"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
This verse is quoted frequently and often imprinted on Bibles, Bible cases, coffee mugs, pictures, pens, jewelry, and other gifts for high school and college graduates. It is used to encourage people that God has a plan for their lives, far greater than they can even imagine, for good and not for evil, and to encourage them to follow that plan.
However, in a practical sense, the same people who quote this verse, and others like it, and give gifts with this verse (and others like it) imprinted on them, also contradict it as they relate to the people in their lives. Everyone likes to be assured that God has a special plan for them, and that they can do something wonderful, but it is much harder, often, to accept His will and the dreams of others. I'd say this is probably a notable challenge for parents, as they watch their children grow and make decisions and form dreams, but I have struggled with it myself in regards to my family and friends, and I am not a parent.
Is this right? Is it a good thing to tell people God has a plan for them, and to encourage them to follow His will for their lives, but when we discover that this plan may involve something extraordinary or unusual or even dangerous, to suddenly discourage them and tell them they're just fanciful dreamers?
Many people who have done extraordinary and lasting things in the past faced this from others. Isobel Kuhn's mother, who was the president of the Women's Missionary society in the Canadian Presbyterian church, told Isobel, "If you go to China, it will be over my dead body. I will never consent." Eventually, the Lord used Isobel to bring thousands of the Lisu people of China to Him. William Carey, upon presenting the idea of going to India as a missionary and speaking of the command for Christians to evangelize, was told, "Young man, sit down: when God pleases to covert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine." Carey is now known as the Father of Modern Missions. Gladys Aylward was told by a missionary society that her education was too limited for her to go to China, and that the language was too hard for her to learn. However, she went to China on her own with almost no money and introduced many people to Jesus and saved the lives of many children during the world war. Our Lord Jesus faced rejection by family, friends, and the religious rulers of the day, because He did the will of God, and that will was not what they thought to be good. And He is our Saviour and perfect example.
These are just a few people who have sought to do God's will and been criticized and hindered by those who had a reputation as religious, God-fearing people. These people probably felt very justified in their opposing. "My daughter, go to China, where she could be killed for her faith? It is too dangerous, and as her parent, I must protect her." On the other hand, there are those whom God leads to do less "glamorous", but just as noble, things, such as being a homemaker, mother, and wife; and even though this is not a dangerous calling, they get the same amount of opposition. "Listen, you're an amazing pianist; you have so much talent! You can't just waste it like this! You need to go to college and put it to good use; what good will be it if you live your life changing diapers and making dinners? You're going to waste it all... You've got to go to college..." This is the prevailing mindset in this country, this mindset that screams of "I know better than God what is best for your life", regardless of how dangerous or how quiet God's plan may be.
A missionary speaking at our church yesterday spoke of this attitude many people have. Parents teach their children wonderful stories from the Bible; before the children even know their own names, they have heard the story of how God parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians, how God used a young shepherd boy to kill a mighty giant and save his people, how Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm. They encourage their children to do God's will. Then their teenage daughter asks permission to join a short term mission team to New York City and the parents nearly lose it. "You? Go to New York City? No way. That place is dangerous. The culture is full of evil. You'd be surrounded by wicked people. You could get hurt. No way; you're not going to New York City." And by doing this, they basically say that God is a liar, and that all those stories are false-- God cannot part a sea so that people walk over on dry ground, God cannot use a young boy to save His people and kill a giant, God cannot calm a storm, God doesn't know what is best, God cannot change lives, God cannot protect a teenager seeking to spread His Gospel in New York City.
This is a serious problem. Is God pleased when we (I say "we" to include friends and siblings like myself) tell others that God is almighty and that they must follow His will and then, when He makes His will known to them, change our minds and say they are foolish? Could it be that when we do that, we do it, not because we don't believe it is God's will for that person, but because it is not our will for that person? Is it because we think they ought to do something else (as though we know better than God), or that God cannot take care of them as well as we can? Are we really concerned with God's will, or our own will?
Many articles have been written to encourage young people to follow God's will, no matter what. While I agree whole-heartedly and may write an article about that sometime, this article is for the family and friends of those young people. Are you really desiring God's will for the people closest to you? Are you stepping back to let God fully work in the life of your child, sister, brother, friend? Or is your attitude, "You're such a dreamer...Get over it!"?
"So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"
Note: This article is not written directed towards any one person. This is something I've been convicted about myself recently and that we all need to be reminded of.