purpose we were designed for.
But again, how do we know God’s plan for us?
When You’re in the Middle of a Mess
Jeremiah 29:11 is a verse that many people go to when they are talking about God’s plan. This is the NIV
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Now, you’ll hear some pastors say about this verse, “This isn’t for you. This is just for Israel at that time. You can’t have this. That’s being all New Agey and following a prosperity gospel. Who are you thinking that God wants good things for you? You think he wants you to have peace and hope? What are you thinking?”
Does that sound familiar? Way too common isn’t it? Pastors that are supposed to be preaching the Good News too often paint God as this sadistic being who just likes to see us suffer. It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus had the same things to say.
Yes, God is good and he has good for us. This is the context of that passage
10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
Yes, the message of that passage is still for us today, but it has nothing to do with a name it and claim it prosperity gospel. If you ever get Jeremiah 29:11 as a word from God … buckle up and get ready, because he is giving you a warning that you’re going to go through some things, but that he will bring through through it. It is a warning to prepare, and a promise to hold on to hope.
Take the Next Step
There was a point early on in helping the Afghan Christians in their immigration journey where I was completely overwhelmed by it all: the scope of everything that needed to be done, the magnitude of the impact in the lives of the people, and the seeming impossibility of it all. Anyone I talked to that actually knew what they were doing said, “It’s a mess. It’s impossible. It’s not going to happen.”
But I had been getting all of these serendipitous connections, and I had seen this happen before in another endeavor when everyone told us that what we wanted to do was “too big, too much, too soon, too fast.” I could see the hand of God moving … but it was all overwhelming .. It seemed way too overwhelming. Even seeing God move in that was was part of what was overwhelming me.
I was in a funk over it for about a week. I was discouraged, not because anything had happened to discourage me, everything had actually fallen in my lap at this point, but because in my head, it seemed like too much.
Another part that was weighing me down was that I couldn’t see how it would all work. Normally when I’m doing any sort of plan, I can visualize what it needs to look like in the end, and then break down the steps of what needs to happen to get there. I couldn’t see it. I didn’t even know the path to take.
During that week, I spent my time on other projects that needed my attention. Someone shared a Facebook video with me and, right after that, a video clip of Steve Harvey began where he shared the story of his big break. He was at the very end of his rope, he couldn’t go any farther, and when he got the call that ended up being his big break, he didn’t even have the means to get there. But he took the next step that he could, and that was the turnaround.
His message was, “Don’t give up. Just take the next step.”
That video was part of what got me moving again. That and a story about kindergarteners and a petition. Maybe I’ll be able to share that story another day. I had people I could call and emails I could send. Even if I didn’t know how it would all work together, I could take the next step.
When Your Process is the Plan
As I was preparing for this lesson, another video from Steve Harvey showed up in my feed. In it, he is talking about the same thing the Lord is saying in Jeremiah 29, the process that is part of God’s plan.
“Process is necessary so quit trippin’. “Oh Lord, why me?” You ain’t the only one going through something. Things are going to happen in your life… it won’t make sense until you are on the other side of it.
God is processing you. He ain’t through with you. I look back on my life and all that I’ve been through. I know that the God I serve has pulled me through some hard times and he will do the same for you.”
Knowing God in the Process
Often, when we’re going through hard times, we ask God, “Why me? Why did you let this happen?” Sometimes, the hard situations we are experiencing are the consequences of the choices we have made.
But sometimes, those difficult circumstances are part of the plan. The difficulties are part of the process that God is preparing you to be able to handle the good he has in store for you.
If he gives us the station and the status without the equipping and the training, the least you will do is wash out personally, the worst will be you cause devastation to others. Moses had to spend 40 years in the wilderness before he was ready to follow God\s voice in leading the Israelites through the wilderness rather than following his own ideas and own way.
The difficulty is not the end, it is not the plan. It is just part of the process. If you want to move through that process sooner, stop fighting it. Recognize that God is developing something in you, working in you, that is necessary. Ask him to help you learn what you need to learn, to leave behind the thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes that are holding you back, and thank him that he is working his good plan in your life.