First Mennonite Church
February 8, 2015
“Surrendering Plans, Goals and Dreams to God”
Texts: Proverbs 16: 1-9; James 4: 13-17
Chapter 1, verses 1 to 7 of the book of Proverbs states very clearly the purpose of the book. Solomon says that Proverbs is for gaining wisdom, insight and understanding. It offers its readers guidance for prudent behavior and enables for doing justice and righteousness. Proverbs has the purpose of enabling the simple to gain understanding and the young to increase in their knowledge. And it offers greater wisdom to the wise. Proverbs says that the foolish despise wisdom but that the wise and those with understanding display their wisdom by fearing the Lord.
How often do we make plans just to see them vanish or end differently? This is the story of Olive. Olive had three children. When her third child was born, being a girl after two boys, she named her baby “Olive,” too. Olive’s middle child died in his early teens and she was left with the oldest and the youngest. When Olive found that her baby daughter was deaf, she became overwhelmed with anxiety. All of Olive’s dreams for her only daughter to grow and flourish in life, seemed to have encountered the greatest roadblock. But Olive decided to confront the difficult challenge she had. She went back to school to become a teacher for special education students. While she was still finishing her studies, she moved to another town where there was a school with a class for deaf children. Olives’ life revolved around young Olive. Her conversation reflected her great concern for her daughter’s future, but also her optimism in what she was doing to secure it for the better.
One day after a short visit by the daughter Olive to her brother, who lived in another town, he decided that both of them should give their Mom a surprise visit on the day of her birthday. On the way back to their mother’s town they got into a fatal accident. Both of them died at the scene of the accident. On the day of the funeral, I only stood by Olive’s side. There were no words in any human language that could console her in her pain and grief. Olive came back to teach sometime after the accident. Olive had followed what she believed God was leading her to do. She had not only planned and dreamt but worked hard and she still kept focused on her earlier goal of doing everything she could do to secure her daughter’s future.
Here is another story:
In April of 2009, Terry and Donna McNally from Dearborn, Michigan, told their story on CBS’s 60 Minutes. Shortly before retiring, Terry lost his job. And although Donna was still working in her daycare business at home, her hope of retiring away in a log cabin near a lake faded like her retirement funds did. Terry got two part-time jobs, one at a funeral home and the other at a coffee shop. Their hard-earned savings and retirement dreams vanished. Experts on retirement planning call the 401K retirement plan, “one leg” of a three-legged stool that supports American workers into their golden age years. But during the last financial crisis, many who had worked so hard like the McNallys and had so diligently saved for their retirement, lost between 30-50 percent of their savings. A good number of those who lost their retirement savings were coming close to retirement age. Their sudden financial crisis was not due to not having worked hard or not having planned wisely, but of something beyond their control.
Can we control everything that happens in our life? To what degree are responsible for our future? Who has the last word about our life? And how do we acknowledge the fact that we cannot control everything? How can we work and walk along with God in the journey of our lives? I would think that Proverbs 16, verses 1-9 and the passage in James can give us some guidance.
Verse one says, “To humans belong the plans of the heart.” With 2015 just began and with many still keeping their resolutions alive, this text reminds us of the natural inclination we humans have about our lives. Imbedded in us is a strong and persistent desire to take control of our lives. Therefore, we calculate the time, resources, and energies we want to commit to our projects and goals and then we make plans and organize our activities accordingly. We plan our work and work our plan, as we say. We save for the rainy days. We trim and weed out those things that are unnecessary burdens to our wallet or are unhealthy to our body. We muster all our energies to uphold our plan; we call on self-discipline to stay in course and to steer away from compromise. And so with all these personal investment and efforts we look into the future, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. And verse 2 captures so well how we feel when we prepare for the future: All a person’s ways seem pure to them. There is a great sense of confidence, clarity of purpose, and peace of mind when we take care to organize and plan ahead. Not only that, we consider it virtuous when someone is able to prepare for the future. We seem to have embraced without questioning the logic of cause and effect. If you work hard today, you will have enough for tomorrow. If you live frugally today, your resources will last longer than if you squander them. If you are careful today about your health, your chances of longevity are increased. But this common way of reasoning is challenged in verse 3.
Verse 3: Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans.
You see, after careful planning and organizing our future, we commit our plans to God and ask Him to bless and establish our work. This verse reverses the order of “planning” and “working” we so carefully do. The Hebrew word translated “commit”—gol, literally means “roll out”, which is an idiomatic expression meaning “hand in” for inspection. And what Proverbs calls to be inspected is not our plans, but our work. In this case we are asked to not hand in first our plans to the Lord, but our work—“whatever you do.” And then the Lord will establish our plans. This way of thinking is what we find in Psalm 127.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
It is true, however, that our work and endeavors embody our plans. But the warning we hear from Proverbs is that unless God establishes our work and endeavors these will fail. On the other hand, this Proverbs also reminds us that it is only God who can establish our plans. This verse reminds us that no matter how careful we are at planning our work or working our plans, our plans will only work if God is working in it. This verse also calls on us to act trusting God will be with us as we engage in the work we have at hand. We will see a little more of this idea when we get to verse 9.
Verses 4-7 tells us that God is closely involved in the world even when it might be hard to see how or even when God seems not present at all.
He works out everything to its proper end—
even the wicked for a day of disaster.
How so often we wish to see the end of evil, injustice, violence come sooner than later?
The Lord detests all the proud of heart.
Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.
Again, this reminds us all the more of Peters call live in humility: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (1Peter 5:5)
Let me jump to verse 9
9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
The passage of today does not take away from us the responsibility of making plans and working hard. But it sure reminds us of the following:
We are not owner of our lives or destiny.
We must acknowledge the absolute sovereignty and freedom of God over our future.
It reminds us that we can trust in God. For if indeed the wicked will have to give an account for their deeds and if indeed the arrogant will not go unpunished, then God will work in our lives his divine purpose without failing.
This text urges us to acknowledge that although each of us has a journey to walk, each step along the way requires God’s blessings, guidance, and approval. It reminds us that God does not care only about the big picture of our life or our final destiny, but that He cares even for each little step we make towards it. The text for today affirms the value of our plans but with a caveat, a warning: that God is the one who has the final say. That is because God is not accountable to anyone, nor is He subject to human schemes, regardless of how wise or carefully crafted they could be.
The text reminds us that even the best our plans can be limited. Knowing this should lead us to humility before our God. Humility before God is what James had in mind when he wrote the following
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).
Once again this is what Proverbs says, Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and he will establish your plans, Amen!