Discerning God’s plans
I’m often asked how we figure out what God’s plans are.
Our first stop should always be God’s word. God’s word has a lot to say about how God wants us to live. For example, the 10 commandments with their “you shall” and “you shall not” clearly show us how God wants us to live.
But what about when our situation isn’t found in God’s Word? When we’re trying to choose where to live or what to drive or what to do for a living? Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6. “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Ask the Lord in prayer to show you what his plans are and then watch as he shows you.
I often tell people that God will gently guide me in the direction that he wants me to go, but if I don’t listen or I’m just stubborn, God will use a piece of lumber to make his point and correct my course.
For example, when I resisted going to the seminary, God used several experiences (the piece of lumber) to teach me important lessons and change my mind. Then when I went to the seminary God confirmed that decision over and over with positive experiences. I’ll never forget a stranger who came to my door to give me a check just because he heard I was going to the seminary and wanted to help out.
Jonah has the same experience. God told him to go to Ninevah. But Jonah didn’t like God’s plan so he jumped on a ship going to Tarshish (the opposite direction). But God wasn’t done with Jonah so God sent a terrible storm that made life difficult for Jonah and prevented him from getting to Tarshish. But look what happens when Jonah begrudgingly follows God’s plan. Jonah goes to Ninevah, shares the word of the Lord with the people of this great city, they repent of their sins, and God doesn’t destroy the city. Working against God Jonah struggled, but working with God Jonah was unstoppable.
If you’re familiar with Jonah’s account, then you know the only reason he had a second chance was because of God’s mercy and grace. In the midst of the storm Jonah is thrown overboard and should have drowned, but God sent a great fish to swallow him up and spit him up on the shore where he could try again. When Jonah didn’t follow God’s plan God led him to repentance, forgave him, restored him and gave him a second chance.
God’s plan was for Jonah to go to Ninevah, but even more importantly, God’s plan is for all people to live by grace through faith to enjoy a second chance. That’s why the book ends with God asking the frustrated prophet if it’s OK to give the Ninevites a fresh start.
That’s God’s plan for you in Christ.
REV. MATTHEW SORENSON is the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.