A brother leaving prison soon, was wondering what he should do first when he’s free? He asked me what I would do. And then he listed some really good ideas of things that he wants to do. His plans seemed good. He talked about vocational training. He’d seek healing and reconciliation with his parents. He talked about finding a godly wife. He'd eventually like starting a business that would enable him to help troubled youth. It all sounded so good! But he never mentioned the voice of God. He basically sent me his own wish list.
We don't need to wonder about this. Jesus tells us the first thing that we must do. Whatever our situation is, this applies. But it’s especially crucial whenever we are ending one season of life, and entering a new one. Jesus says:
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.”
Jesus is talking here about God’s provision. Worldwide, most folk have little choice in what they will do for a living. When we lived in China, 80% of the people there were farmers. In the US today, less than 2% live on a farm. That means that people here have choices as to what we will do next. With choices come preferences. And with preferences come the temptation to make our plans and to “go for” them. Indeed we are trained here to do just that! But Jesus tells the believer to listen to His voice, and to “follow” Him. We are told to seek His kingdom and His righteousness first. We trust Him to lead us!
I don’t like to follow people in my car. Instead of following someone, I would rather get directions and say, “Meet you there.” If I get in my car and follow, they may lose me at a light or I may make a wrong turn. (Of course I don’t use a cell phone when driving! Stick with me here!) Our Bibles are not an ancient form of MapQuest to help us meet Jesus in heaven. That isn’t what Jesus means by “follow Me.” We can’t google or GPS our way to Christ. Jesus doesn’t say to us, “meet me there.” He says, “follow Me.” We already met Jesus when we became God’s children at our rebirth. From then on, we’re expected to follow Him. He’s already with us!
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
And yet, when it comes to entering into a new phase of life, whether it is graduating from school: getting married, entering widowhood, entering retirement, being released from prison, or changing ministries even, it’s tempting to fall back on our secular training, and start planning and filling up our day with “good” things to do with our time and energy. Without hearing from God first, this is carnal thinking. Pause! Seek first the Kingdom of God.
I heard a preacher once say, “Good is Best’s worst enemy.” People who don’t take the time to hear what God is saying, will end up settling for something seemingly “good.” But by settling before hearing, we don’t enter His “best” for us, because we settle for the good that we’ve thought up ourselves (or with well meaning help). Our committees and boards and planning sessions all seem like we are being wise. But have we listened and heard from God? Don't just pray and then start planning either. Listen to Him. Can He lead us anywhere, even if it doesn’t seem to fit our wish list? It can seem wise, but if you haven’t even consulted God and waited for His answer, you haven’t even started using wisdom. Psalm 111: 10 says, “The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.”
God has something that is actually better than you can ever even think up? You can plan and set goals, but He has something better than what you can imagine. Stop coming up with good ideas! Planning and goals are for after you have heard from God; not before! Listen for God’s best:
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
The only way to step into this best that He has for you, is by first hearing what He is saying what that “best” thing is. This is what walking by faith is about. Seek first His Kingdom!
“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
Coming to Christ messed up all my plans. I’d had plans to advance my degree in Psychology, by zooming right on into grad school after college. But senior year I came to Christ, and He was quickly changing my direction and passions. I asked God, “What do you want me doing?” I decided to postpone grad school until I heard from Him.
After college, I was given a job that I loved. I enjoyed it a lot, was good at it, and so I was already setting new career goals. I’d gone back to making my plans and setting my goals. It sounded good. But I soon found that what God actually had in store for me, was something that I would never have come up with myself.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God says this to those who hunger and thirst for Him. That year I’d told God that I would follow Him anywhere. To my shock, one day after work, I heard God tell me to go to Haiti.
No, to Haiti!
I didn’t even know where Haiti was! I prayed immediately, offering God my bank savings for Haiti. I offered to pray daily for Haiti. Nothing. I reminded Him how I’d done miserably in both French and Spanish in High School. Nothing. He reminded me that I’d said that I would follow Him “anywhere.” Surrendered and shaken, I prayed, “Okay Lord. If you show me the way to go, I’ll go to Haiti.”
The very next Sunday in church, it was announced that at that evening’s service, a Brother DeTellis was going to come and tell us about his new work in Haiti. It took 8 months for me to actually get there. I had to fulfill my one-year’s commitment at work. I prayed often in those months. Time and again God gently confirmed I should go to Haiti. And so when the day came for me to fly, I flew. I never actually wanted to go. But only a week after I arrived, my journal starts reading about how I never wanted to leave Haiti. I loved it there! Did you ever feel like you were not out of place? That was my first time! I was so happy there! And nobody was more surprised than I was.
God knows you better than you know yourself. He knows your heart better than you know it. Follow Jesus. He loves us more than we love ourselves. And He is able to make things happen, doors open, and walls tumble, when we follow Him. Our plans have limits. God’s plans for us go beyond what we can think.
“For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.”
1 John 3:20
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
I sometimes meet people who have finished a career; but who, just as they thought they were going to retire as planned, were called to a ministry. They testify with excitement, because they are stepping into God’s best for them. One recent retiree told how just a month after he retired, God “re-fired” him and sent him on a mission. God’s best for him was immeasurably better than the good things he’d planned!
So how about you? What are your plans for retirement? What are your post-graduation plans? What will you do when you get out of prison? Or what will you do when your ministry must change direction? What are your plans? Did you hear those plans specifically from the Lord? Then I exhort you to do as the Lord instructs. Seek Him first!
Don’t plan. Pause! Listen to the words of Christ! Then follow! He has what is best for you.