I am an obsessive planner by nature. I want to know exactly where I am going, what I am doing and when I am doing it. That might all sound pretty normal at first, but here is where I take it to the next level; in college I would take all of the syllabi from my classes and put them into one master calendar for the year. I would give myself five days for essay papers, three to study for exams and at least two weeks for final projects. It would take me hours to plan all this out, but I honestly believe that it saved me time in the long run.
Even now I find my phone calendar filled with at least half a dozen or so reminders for each day. It’s a trait that I hope makes parents feel more comfortable leaving their kids with me for a week long mission trip and cuts out some of the curve balls that could come our way. It’s also a trait that causes a lot of anxiety and frustration.
Over time I have had to accept that in reality it is impossible to plan for every little thing. Even when I started putting our youth mission trip schedule together (some six months ahead of time) I put a disclaimer on it, calling it a “Tentative Schedule” instead of a permanent one. It was a reminder not just to parents, but myself as well.
Much to my delight, I’d say 95% of that schedule held true during the week. Yet, my favorite moments and the highlights that come to mind were those 5% that only God could have planned. Perhaps a better way to put it, is that God planned 100% and then some.
The first unplanned (by me) moment came when we were outside and one of our students noticed a car with a flat tire on the street running parallel to the church. I could see in her eyes that she wanted to do something about it. Whether she knew it or not, I have no doubt that was the Holy Spirit convicting her to go. I wanted to help her follow through on being obedient to that prompting, but knew little about changing tires. So in total opposite of my planning nature, I said “let’s go.” We grabbed some bottled water (one for the woman and one for her dog) and I grabbed a guy who knew how to change a tire. It became a bit of a fiasco, but the bottom line is we were able to get the woman back on the road and spend some time praying for her. More importantly, that student saw what can happen when you followed through in obedience to the Lord.
My second favorite moment also involves helping a student follow through on a prompting. After touring the Detroit Institute of Arts, we got back on the bus and it refused to start. “Let’s pray for the bus!” one student suggested. I climbed aboard the bus and asked her if she was serious. All the students agreed in unison that we should and so we held hands and told God our need. Two attempts later, the bus fired up. Again, students experiencing a God who is faithful to obedience.
Finally, my last favorite moment was a bit more personal. Throughout the week, each of the pastors on the trip took a turn giving the sermon during the evening worship experiences. I volunteered to give the sermon at a combined service with the church we were working at. Like a good pre-planner, I wrote the sermon almost two months in advance and began meticulously memorizing it. However, as I sat in service, I quickly realized that two things were not going to work. First, I had planned on my audience being mostly teenagers. While our group was teenagers, their group was mostly adults. Second, what I planned was low-key but what I was experiencing in this church was high-energy. It was my own “follow in obedience” moment and I am glad it did. I don’t mean to brag about my performance, but I do want to brag on the Holy Spirit guiding me through it.
Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We could never out-plan God. He sees a bigger picture on a larger canvas than we could ever imagine. I don’t think it’s bad to plan out things the best we can, but we can’t remain too ridged. Openness and obedience to a God who can see it all is what He asks of us.