I am a planner. And if I weren’t I probably wouldn’t be rector of this parish. It’s a place with a lot of moving parts and someone has to get a plan together so that we can go forward with some sort of cohesion. Every week our staff sits down and evaluates our current plans and makes new plans. But the plans have to be flexible because things are always changing. I am very aware that, as I make my plans, an overall plan is revealing itself, a plan that doesn’t originate with me. Things have a life of their own, that’s for sure. But still the system needs me to be a planner. And sometimes the greatest lessons occur when the plan fails.
There’s a great story in the 7th chapter of the Book of Judges. Gideon (aka Jurabbaal because he destroyed all the altars of Baal) is told by God to gather up troops to go fight against the Midianites. Gideon puts a plan together and amasses a huge number of soldiers, 32,000 in fact. His plan reveals that he is thinking ahead and is prepared for a tough fight.
As the story develops, God tells Gideon that his plan is actually too good. God tells him, in effect, that if he were to go to war with the Midianites with 32,000 soldiers it would be easy for them to take credit for the victory and totally forget that God himself had given them the victory. Gideon is told to thin the troops out. 22,000 are invited to leave because they look a little scared. Some more are dismissed for various reasons and, finally the troops are taken to the river’s edge and the ones who drink water a particular way are dismissed. After the arbitrary culling, only 300 men are left. And God says, “Now when you win the battle with only 300 men against the massive army of the Midianites, you will know that you didn’t do that by yourself.”
There’s an old saying: “When we make plans, God laughs.” The truth of that saying is twofold: things hardly ever go exactly as I planned them; generally, in the long run, things turn out better than I planned them and I am allowed to see God’s hand at work. Another truth about myself is revealed: when things do go as I plan them, I tend to think it’s more because I am so smart instead of being thankful for God’s help.
We are all familiar with making plans, only to see them fall apart. That can be frustrating and we usually do some pouting. We often get angry and point that anger at God and wonder why he isn’t letting our plan work out. But later on we usually see that God’s hand actually was at work and things turned out even better than they would have had our plan worked like we wanted it to. It also usually means we have to struggle a little harder than we wanted to. But when we see that we really didn’t have enough to pull off a task and that it gets accomplished despite that fact, we see that God’s grace was more responsible for the outcome than our efforts.
Why don’t our plans work out just right? “Why” questions often aren’t very helpful because there is rarely one clear answer to them. But maybe one reason our plans don’t work out is so that we can see that God himself has a plan for life and that it always does work out. It just doesn’t work out the way we would have planned it. My failures reveal the great goodness of God. My struggles show that God’s grace sustains me and teaches me. My busted plans show that God is faithful and kind. He will provide what I cannot provide for myself. Plus, when my plans do work out, I get puffed up and think I’m big stuff. I don’t need God very much when I am impressed with my own abilities.
Why don’t plans work out? Because if they did, we’d think we won the battle instead of knowing God provided for us. Then next time your plans fall apart, remember that God has something even better in store for you than what you had planned out. Gideon’s odd little story reveals a truth of God’s providence.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.