Have you ever felt like you’re making the absolute right decision? You felt like you knew—that you knew—God wanted you to go in a particular direction for a big choice you didn’t make lightly. Maybe you decided to take the job, invest in a relationship, or purchase a home. I made one of those decisions, and it blew up in my face. I was sure I’d made the right choice, but my life plan wasn’t supposed to go like this! Did I get my signals crossed? How did I miss God’s will deciding?
Philippians 2:12-13 NIV (my emphasis added) says: Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Let’s start by looking at the context of those verses. The Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Philippi to encourage them to keep pursuing their faith even while he was gone. He had close friends in the church and loved spending time with them.
Did you notice the phrase “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? It can seem confusing because salvation only comes from God––we have no part in it except receiving the gift. But Paul wasn’t referring to the salvation experience of going from an unbeliever to believer. This message was for those who already followed Christ. The Christian life is a journey of knowing Christ and becoming more like Him. The fancy seminary word for this is sanctification––it means we labor with God, we obey the Holy Spirit, and know God’s will.
Mmmkay. What does this mean when I make a decision and the results equal me having one of those rain clouds following me around constantly?
Here are three things I try to remember when my life plan doesn’t go the way I wanted!
- Life is hard. In order to be like Christ, we have to live like He did. Jesus had an extremely hard life. The will of God for Him was death on a cross––bearing all sins for all time. We can expect suffering and challenges in this life. But we can take heart because Christ has overcome, so we can, too!
- There’s a reason. Paul tells us to work with “fear and trembling.” That’s not inconsistent with joy in God. I’m completely helpless without God, and one of the best ways I can continue learning that is by going through a tough season. It is actually a joy for us to become wise by understanding and fearing God’s awesome power. And it is a joy for us to realize our humble state compared to His. We don’t have to understand everything. God does. Take joy knowing there’s a reason for the bumps in the road. And, even if the reason was our own poor choices, we can trust God is still working everything together for good.
- My choice wasn’t wrong. I could choose to regret my choice and judge myself. But why? I wasn’t trying to do something sinful or opposite of what I felt God leading me to. Maybe God led me to the least painful next step possible. Or, what if God led me to a painful place because it was the best place to teach me something I couldn’t learn any other way? I think God wants us to lean into Him and realize we’re helpless without Him. It’s okay not to be able to do it all––that’s God’s job. Ours is obedience.
Jesus had dear friends, an earthly family, and got to do cool things like turn water into wine. Isaiah foretold us Jesus would also be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deep grief—and He was. God’s plan for Jesus was to take on all sin for all time and conquer death. Not exactly a walk in the park.
My life plan wasn’t supposed to go like this. My pride hates getting knocked down to learn humility. I want to compare and contrast my accomplishments against other women—and win! My life plan also makes me miserable.
God’s plan for my life is to make me more like Jesus. When I choose to follow His will, I’m trusting. Trusting that God has good things in store and He loves me too much to let me waste my life worrying about myself. I’ll learn to love others like Jesus loves me. I’ll choose His plan––even when it gets hard.