God doesn’t always work in accord with our understanding.
When I first noticed God’s calling into ministry, I was excited. I considered the talents and passions he’d given me, and I imagined myself following him into a glorious work in any number of roles. I distinctly remember thinking that I could do anything except for youth ministry. Within a year and a half, however, I was on staff at a church as a part time youth minister. I can look back and see how God used that season, and I have no doubts that he knew infinitely better than I did at the time. I’d learned a valuable lesson about his ways being higher than my ways, and I praised him for his sovereign hand in my life.
After college, God opened the door for me to attend seminary. I believed him to be preparing me to plant churches, and so I began to pursue the opportunities around me in that field, a bit relieved as I assumed my time in youth ministry was complete. By the end of my first semester in seminary, however, I was on staff at another church as a part time youth minister, and my thoughts of planting churches were replaced by desires to teach and to write. Again, I see now how he knew better than I did. His ways were better than my own. The lesson was repeated.
As I consider my life, I see a similar occurrence in other areas. I’ll observe the data around me, make my best guess as to the way forward, and begin to walk. Sometimes, I’ll be correct in my understanding; sometimes, God intervenes and shows me his better plan. I’m often frustrated when God proves himself to be unpredictable, and I don’t always take his direction well. He remains faithful, however, providing perspective to my life as only he can do.
In my devotional time this morning, three verses from Proverbs 20 called my mind back to this truth. We read,
A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?
The author seems to suggest here that God’s sovereignty over the steps of man makes total comprehension of the path impossible. Proverbs speaks often of the wisdom of planning and preparing (see verses 4, 13, and 18 of this very chapter), so I don’t take this verse to mean that we must live lives of ignorance. Rather, Proverbs 20:24 provides perspective, reminding us that God is ultimately over any plan we make. An earlier verse in this chapter supports this:
The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both.
God, as creator, set boundaries for what we can hear and see. Our senses are limited in scope. Thus, even as we fully employ our ears and eyes in this life, we remain dependent upon the Lord to lead us. Our best guesses and most thoroughly considered plans fall short of his perfect knowledge and absolute understanding. He hears what we cannot hear and he sees what we cannot see. The author warns us against forgetting this truth, writing,
It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,” and to reflect only after making vows.
Here, we see the danger of assuming we know God’s plan in advance. We may see an opportunity and jump to the conclusion that it is God’s will, yet we may well be mistaken. All opportunities, no matter how perfect they may appear, must be subject to the truth of verse 24.
These verses, upon first reading, may tempt us to despair. They remind us that we are incredibly limited, they reveal our ignorance, and they humble us. Even so, I pray these verses would be sources of hope and encouragement for you. The author of Proverbs reminds us here that we are not in control, but that the Lord of heaven is. We who are limited can rest in the knowledge that the sovereign God of creation guides our steps. When we cannot see or understand his will, he is still working. When we are tempted to be anxious, we can rest in his wisdom and power. When we do not know the way, we can trust in his guidance. Let this give us hope, enabling us to walk in humility and in faith.