Christian LivingMinistry

Plans and prayers

‘Just take things one day at a time’. It’s a helpful piece of advice, but inevitably our focus does shift beyond the next 24 hours to those things further ahead on the horizon – the next week, the next month, the next year, and beyond. Of course, it’s impossible for us to have absolute certainty about what lies in the future. But that doesn’t stop us from making plans.

We might make plans for which side of the family to spend Christmas with this year. Plans for which school to enrol the kids in for the following year. Plans for how you’re going to serve brothers and sisters at church. We make plans all the time – for the short, medium, and long term. The Bible tells us that all our plans are made under the sovereignty of God: We can make all the plans in the world, but he determines our steps (Prov 16:9), and all plans only happen ‘if the Lord wills’ (Jas 1:15).

But how do we actually go about making plans under God? What does it look like in practice? Thankfully the apostle Paul helps us out. Buried in the back of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul gives us a primer on how we might make plans.

Plans for good

Right from the outset, making plans is a good thing. There’s nothing ungodly about making plans, nor is it necessarily a sign that you don’t trust God.

The apostle Paul had a firm grasp of God’s sovereignty, and he still made plans. As part of Paul’s gospel-driven ministry, he longed for many years to visit his brothers and sisters in Rome (Rom 15:23). So he made plans to visit them. These plans were part of a grand tour: starting in Corinth with a stopover in Jerusalem, before going on to Rome, and then eventually to Spain so that he could keep preaching the good news (Rom 15:19-20, 24-25).

Here Paul does more than give us his travel itinerary. He has plans that are driven by the gospel, which means they are outwardly focused and directed towards others: plans to visit and encourage brothers and sisters in the faith, and to pass on financial aid to other believers in need. It’s hard to fault these plans! They are focused on others. They’re good and honourable. They’re pleasing to the Lord. Here we don’t simply see an affirmation of making plans, but an intention to make plans to do good to others.

Most of the plans we make often start with us – what we want to achieve or where we want to go. And then we might think about other people and how they may help or hinder us in reaching our goals. But what if our plans were directed by the gospel and started with the needs of others? What if our plans were intentional in how we might do good for others?

In our planning we can be Christ-like and put the needs of others before ourselves.

Praying for your plans

But like all the plans we make, they’re completely dependent on God. Even the most godly and honourable plans we make are dependent on God. Which means our planning needs to be done prayerfully.

Paul made plans to visit Jerusalem on the way to Rome. Having laid out his plans, Paul’s instinct was to pray for them, and to urge his brothers and sisters to pray with him (Rom 15:30-32). Paul gets quite specific with some of these prayer requests and yet he is quick to note that they are ‘by God’s will’.

Once we make plans, our first instinct is to action them. But that action should always be prayer. The obvious point is that it’s crucial that we bring all our plans before the Lord. After all, he determines whether they will happen or not. But perhaps the less obvious point from Paul’s example is to let others in on our plans: so that they can pray with us for those plans.

There are many reasons why we might be reluctant to share our plans and dreams with those close to us. The embarrassment if those plans don’t work out. Fear of being seen to be a hypocrite if you have to pivot away from your plans. Or a preference to fly under the radar and not make a big fuss about things.

But if we believe that the Lord is sovereign over our plans, we can take confidence knowing that there are many others who are bringing our plans before the Lord. Not to mention the encouragement of having brothers and sisters who are contending alongside you in prayer for your plans. So I dare you to share!

Changes to plans

But like all the plans we pray for, they are subject to change. The Lord may have other ideas for the plans we bring before him in prayer. He is sovereign after all.

The apostle Paul knew this. His plans were prayed for and God answered those prayers, but not exactly in the way Paul expected.

Paul made it to Jerusalem, and in all likelihood delivered the financial aid to the believers there (Acts 21:17-19). Paul went on to Rome as a prisoner but was able to meet with the believers there (Acts 27; 28:15). But he didn’t make it to Spain as he was put under house arrest in Rome. Where he lived out the rest of his days. Paul planned. Paul prayed. Paul asked other Christians to pray. But God answered those prayers differently.

We’ve all experienced this at some stage or another with plans that we’ve made and prayed. Even the most godly and gospel-driven plans of ours that didn’t play out as we had hoped. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and despair. Or confusion.

But this shouldn’t lead to planning paralysis. Rather we should take confidence when we make plans, knowing that the Lord of heaven and earth has a plan: to unite the world under his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a plan that never fails and is still on track, even if our part in that plan might look different to what we hoped for.

So what are your plans? Have you brought them before the Lord? Have you asked others to pray for them? How firmly are you holding to those plans?