When God has a Different Plan
I think most of us can remember an occasion when we had something all planned out. It might have been something relatively minor or it might have concerned something of greater significance to our lives. And then, everything changed and the plans we had made had to be set aside for a while or even abandoned entirely.
Not all that many years ago, I thought I had my life all planned out. Business was booming and our thoughts turned to looking for a second home. I first met my wife, Cathy, in Philadelphia. Most of her family lives in the Philadelphia area and two of her sisters have vacation homes on the Jersey Shore – one directly on the beach and the other on the bay across from the Atlantic City Coast Guard station. The South Jersey Shore is a really beautiful and fun place, so naturally we imagined having a shore home of our own. I don’t suppose that we were all that serious, but we were close to becoming that way.
Becoming a deacon and giving up the high-pressured life of a corporate executive was not on my radar. I could not then imagine the change in course my life was about to take.
On the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year B), the Church gives us readings for Mass that tell the stories of two of our faith’s great figures and how their lives were changed when God made known to them His plan for their lives.
In the first reading from the Second Book of Samuel (2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16), we have a glimpse of King David who seems to be awfully satisfied with himself to the point that maybe he is feeling sorry for God. His intentions were certainly good, but that is the point in one sense – they were his intentions. He had accomplished so much since being chosen by God to lead Israel. At last, he had defeated the Philistines and all of Israel’s other enemies. Resting in the comfort of his cedar palace, he decided that it was not right for God to rest in the ark under a tent, outside. He told Nathan the prophet that he, King David, would build the House of God for the Lord.
Again, there does not seem to be anything wrong about David’s desire to build the Lord a house fitting for God. Indeed there isn’t. But God had other plans. God desired to build the House of David which would be the House of God in covenant history. So God instructed Nathan the prophet to remind David of a few salient facts:
“It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old, since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel. I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” (2 Samuel 7: 8b-12, 14a, 16)
David may have been experiencing just a touch of human pride, only God knows. But in any event, God reminded David that all that had been accomplished through the shepherd boy King had been at the hand of God. God had a plan for David, it wasn’t completed and King David needed to learn it.
The Gospel passage for the day (Luke 1:26-38), recounts the event of the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel presented to Mary news of God’s plans for her life and the whole human race. Becoming a mother was not in Mary’s plans for herself. But her divine maternity was a part of God’s plan, a plan that was first proclaimed in the Book of Genesis (cf. Genesis 3:15) and very much in mind as the Lord instructed Nathan to speak to David. What would Mary’s answer be? So very much depended upon her answer.
Mary is the greatest example for us as we seek God’s particular will for ourselves. Her plan was to dedicate her life to God in consecrated virginity. She prayed fervently always. She loved the Lord God with everything she had to give. And she always, in humility, placed God before herself. All creation owes her deep gratitude for her fiat. In spite of the obvious difficulties that God’s request introduced into her life, she humbly answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
God’s Plan is Better
I think that we can say that King David had a good plan. We certainly know that Mary did. But what neither of them knew beforehand was that God had something even greater planned for them.
Through David, God expanded His covenant with Israel, establishing the Davidic National Kingdom. Because of Mary’s yes, Jesus Christ mediated the New Covenant, redeemed mankind and established the Catholic Church as the Family of God; a family that includes all the Nations. The plans of David and Mary were good; God’s plan was greater.
Advent is a season all about watchfulness and waiting – preparing for the coming of the Lord: in history, in our lives and at the end of time. It is a time when the people of God are to be especially vigilant in deepening their spiritual life, growing in holiness and discerning the particular will of God for them. We need to be watchful for when God has a different, better plan than we do.
Five Essentials for Discovering and Living God’s Will
Let’s face it – not all of us have a prophet like Nathan living in our home and we are not likely to be visited by an Archangel. So how are we to discover God’s plan for us? I think too many of us look for a great sign and fail to hear the quiet voice of God when He speaks to us in our hearts and through others. So here are what I believe are five essentials for discovering and living God’s Will:
- Live in Christ’s Friendship – We Catholics refer to this as being in a state of grace. That is, live the sacramental life and, particularly, seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever you become aware of committing a grave sin. Mortal sin particularly deafens our spiritual hearing.
- Practice Humility and Surrender to the Lord – We are all inclined to be prideful. If we think we already have all the answers, we won’t be open to new ones, so get into the habit of practicing humility daily. Humbly surrender your will to the Lord.
- Pray Daily – Do we really love God above all else? Then we should be praying before and above all else. That’s what you do when you love someone; you spend time in their company. Prayer is spending time with God. In prayer, we must ask God to reveal His Will to us.
- Be Aware and Listen – Do you normally limit your prayer to speaking to God? If so, you need to set aside time during and after your prayer to listen. Trust Jesus. He said, “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened.” Have faith that God will answer and you will discover that answer – one way or the other.
- Decide to Act – The desire to live God’s Will is not the same as the decision to live God’s Will. The former is a feeling; the latter is an act of human will. This is not always easy and it can sometimes be painful, but you can believe that God has only the good for you in His answer. We cannot always see very far down the road. We won’t always understand the specific purpose and end, beyond our own salvation, for our actions and decisions that God has in His Plan of Divine Providence for us. It is only ours to trust and act.
So what about that plan I had for my life? God used my wife to encourage my prayer life. I am certain that the prayers of my mom played a part. And thanks to the example and encouragement of many people in my parish, my plan would change. So, in my prayers, I surrendered and asked Jesus to reveal what He wanted of me. God used three people to plant the seed of my vocation to the diaconate in my heart. One of them was Deacon Martin Lampe whose words of wisdom and encouragement and, especially, his prayers set my life on a different course. We did not end up with that vacation home but we ended up with a far greater home at St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church.
I don’t say this with pride. I believe the same is true for most of us who sincerely try, however inadequately at times, to live in Christ Jesus. Reflect this week on how the Lord has guided your life. Submit to His Will totally. Pray for the grace to know His will and the faith and courage to live it. We cannot see very far down the road. We can only see the present moment. If we learn anything from the examples of King David and the Blessed Virgin Mary, learn to humbly seek the Lord, to trust in Him, to be watchful for the varied ways He might answer and say yes to Him always.
Into the deep…
Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, Editor-in-Chief for The Integrated Catholic Life™, is the Director of Adult Education and Evangelization at his parish and a deacon of the Roman Rite for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
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