Do you have plans for the coming year? What are your plans? Perhaps you plan to get married, or continue your studies, or look for a different job, or buy a house, or travel abroad. Whatever your plans may be, as you plan, consider what God teaches us in Proverbs 19:21 (English Standard Version): “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” The Good News Translation puts it this way: “People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord’s will is going to be done.” There is one important lesson on planning that we can glean from this verse: Unless our plans are part of God’s eternal plan, they will not succeed.
Before I elaborate this point, let me first clarify that Proverbs 19:21 does not discourage or forbid us to make plans. In fact, elsewhere in the Bible God calls us to plan for our future: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance” (Prov. 21:5). Or the Good News Translation translates this verse as, “Plan carefully and you will have plenty.” According to this verse we are to plan carefully, and yet as we make plans, let us realize that our plans are subordinate to God’s sovereign will. God’s eternal plan is supreme over all our plans. Therefore, not all that we plan will come to pass.
The word plans in Proverbs 19:21 is a translation of the Hebrew verb khawshab, which means to think of something that you want to do: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man.” Plans are your thoughts: things that are going on in your mind or things that you intend to accomplish or acquire. In fact, in the original the word mind in Proverbs 19:21 can also be translated as “heart.” That’s why in the King James Version we read, “There are many devices [or plans] in a man’s heart.”
The heart is regarded as the center of a person’s life. Your plans are what occupy the center of your life. These are the things that you care about, or motivate you to live. For instance, in the parable of the rich fool, a parable that illustrates the sin of covetousness, we see the rich fool making plans—plans that occupy his entire life:
And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ (Luke 12:18–19)
The rich fool made selfish and greedy plans. But listen to what God says in Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” The word purpose here translates the Hebrew verb that means to determine. Before the foundation of the world God has already determined that which must happen. We call it his eternal decree or counsel. Here’s the analogy: before the creation of the universe, the three persons of the Trinity had a council meeting, as it were. In that meeting they made a plan—a perfect plan that must take place. Therefore, and here’s my point, unless our plans are part of God’s eternal plan, they will not succeed.
Let me ask you again, “Do you have plans for this year—plans that occupy your mind and heart? What are they?” Remember this: Before you were even born, God had already made a plan for you, and unless your plans are compatible with his eternal plan, your plans will not prosper.
Maybe you plan to get married this year, have children, graduate from high school and go to college, work, or buy a house. But at the beginning of this year, God may say to you, “This night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:20). You might get sick and die before the year ends.
Please don’t think that I’m trying to scare you. I’m telling you the truth, so that when you plan, you will commit your plans to the Lord. Unless the Lord blesses your plans, they will fail. The rich fool did not commit his plans to God. He did not even involve God in his thoughts. He thought he was a wise planner. He indeed became wise in his own eyes. The Bible says, “Do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge [God] . . . Be not wise in your own eyes” (Prov. 3:5–7). Are you a wise planner, or are you a foolish planner like the rich fool?
Learn to qualify your plans by saying, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). Learn to pray like Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but your, be done” (Luke 22:42). This ought to be our prayer as we plan: “Father, I desire your will to be done, not mine, because I know your will is always for my good and for the glory of your name.”
Whatever plans we have this year, let’s commit them to the Lord. Let’s humbly acknowledge that he is in control of all things. Someone notes, “Livingstone planned to go to China, but God led him to Africa, to be its missionary-statesman, general and explorer. Alexander Mackay prepared for work in Madagascar, but was directed to Uganda, to aid in founding one of the most remarkable missions in the world. Carey proposed to go to the South Sea, but was guided divinely to India, to give the Bible in their native tongue to its teeming millions.”
You see, God knows what is best for us. Thus, let’s learn to submit to his eternal, wise, perfect sovereign will. Remember, the best place to be is in the will of God. If you are doing the Lord’s will, wherever you are, you are in the best place. And remember, too, as someone has said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”
Rev. Brian G. Najapfour (ThM, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) has been a minister of the gospel since 2001 and has served both in the Philippines and in the U.S. He is the author of many books, including A Hearer of God’s Word: Ten Ways to Listen to Sermons Better. He blogs at biblicalspiritualitypress.org.