The Plans of a Fool
The Plans of a Fool
My wedding ring is inscribed with one of my favourite verses in the Bible: Jeremiah 29:11, maybe you may know what it says already. It talks about God’s plan, because I believe God had a plan for my life when I met Zoe.
I remember the first time I saw her as she walked into a working men’s club where I was playing snooker. Then she walked right out again, and she was wearing a sheepskin jacket and I turned to the guy who I was playing snooker with and I was like, “Who was that?”
That could have been the last I ever saw of her. But thank God he had a plan, and she was and is so much a part of the plan.
This Bible I am holding is the one that she gave me not long after we met to help me see that actually, no - I was not a Christian, just because I was trying my best to be a good person (well most of the time I was, sometimes I wasn’t trying very hard to be good at all) but that I was a sinner who needed a Saviour.
As a police officer I could always point to this person or that one I’d arrested and feel better than them rather than deal with me. But she underlined for me one verse which became my life verse ever since: Mark 8:34 - Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
That showed me and told me that there was a plan Jesus had for me, and that it started with me not following the crowd but becoming a disciple, saying yes to whatever I had to bear as I followed him every step. It told me that following would cost me—to not just going the way of the crowd.
Soren Kierkegaard said, “Life can only be understood looking backwards but has to be lived forwards.”
Steve Jobs, in a now famous speech, he gave not long before he died said something similar, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.”
So it’s only now of course that I see God had a plan for me to meet and marry Zoe. The Vicar told us time and time again in the service, “God brought you two together, and it is his intention that you stay together.” It’s from following that plan and sticking with it that so many blessings have come in my life and continue to come.
So it’s great to have Jeremiah 29:11 on this ring because it reminds me every day when I see it of God’s plan. For many of us it’s a favourite verse: “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Atheists assume too much and explain too little about the origin, meaning, and purpose of life. But that one verse assures me when I need to remember, that life is not random chance, it’s planned by a God of purpose.
God’s Plan Is My Plan
And he made us in his image, so I can make plans too. God is not against making plans. But he has no commitment to bless plans he was never involved in making.
Imagine as lockdown in the nations starts to ease, that we can go on holiday abroad again, so I get excited, look in my calendar and blocked some dates out a few weeks from now. I spend all our money booking it.
Then one morning I wake up and start packing my speedos and sunglasses in a case. Zoe says, “What’s happening?” “Oh, I booked us a holiday. I planned it ages ago. The taxi’s coming in an hour. What’s the matter? Don’t you want to come?” And she says, “What do you mean? You never even told me about it! Why didn’t you ask me? I can’t come! I’m working today and tomorrow.” Then I say, “You’re spoiling my plans! Your job is to come along and make it all go well. It’s not going to be any good without you!”
We do that with God all the time. We make our plans, then expect him to tag along—and bless them.
I was still in the police and Emma was just a baby when I thought maybe I should aim for promotion and go up the ranks. I remember praying as I lay in the bath after a long shift one night, “Lord I want to be a Sergeant, but I’ll have to study this huge Manual of laws and procedures, so help me. Bless my plan. Amen.”
Then I went into the bedroom, and all I can say is God was there. His presence was so powerful, the atmosphere was full of holiness. I crawled to the side of the bed and knelt there and held my breath a while because I kind of didn’t want him to see me.
I knew I had to pick up a book that was sitting on the bedside cabinet: Approaching Hoofbeats by Billy Graham. I knew God wanted me to open it so I did in the middle somewhere, and completely out of context (terrible way to have your life changed for sure), these words jumped off the page: “He was instead to devote himself to studying God’s Word. Then God would show him what he wanted him to do.”
That was it, my plan … and God’s plan. Which one would I choose? It’s not a one off decision of course, but that was a big one.
Duncan Bannatyne is the Scottish multimillionaire who started as an ice cream man and became famous from TV’s Dragon’s Den. In his autobiography Anyone Can Do It he wrote about a time when he was appalled by the plight of abandoned children he saw in Romania. He found himself one night weeping about it and the tears wouldn’t stop.
I began to get the feeling that I wasn’t alone. It was there and then that God said, “Hello.”
I felt that I had been consumed by his presence. I knew who had come and I also knew why. It wasn’t a spiritual thing, it was a Christian thing, and I felt I was being told, “You’ve arrived, join the faith, be a Christian, this is it. It was profound, and I stood there stunned, considering the offer and thinking about what it would mean.
I knew I wanted to keep on building up my businesses and I wanted to keep on making money and I knew that I also wanted to carry on all the things I wasn’t proud of—I was never going to be this totally Christian guy going to church on Sundays.
So I said, “No, I’m not ready.” And God said, “Ok” and disappeared.
When I read that, I was stunned all day. I thought, Imagine doing that? God shows up with his plan for your life, you respond, No, I have my own plans, I want to run with my own plan. But then I thought, At least he’s honest enough to admit it.
Relationship with God
How often since the day I said that I’d follow Jesus, has God invited me to do his thing, but I’ve just followed my own plan instead? James 4:13 talks about this, “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.’”
We read right here about how God wants us to think about the future. In the end, it turns out to have very little to do with getting particular outcomes, and everything to do with growing the relationship. God wants you to share your thoughts and he wants to share his with you. He wants to let you in on the plans he has for you (by the way the plans he gave Jeremiah were plural, corporate, for the nation not just him as an individual). God has dreams to bless the world and he wants you to get involved.
The Bible clearly says God has his plans—not that he will bless mine.
So this passage is not about whether you’re spontaneous or a planner. It’s not about the Myers Briggs test and saying you’re more J than P. From a business perspective, James is not so much talking about whether or not you plan, but whether or not you consult. How much you get God involved in the day to day and week to week that makes up your life.
James pictures this person making all these plans, “I’ll do this in July, then in October that will happen and when that new venture does as well as I know it will in December then I’ll go on a cruise to celebrate.” As the famous line from Dr. Seuss goes, “You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You are on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” Oh, the places this person will go, the things that this person will do. But how much has this person ever asked God about them?
We can make so many plans, that there’s no room for God to be involved except to catch up and bless them. “Monday I’m there, Tuesday is crazy … Wednesday I’m seeing Sally … Thursday’s another Zoom day …” There’s no room in the day or on the calendar for God’s plans anymore. If prayer gets squeezed in it’s breathless: “God I’m so busy—give me strength to help me get through it all, thanks.”
In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus sounds a wake-up call.
(Read Luke 12:16-21)
Though the obituaries and headlines mourned a captain of industry, God’s verdict was very different. A one word epitaph, “Fool.” He was rich in the things that don’t matter, and never last. He invested so little time, money, and energy in the God account because there was never enough of any of those commodities left to do or even ask what God wanted with it.
Then God tells him, “Times up on your plan. And all you’re so proud to accomplish and achieve—it’s either going in the ground like you or the best stuff might end up somebody else’s antiques one day. Your life was focused on things that pass away in a moment, rather than what matters forever. Fool.” James says it’s foolish to forget that my short life is like a puff of smoke, vapour, mist—here today and gone tomorrow.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, surely it should be that I don’t know what’s going to happen six days, weeks, or months from now. James says we should add onto all our plans, “God willing.” People used to put that on the end of letters, DV, short for the Latin, Deo Volente, especially to qualify any given statement about the future. If God is willing. How about we start writing that on our plans a little more? So that we’re not so sure, and to inoculate ourselves against our own arrogance.
“God willing …” Just to signify, this is what we think right now, but we don’t know. We’ve prayed, we made these plans, but we don’t depend on the plan. We depend on God, because he is in charge. “We think we’ll do this; God willing.” That’s the attitude James is saying we ought to have. Because the one thing we know for sure is we don’t know for sure.
James surely had some kind of plan for his own life growing up. Son of Joseph; carpenter of Nazareth. Maybe he’d learn the trade, get the girl, settle down, have kids, and grandkids. But as we have seen, his older brother who kept saying he’s actually God, goes and proves it by dying and rising again and appearing to him. That changes everything.
James did not have a plan to be a church leader. He didn’t plan to suffer for what he believed, to be martyred as a young man just for telling the truth about Jesus. It was not his plan for his life to end in 69 AD, when he was grabbed by his opponents one day, dragged up to the very top of the temple, and thrown down from it because he would not deny his Lord and Saviour, only to be clubbed to death when he landed because the fall didn’t quite do it.
But he had this perspective on this life didn’t he? That this is not what it’s all about—“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Steve Jobs goes on to say in his speech:
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then …
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
James would say to live any other way than that is just boasting, it’s arrogant. Not only that, it’s evil. Why would he use such a strong word, to say that it’s actually evil for me to just make my own plans in life?
Here’s why: Because it cuts you out of being used by God in the world. Look at James 4:17: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin .” We think sin is doing things God doesn’t want me to do – right? There are lists of commands where God says, “Don’t do this, if you do that, it’s sin.”
But here God says, “Sin is when you don’t do what I wanted you to do.” There were all these things God wanted for me in my life …. Have you ever thought about that? I was just too busy doing my own thing. Places to go, people to see.
We see a need, hear about an opportunity. God speaks, maybe a prompting, the still small voice. “Hey. I was looking for someone to do a job for me. Just show up, see what I can do through you.” And we say, “Well I know I ought to do it, but Lord … right now it’s not the right time. I’ve got things to do. Places to go and people to see. But by the way, while we’re talking, can you help sort a few problems out for me?”
What’s that? It’s sin. Greek word hamartia. Not the sin of commission, that I do the wrong thing. The sin of omission, when I don’t do the right thing. Because my plans pushed out God’s purposes. The New Living Translation couldn’t be clearer, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
And the worst part of that, when I look it and then back at my life; how often I sin. It’s terrible that I have sinned in that way so much. “Oh no! How much did I miss out on, because I was making and running my own plans?”
You say, “I have big plans though!’ Well God is able to do abundantly above and beyond all I can ask, dream or imagine! How much better would it be, to just do what he said when he asks. To leave my nets and follow him like the first disciples did. To step out of that boat and walk on water?
Ephesians 2:10 reminds us that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I always imagine a path there, like God’s treasure hunt for his kids with presents all over the path for us to find. It says God made you, saved us, for a reason, for plans, all the great things he had in mind and he doesn’t want us to settle for less.
What are heaven’s plans for you this week? When that whisper comes.
Go there, help her, pray for him.
Tell them about me.
Have faith, speak up, listen
Do the miracle, bring the hope, heal the sick
Write to the MP.
Right that wrong, fight that injustice.
Give that money.
Be the school governor
Change the world
God says, “Oh the places we’ll go!” He has jobs for you. Places to go, people to see. Good works. This is why Jesus saved you. Not so you can get to heaven, but so heaven can get to earth.
This world is full of need right. What’s God going to do about it? What does he want you and me to do? The Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” That means right now God is looking not for people to get him into what they’re into; but for people to get into what he’s into.
So here’s what we do for the future today: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on what you think you know. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths.”
He may not bless my ideas, but his plans are already blessed and when we need strength, he guarantees to give us all the power we need to fulfil his purposes.
Anthony Delaney is a Leader at Ivy Church in Manchester. He is also the leader for New Thing and the LAUNCH conference. He is an author and hosts the television show “Transforming Life.”