Planning Something?

"...In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6
Opening Prayer: Father, I've planned lots of stuff without Your help. Help me to understand why so much of it has failed.

Today's lesson is from Proverbs Chapter 16. Let's start with the first three verses:

1 The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives.
3 Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

These three verses looked unrelated when I first read them years ago. The first verse is especially easy to understand on its own. In the course of my life, I've made lots of plans in my heart -- but have not always consulted the Lord to get His advice. The first verse tells me that if I had sought the Lord's advice first, my chances of success would have been better.

Are you accusing God of undermining your plans just because you didn't ask Him first?

Not at all. Quite the opposite: God promises to give us wisdom freely, just for the asking. So if my plans lack wisdom, it's my fault for not asking. He is willing and able to provide. But like verse 2 says, my plans look pretty good in my own eyes.

Hold on, teacher. I'm not sure I buy into verse 2 yet. After all, don't we create our own reality and don't each of us have to find God our own way?

My friend, our entire generation has lost sight of verse 2, and none of us are capable of creating anything. At best, we can assemble ideas, songs and raw materials into concepts and products that we can legally market. We call our kids "creative" if they can draw or write or play the tuba better than their classmates. But only God can create ("bara" in Hebrew) something from nothing. If you think you can create your own reality -- in something besides your own head -- be my guest. You can even offer incense to your own feverish imagination, but only God can create the materials you were made from. Yes, each of us must individually submit to God -- willingly now (for great rewards, verse 3) or unwillingly on judgment day (for something less than rewarding).

There's another, less-obvious reason for seeking the Lord's face and His advice. The process of true prayer brings us into the presence of the Lord Who created the universe. Over time, our awareness of His presence grows and we can have actual fellowship with Him.

If we're doing this right, His Spirit will perform a cleansing change in our hearts. We will open our hearts, receive His love and wisdom, and find ourselves wanting what God wants. Please note that this is NOT a subversion of our free will. Rather, the more we know about the Lord and His ways, the more we assent that His ways are better and higher than ours. So when we make plans, we are more likely to be in line with God's plan and God's wisdom.

Let's continue with Proverbs chapter 16, verses 4 and 20:

4 The Lord has made everything for His own purposes...
20 He that gives heed unto the Word shall find good; And whosoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.

Please note that the Lord has not left us clueless. He inspired the holy Scriptures, the Word of God, so that we can gain insight into His values, His plans, His purposes. We already know -- both intuitively and through Scripture -- that we're not perfect, and that we can't possibly be perfect enough to earn eternal life. But while we can't reach perfection, we can manage to trust in the promises and purposes of God.

That's a wonderful division of labor. God has the difficult part of keeping the universe together and organizing it so that He can keep track of each of us individually and make His promises truthful for all of us. We have the relatively easy task of believing that the Lord who had the love and power to set things up this way will continue to be faithful to His Word.

Now let's see verses 9, 17 and 25 of Proverbs 16:

9 A man's heart plans his way: but the LORD directs his steps.
17 The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that watches his way preserves his soul.
25 There is a way that seems right unto a man, but its end is the way of death.

Verse 9 restates some principles that we've seen earlier in this chapter. There is no end to the schemes we create in our heart. Big plans. Little plans. Some work wonderfully. Others can leave us scarred for life. The bottom line is that the LORD is in charge, and only He knows the results of my actions before I take them. So if I spend quality time with Him, I learn more about Him and He tells me more about what I should do.

Does that mean God will answer all my questions if I spend a certain amount of time with Him each day?

Not at all. As we saw in verse 1, the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. He knows exactly how much guidance we need to get through each day's difficulties, and He gives us that if we take the time to ask. But if you think about it, you'll realize there are lots of questions that are better unanswered.

So how do verses 17 and 25 tie in?

Verse 25 has been enacted before our eyes since the 1960s. My generation gleefully told itself that whatever felt good was good. Rebellion was pronounced good. God was pronounced dead. Wisdom was labelled "hangups."

Sadly, many of our friends did not survive this philosophy. Others survive, greatly impaired. Sadder still, my generation is unrepentant. Our kids are paying the price. Our hedonism has left them a dark world with few freedoms and little hope. And we haven't even reached the end -- the Great Tribulation.

Sounds bad. Is there any hope?

Yes. Look at verse 17 again. Anybody with the sense to depart from evil will preserve his or her soul. And there's no shortage of evil to flee from. There's enough evil and troubles to go around. At the Last Supper, our Lord told His disciples that life down here on earth would be full of troubles, but "...fear not, for I have overcome the world." If we depart FROM evil and run TO Him, we can cling to Him who has overcome this evil world.

For our last Scripture, let's read verse 7:

When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies be at peace with him.

C'mon, teacher! There's no way to reconcile verse 7 with what Jesus said about our having troubles in this world.

Yes, we will have troubles. Yes, evil people will hate us and attack us because we don't run with them. King David was a perfect example of a man totally in love with God but constantly beset by enemies. Still, the Lord enabled David to subdue all the neighboring countries and force them to bring tribute.

Even more importantly, God gave David peace in his heart. When you read the Psalms, you realize that David wrote a lot about times of turmoil. But whenever David turned to God, God gave him peace. Please note, too, that the peace came from God and not from David's circumstances. You and I can have turmoil and enemies all about, but God can give us peace long before He deals with our circumstances. Have you endured years of turmoil and enemies? Our God can give you peace of heart in the midst of your storm. Your enemies? Someday they will stand before the God who made them, so pray for them.

Closing prayer: Lord, I've been too distraught and too impatient to seek Your face and receive Your peace and Your wisdom. Touch my heart with Your peace, I pray.

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