To-Do Lists, Plans, and God's Will

Originally published Wednesday, 28 August 2013.

In my ideal world, I would have my to-do list completed at the end of each day. My plans would go smoothly, with no interruptions or unexpected events. And my memory would be so good, I wouldn’t need to put post-it notes everywhere as a backup in case I forget to read my to-do list.

I laugh even as I write that because I know it’s not reality. I don't remember the last time I finished all my tasks in one day. And since I recently attempted to put back the milk on the shelf where the cereal goes, rather than in the refrigerator, I'm certain my memory is far from improving.

Keeping lists and making plans is something we all do. For some of us, interruptions to those plans are hard to take. It makes us uncomfortable when our day's plans get interrupted or when we can't accomplish all we set out to do. Sometimes, those lists and plans become idols in our heart, in first place before God.

In my own life, interruptions to my plans often make me uneasy and stress-filled. A couple of weeks ago, I learned from my husband that he wanted to take us with him on a business trip. I had two days notice to prepare to leave. This trip was an interruption to my plans to officially start our new homeschool year that week. So the school plans were put on hold, doctor’s appointments were cancelled, bills paid, plans with friends changed and suitcases packed.

Yet, rather than the interruption putting me into panic, I found myself switch gears and go with the flow. Over recent years, God has been using unexpected changes to my plans, like a trip out of town, to refine me. He has used all the little interruptions to my comfortable schedule and routine to burn away my sin and help me grow deeper in faith. He knows that my plans often become so important to me that I respond with worry, stress, frustration and panic when they don't go the way I expect. He also knows that I need to learn to hold my to-do lists and plans loosely, trusting him for the outcome of my days. So each time unexpected events come up, like my husband's business trip, my fingers are pried back a little more on my to-do lists.

"Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil." James 4:13-16

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." Proverbs 16:9

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." Proverbs 19:21

We know what Scripture says about our plans and God directing our steps, yet it’s not always the posture of our heart. In reality, many of us prefer to be in control of all the events in our life. We want to know what’s going to happen next and be fully prepared ahead of time. How often do we make plans without thinking, "If God wills"? How often do we become upset when our plans fail? How often are we anxious or irritable in the face of such interruptions to our life? How often do we blame others when our plans don't work out?

This desire for control makes us live as though we are lord over our lives. Like our first parents, we think we know better than God what we need. Whether it's our daily schedule or even our life plan, we've invested time and energy in putting it together. We've researched all the possibilities on-line. We've pinned all our plans for everyone to see (and hopefully re-pin, of course). We know what we want and we intend to follow all the steps to get it.

Yet, the truth is, our all-knowing and all-sovereign Creator-God knows what we need better than we do. He knows the plans he has for us. He knows what needs to change in us for us to become more like Christ. He knows just what needs to be chipped away, refined, and sloughed off for us to grow in faith.

While we would prefer to drive where we want to go and have the GPS adjust to our change in direction, God lays out our path and directs us where to go. When changes in our well-laid plans come our way, they are opportunities for us to trust and rely on him. Instead of worrying about our plans, we can instead turn our eyes away from our lists and say, "What is it you want for me, Lord?" The interruptions to life become just another detour in the road that God has laid out for us. Detours and road blocks give us an opportunity to obey him and follow his lead.

The Bible doesn't say to never make plans. We can make plans but we must know that God will direct us. We can't hold tightly to the plans we make. Our heart's posture needs to bow to God's plan for us and not our own. Not only that, but we are called to seek God's will when we make our plans. We need to evaluate our heart to see if it is in line with what Scripture tells us pleases God. And then we need to place our trust in his sovereign care and know that whatever arises in our day is for our good and his glory.

As for me, I still write to-do lists, but they are more like "if God wills lists." That trip that came upon me all of a sudden was a good reminder for me to not rest in my will but in God's. Because the truth is, his plans are always far superior to mine: "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. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

How about you? How do you respond when your plans are interrupted? Do you hold tightly to your to-do lists?