I pushed my cart down the grocery store aisle looking for the next item on my shopping list. I momentarily paused from my single-minded pursuit and noticed an elderly couple just ahead of me to my right, a rather stern looking gentleman with his cheery wife. The woman casually reached for a box of cereal strategically displayed on the end cap directly across from the milk, but her reach was cut short when her husband exclaimed tersely, “You can’t buy cereal ’til February.” The woman whined like a small child, “But, I wanted some cereal now.” “Not till February” he reiterated. I don’t blame the woman for whining. It’s the first part of September and she was supposed to wait til February to buy cereal?
I assume the man suffered from the early stages of dementia. His comment made perfect sense to him, but it didn’t make any sense to myself or his wife to wait six months to buy the cereal they needed now. I shook my head and went back to filling my cart with the items on my shopping list.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the synagogue the Pharisee prays these words, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” (Luke 18:11,12) We thank God we aren’t like the Pharisee, good manners have taught us not to brag so large in public. The parable continues with the prayer of the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” We are equally as thankful we aren’t like the tax collector. We see the sinners, and are thankful we aren’t like them. Of course we immediately clarify that thought by admitting we are all sinners. But, since we don’t commit the really big sins, we classify ourselves as a “small sin” sinner. We breathe a sigh of relief that we aren’t like the Pharisee or the tax collector, little realizing that some of the white washed small sins we say and do make as much sense to living a Christian life as waiting ’til February to buy cereal when it’s the month of September.
We live our lives more like the Pharisee than we realize, thankful that we aren’t like others. We have all heard or uttered phrases similar to these, “The pastor should collect the offering before song service rather after, we would receive more money if he did that and our church wouldn’t be in debt.” Or something similar to this, “The teacher needs to spend more one on one time with the kids in her class room, it’s no wonder half the kids are failing and don’t know how to read.” By putting down the actions of others we insinuate to ourselves that we are thankful we aren’t like “those others”.
“I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) We like to use this text as a promise that God has great plans for us when things aren’t going so great. But, let’s look at it just a little deeper. God doesn’t say here that He knows what great plans we have for ourselves and if we just wait long enough He will bless them and rain down heaps of money on us. No, we would like the text to say that, but it doesn’t. What it says is that God knows the plans He has for us. I’ll say that one more time; God knows the plans He has for us. We need to put away our ideas on how we should live our life and how others should live their lives and follow the plan that God has for us. When we do that, life starts to make sense. We were created to worship God and follow His paths of righteousness. When we humble our hearts before Him, our ‘small sins’ that we insist on holding onto because they aren’t so bad and we find them fun, are actually the big sins that are holding us up from having a close relationship with God. It’s what’s holding us up from the plans God has for us.
We are afraid to give up our plans to God. We feel secure knowing what we have planned for the future. We have fun, exciting things planned. We know we are smart enough to carry out those plans. If we give up our plans to God we are uncertain what He wants us to do. What if he asks us to be thrown into the lion’s den like Daniel all because we insisted on worshipping God? What if we are thrown into the fire like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because we insist on worshipping God and not following our own safe plan for our lives? Is the excitement God has planned for you too big? Daniel and his friends may not have been mentioned in the Bible if they would have chosen to live by their own plans rather than the plans of God. While God’s plan may look crazy to us and especially to others, if you look at it from the other side it’s even crazier to live by our own safe plans. I challenge you today to give up your plans and live the plans God has for you. It takes faith, because we can’t see the future like He does, but once we have completely given everything to God we can be sure that wherever we are at the moment we are in the palm of God’s hand. He is taking care of us.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord….. Jeremiah 29:11