Plans and Purposes That Prevail

“Many are the purposes in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21).

“I didn’t accomplish a single thing I set out to do today!” How many times has our day ended in the agitation of futility? Whether self-discipline brought us up short or outside factors stretched us too far, reality failed to honor our plans again, and we fret in frustration. Sleep comes hard these nights. What if we were to discover execution to be the least of our problems, that it was actually misalignment that rendered today’s to-do list a non-starter from its conception?

Plans follow purpose. This is one reason organizations articulate mission statements—their reason for being: they proclaim a shared sense of purpose to which to subordinate all strategies, objectives and goals toward its fulfillment. Any number of leadership books extol the value of such clarity, but most overlook this indispensable truism: “It is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We may dutifully conceive our plans and precisely align them with our purposes, but if our rigid list of things to do allows no room for real life, we will needlessly resign ourselves at the end of the day to failure.

Early in my career an organization coach offered this piece of practicality: “When you plan your work day, allow four hours for unanticipated priorities.” Hers proved to be a wonderful, sanity-saving suggestion, for we live and work among others who have needs just as we do, and God’s plans prevail above all. Then doesn’t it make sense to recognize God as our ultimate purpose in life, and to pray for His will as we plan our day? How different would our sense of satisfaction be if were actually to look for Him working all around us and to heed His call to join Him? Might we find an apparent “imposition” to be an “invitation” in disguise? Might we find our purpose in His purpose, and our satisfaction in Him? I think we can plan on it, actually.

Father, every day unfolds under your command. Fill me with your Spirit of wisdom today, that I would submit my plans to your purposes, knowing your purposes are good and they will prevail again today. In Christ I pray. Amen.


Followership Excellence [Redux]

[Today’s post is an edited version of one shared a few years ago. It is an under-discussed topic, yet an important one, so I am reposting it for you today.]

“And [Moses] called the place Massah [Testing] and Meribah [Quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Exodus 17:7).

Have you ever noticed how obsessed our culture is about leadership? Browse around Barnes & Noble or peruse your church library, and what we might call “leadership-envy” is inescapable. Great leadership is vital—we know this all too well—yet what seems to me an excessive fixation on leadership is to some degree symptomatic of two unhealthy causes: we have concluded leaders have more value than followers; and we are afraid that, if we are not leaders, we’re somehow unsuccessful. Which is a shame, because I believe that more good is accomplished through great followers than through great leaders and that great followers are at least as worthy of our esteem, if not more so.

Great followers toil just as hard, sacrifice just as much, and apply an equally capable—albeit different—skill set as those who chart their course. Great followers are strong enough to temper their own control and respect that of others. They have the character to offer precious insights during the decision-making process and then submit themselves to the conclusions of those in charge. Their candor takes more courage, for they speak to those who hold power over them. And how brave is the one who does not violate his or her values and principles, even when pressured to do so by those in authority! All of this for a fraction of the recognition. This is the stuff of heroes. This is greatness. This commands respect. Surely, the last will be first.

But poor followership? It stymies. It divides. It tears down, and makes for ruin. And it showed up in the Israelites’ rebellion against their leader and in their doubt in their God. So defining was the moment that Moses actually named the place after these faithless followers. He called it Testing and Quarreling. Wouldn’t it have been great had Moses been able to name the place, Loyalty and Affirmation? Or Diligence and Unity? It would have been a lasting reminder of great followership. But it could not be, for although Moses is considered among the greatest leaders of all time, it was the poor followers who defined the place.

We are followers; this is what “disciple” means. And our response to true leadership defines the environment where we work and serve. So, fellow followers, what will they name the place where we give of ourselves today? Division, or Unity? Rebellion, or Obedience? Cowardice, or Courage? Pettiness, or Maturity? Subversion, or Support? Me, or We?

Lord, lead us in your strength, and inspire us to serve people well. Grace us with humility, so we may bring blessing to others and glory to you. In Jesus’ name and by the power of your Spirit, we pray. Amen.

[Read the story about Israel’s rebellion in Exodus 17:1-7.]


Hearts Ablaze

“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” they asked each other. It is one of my favorite events in the entire Bible, high on the list of “wish-I-was-there” moments. The risen Christ had appeared to the two men as they traveled the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and as the three of them walked the road together, Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”1 When they finally recognized Him, “he disappeared from their sight,”2 and with hearts ablaze, they immediately trekked all the way back to the city to testify to the disciples about His resurrection.

There is a vision that likewise burns in human hearts—“A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,”3 and the coming time when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”4 It ignites our passion and calms our fears. It illumines our path and overshadows our past. It summons our trust and outshouts our doubts. It beckons us, “Come!”; it calls us to rest. And it aligns our steps today with what will be forever.

The Bible tells us that we who live by faith are “foreigners and strangers on earth,”5 and we long for “a better country—a heavenly one.”6 “Our citizenship is in heaven,” writes Paul, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”7 There, we are “no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.”8 This is who we are, and this is our home; yet we are here. Then how does our current citizenship in a Kingdom yet to come guide us in the here and now? We regard people not by their earthly worldviews that divide, rather we engage them in the truth of Christ who would unite us in Himself. We stake our wellbeing not in flawed leaders of this age—people are people, after all—rather we live in the peace and confidence of Him who remains sovereign above them. Remembering life in darkness, we live as “children of light.”9 As Kingdom citizens in this foreign land, we do here what we can only do here—we point to freedom in a Kingdom yet to come. Yes, Lord, Thy Kingdom come.

Father, we live in your Kingdom, even as we wait for it to come. Grace us to extend the grace we have received and to share the living hope in which we now hope, that people would live freely in your presence. We pray in the name of the King. Amen.

1 Luke 24:27
2 Luke 24:31
3 Revelation 7:9
4 Revelation 11:15
5 Hebrews 11:13
6 Hebrews 11:16
7 Philippians 3:20
8 Ephesians 2:19
9 Ephesians 5:8