Temporal Plans vs. an Eternal Purpose:
God’s Plan for Salvation
‘But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.’
- Psalm 33:11 (NIV)
‘God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind.
Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?’
- Numbers 23:19 (NIV)
When I reflect upon the theme of this chapter, I can’t help but recall a lesson I learned from the Bible through the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Adam, and Eve. This is a personal experience that helps me vividly understand the wisdom of God expressed in His purposes and plans for the redemption of humankind through salvation. It also reveals to me, by contrast, the reality that His ways and thoughts are not like ours.
In the book of Genesis, chapter 12, God told Abraham (then known as Abram) that He was going to bless him and make him the father of many nations. At the time, Abraham was seventy-five years old and did not have any children. Some ten years later, Abraham was still without a child. In chapter 15, God reminded Abraham of His promise to give him a child.
In chapter 16, Abraham’s wife, Sarai (later known as Sarah), told Abraham to sleep with her servant so that she could have the child that God had promised her. “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2a). Abraham listened to his wife and slept with her servant, and the servant became pregnant. This story is interesting to me, because Sarah clearly believed that God was withholding His promised blessing from her. God was talking about birthing a nation, but she just wanted to build a family.
During a Bible study with my mother and sister, I learned from Sarah’s example the consequences of leaning on my own understanding. Sarah reasoned in her mind that remaining barren¾despite God’s promise¾was the result of God’s withholding His promise to bless her. Sarah was challenged by the passing of time, unchanged circumstances, and the same tormenting thoughts and emotions that creep into my own heart and mind to produce doubt and unbelief. My personal experience of having to wait on God and trust in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises, causes me to empathize with Sarah instead of condemning her. My own failure to remain faithful and wait patiently motivates my sympathy for her as well. It also reminds me that God knows and understands that I will sometimes falter and fail in my ability to follow through with what He requires of me. He knows that I am but dust and remembers how I was formed. Knowing this helps me to remain patient with myself when my humanity gets in the way of His divine plan and purpose to bless me.
Let’s keep in mind that Abraham agreed to what Sarah requested of him. It may be because he reasoned to himself, “Well, it has been a while, and maybe this is the way God is going to bless me with the child He promised me.” Whatever Abraham was thinking, his actions compromised his ability to wait with perfect patience for God’s promise to be fulfilled in his life. I thank God that His love is patient toward me, even when I can’t remain patient with Him!
God’s plans for our lives are exceedingly and abundantly greater than what we can even imagine¾if we are willing to trust Him and allow Him to work in and through us. Needless to say, Abraham and Sarah, at the ages of one hundred and ninety, respectively, did have a child born from Sarah as God had promised. It simply took place twenty-five years after God had initially told Abraham what He was going to do. Keep in mind that it was God who came to Abraham and Sarah about the child, not the other way around. This was God’s plan for them. God kept His word and invited Abraham and Sarah to participate in His plans for His people. God has plans for us that He promises to fulfill in our lives and He invites us to allow Him to fulfill His promises and perform His miracles for His people. The process begins with salvation.
When I came into the profession of teaching, my only goal was to make a difference in the lives of my students. I also hoped to write and illustrate children’s books someday. I recall God speaking clearly to me one day, saying, “Is that all that you desire to do? I have so much more planned for you.”
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11–14)
I have since imagined God standing with me at a table with my blueprint of my life rolled out before Him. It is all about my plans and my ideas about life and success for me. Of course, I am feeling pretty proud and confident that these are some great plans, and I believe that God will be impressed with the ideas I have for my life. Then God rolls out His blueprints next to mine, turns to me, and says, “That’s all you want to do? Well, these are the plans I have for you.”
I’m sure I don’t have to explain what this means to me, especially after the reminder that Sarah’s plans only involved building a family, while God was talking about building a nation. The same God who intended to build a nation through Abraham and Sarah, wants to do something great for anyone who is willing to allow Him to work through them and fulfill His plans and purposes for His people.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).
“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may enjoy good health, just as it is well with your soul” (3 John v. 2 NRSV).
As I began to understand the context of these two passages of scripture, I began to understand that God desired more for me than blessing me with material possessions and wealth. In fact, the context of both of these verses emphasizes a more intimate, personal expression of God’s grace, power, and blessing for me, if I am willing to allow His power to work in me. I believe the greater blessing or work of God in my life is in allowing the fullness of Christ’s person, or His character, to be expressed in and through me. I believe God desires for us to experience an exceeding, more abundant transformation of our character into the image and likeness of Christ.
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus began to preach about the kingdom of God. He instructed us in Matthew’s gospel to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and not the things of this world. He emphasized the fact that our heavenly Father knows we have need of earthly things, but He challenged us not to seek after earthly things, like those who have no faith in God. Ephesians 3:20 and 3 John v. 2 both emphasize the idea that the greater work of God’s power or blessing is manifested in us¾as we allow Him to work¾so that our souls may prosper. In fact, I believe that without soul prosperity¾even if God prospers us with material blessings and good health¾we will neither appreciate the prosperity God blesses us with, nor be able to maintain it with the level of reverence for God that He would desire us to have.
Soul prosperity is the transformation of the heart, mind, and will, influenced and inspired by the Word of God and His Holy Spirit to sincerely seek after God. Our hearts become loyal to God, making Him the number-one priority in our motivation for living. Our minds become renewed in consistently generating the types of thoughts that are in line with a heavenly, eternal view of life and way of living. Our strongest desire and delight becomes seeking, sincerely and willingly, to do the will of God in the way we live daily. Soul prosperity becomes a passionate, relentless determination to remain vigilant and persistent in action and attitude in becoming and being a Christian in all aspects of one’s life. No matter what circumstances you face, no matter how trying and troubling life may become for you, and regardless of your socioeconomic status in life, your soul’s desire is to delight yourself in the Lord!
There are many in this world who have already been blessed immeasurably, more than they could have imagined, from a material perspective, but their souls are still empty, depleted and devoid of the character, spiritual blessing, and substance that God desires for them to have. They have not yet discovered a soul’s desire to delight itself in the Lord! This is why Jesus said to His disciples that there would be no profit for someone who could gain the whole world and yet lose his soul. “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15 NIV).
The message of seeking after God and His kingdom is given with the understanding that the soul is in need of peace, joy, love, hope, goodness, gentleness, patience, self-control, kindness, and faithfulness, which enable and empower us to live the full, abundant life that Christ came for us to have.
Where can I go to get peace? Who can supply me with faithfulness? To whom can I turn to receive self-control? When the one I vowed to love until death parted us has drained me of the ability to love, how can I receive refreshment and replenishment to continue to give, unconditionally, when I don’t feel like doing so? Whether I am at home or on the job, when I become acquainted with the stress and troubles of life, where can I turn to receive a much needed supply of patience? Where can I purchase the internal fortitude to endure until my circumstances change? Where will my help come from, when no one is available to help? When the infatuation wears off, the excitement of the latest purchase dies down, or the thrill of the moment flees, who will sustain me?
The insight that I have gained since obtaining salvation is the understanding that everyone can receive good, or blessings, from God, because God is good to everybody and loves everyone equally. But not everybody experiences the intimate expression of His grace, goodness, and blessing of the life of His Son growing in and through them, because not everybody has faith in Christ. This, to me, is the most intimate way God can express His glory, grace, and power in the life of a person. The transformation of one’s character into the likeness of Christ is the greatest blessing God seeks to give to a person, because it is what He initially intended when we were created in His likeness in the beginning.
When we really think about it, does God really need our help to do anything outside of us? God invites us to work with Him! I am learning to allow God to fulfill His purpose of growing me up in Christ, by being willing to allow His power to work in me so that His life is expressed through me. This is the greater work and blessing I can receive from God. God created me to depend on Him and to be used by Him as I learn to live through Him!