Every weekday, I put out a sign that says, “Church Open. Come in and Pray.” While the crowds have yet to respond en masse to my invitation (and believe me, I’m not holding my breath), it has occasionally borne good fruit.
For instance, just two days ago, I brought in the sign at five o’clock, only to discover someone praying in the Church (gasp!). I indicated that I had no intention of bothering him, and that he could stay as long as he wanted. He, however, wished to talk, and so we sat for a while and shot the spiritual breeze.
At the heart of our conversation was a question so common that I thought it worth addressing in this context: “I know that God is in my life, but I don’t know what He wants me to do. What is His plan for me?”
To my mind, the question itself is problematic. Too often we think of God as an omnipresent, omnipotent power that floats above history, orchestrating events according to some divine blueprint, with every eventuality mapped out and anticipated.
We poor humans have little knowledge of God’s secret blueprint. We can only muddle along, trying to get an inside track on the portion of God’s plan that applies to us. When something unexpected or inexplicable happens, we try to console ourselves that it must have some meaning that we are too inferior to see.
In fact, such an attitude has less to do with the Christian understanding of God, and more to do with Deism—a belief that God is the Supreme Architect who exists at arm’s length from earthly concerns. In the Christian view, God is certainly transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere present, etc. But God does not make Himself known to us in these abstract and ultimately non-human terms. Rather, the indescribable, infinite, transcendent God has fully revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
As I indicated in a previous article, the essence of Jesus’ preaching is “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15 and Matt. 4:17), which is to say that the historical man Jesus is the full, complete and final revelation of God’s will, wisdom, word, power, and authority in this world. Everything there is to be known of God’s will for our lives is completely accessible and knowable in our personal encounter with the Son of God. “For [God] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:9-10, emphasis mine)
As I have also said before, this encounter takes place not in the future or the past, but in whatever lies before us at any given moment. This is because human existence is by definition a present existence. Although our minds may dwell in the future or the past, we don’t actually live then. As human beings, we actually live now and as a human being, now is where God revealed Himself to us. As Saint Paul tells his Corinthian hearers, “Now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2)
So what is God’s plan for your life? If by ‘plan’ you mean some secret blueprint of future events that will lead to a glorious personal destiny, then there isn’t one. In another sense, however, God’s plan is evident in is whatever situations, tasks and people are in front of you right now. After all, those present realities are where Christ is, and Christ is the final revelation of God’s will to us and the world.
John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Amen to that. As long as we continue fumbling around for God’s secret blueprint, we will miss out on His will, which is right in front of our noses: love our family and our neighbours, do the day’s work as best as we can, play with joy when it’s time to play, make the today’s decisions conscientiously and with all due diligence; and consciously discover the Presence of God in all these activities by rooting and surrounding them in prayer and worship.
Living this way, in time we reflect back on our lives and see patterns and discover meanings. We start to understand why things happened as they did. We witness the guiding hand of Providence in our lives. Such backward reflection, however, is not an end in itself, but a reminder for us to be faithful to Christ now, by attending to the demands of His Kingdom, which is always found in whatever is ‘at hand.’
“Is it really that simple?” my recent church visitor asked me. Yes, I told him, it really is, and our only challenge is to accept that simplicity. To that end, I offer you the following prayer by Saint Philaret of Moscow: “O Lord, grant that I may greet the coming day in peace. Help me to rely upon Your holy will in every moment. In every hour of every day, reveal Your will to me. Bless my association with those who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me with peace of soul and the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all is sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Grant me to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring. Direct my will. Teach me to pray, and pray Yourself within me. Amen.”