Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
There is a classic movie that we used to watch every Christmas season called “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The main character in the movie is George Bailey, who lives in a small town called Bedford Falls. George was a man with big dreams. He wanted to be an architect and build bridges and buildings all over the world. He wanted to travel and be free to explore this amazing world. At the beginning of the movie, it seems like George’s dream is on track, then the wheels fell off. Because of a series of unforeseen circumstances, totally out of George’s control, George finds himself stuck in little, confining Bedford Falls. George finally comes to the conclusion that his life had been wasted and that it would be better if he had never lived. God sends an angel to intervene and to show George what the world would have been like, if he had not been there. In the end, George comes to realize that his life had not been wasted, but that it had been rich and productive.
There have been times when I have felt like George Bailey. Coming out of seminary, I had dreams about the path my life would take. In a nutshell, I expected to move through a series of successful pastorates, each one being a little better than the one before. At the right time, I expected to move into the arena of denominational leadership. Along with this, I expected to be given the opportunity to teach other pastors in a formal setting. I had observed this scenario lived out by others, and so I felt that it was in my grasp as well. But God had different plans for my life.
None of the pieces of my dream have fallen into place. In fact, most of the pieces have fallen by the wayside. Instead of having a series of exciting pastorates in different places, I have served in the same church for 30 years. Instead of being tapped for a key denominational role, I have watched as others have taken those spots. Instead of stepping boldly into the world of academia, I have been politely informed that I don’t qualify. I have often felt like George Bailey, stuck in Bedford Falls.
Paul David Tripp, in his book, Locked in the Middle, talks about how we are wired to dream, but that our dreams have been hijacked by sin. God created us with the capacity to dream so that we could experience the intangible glory of God and the wonders of a world unseen. In a perfect world, our dreams would all be God-centered and amazing. But because of sin, our dreams tend to be me-centered and unfulfilling. Even when the things we dream about become reality, we are rarely satisfied. That is because we are looking for satisfaction and fulfillment is something other than our relationship with God. It is not that our dreams are bad or evil, they just fall short of God’s design and plan for us. As Tripp says, it is not that our dreams are too big, it is that they are too small.
One of the things that I have discovered is that God’s dreams for us are far more amazing and fulfilling than our dreams for ourselves. Coming out of high school, I dreamed of being a missionary in Haiti and working as a Lab. Tech. in a back room, safely hidden away from people. Instead, God placed me in Mankato, Minnesota and made me a part-time missionary to Ukraine and a full-time missionary to International Students. I dreamed of having a series of moderately long pastorates of maybe 10 years apiece. Instead, God has given me a 30 year run that has blessed by family with stability and allowed me to invest deeply into one community and one church.
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, God sends a message to the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon. They believed that all of their dreams had been shattered and that God had abandoned them. But in reality, God had so much more in store for them. 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. (Jeremiah 29:11) When our dreams begin to crumble, we can feel like we have been sent into exile, but God assures us that he is not done with us. His plans are bigger than our dreams. If we will actively turn toward Him, instead of away from Him, He will give us the amazing experience of hope and a future that is far more fulfilling than our crumbled dreams.
When I begin to sink into my “George Bailey” routine, I need to be reminded that God is not done with me yet. Although I don’t know what the future holds for me, I can be confident that God has a plan for my life that will bring Him glory and me joy.
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.