When Plans Go Astray

“And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” – Luke 2:6-7.

Everybody has a friend(s) that plan every single thing. There’s no space for spontaneity. They have a blueprint in place that will help them know how to make the most efficient use of their time and energy. Nothing frustrates them more than when a well-conceived plan falls apart at the seams. Yet life has a way of changing the best-laid plans.

Joseph and Mary were all excited and planning to get married, when all of a sudden, an angel told Mary she was going to have a baby. And not just any baby, but the baby that would later save the world from our sins. Mary isn’t married yet. People, including Joseph, would have a pretty hard time believing she got pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Consequences could’ve been pretty dire for Mary if anyone wanted to make an example of her. So, yeah, their plans took an inexplicable turn.

What were Mary and Joseph thinking and feeling as they arrived in Bethlehem and were unable to find the living space that maybe they were hoping for?  While we don’t know their exact plan after arriving in Bethlehem, it probably didn’t include laying Jesus in a feeding trough after He was born.  Regardless of His make-shift crib, Jesus’ birth was no less miraculous.  His arrival on this earth was made no less meaningful.  His first moments and cries no less special.  It was that powerful moment that ultimately changed life as we know it, and it didn’t take everything going according to plan to make it so.

Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s plan, even when it wasn’t their plan. Mary could’ve insisted that having a baby wasn’t in her life plan, and even if she were going to do this, couldn’t God wait until she was happily married? But she didn’t. In the middle of her worries, fears, and doubts, she trusted God enough to know that His plan was better. And because she was willing to trust in God’s plan more than her plan, she played a huge role in His story on earth.

This Christmas, remember that when things don’t go as planned, God has the most room to work. And may this Christmas remind you that in the midst of our unplanned lives, God is with us in the waiting, working to bring the best plans—better plans than we can ask for or imagine.

As you get busy this Christmas weekend gathering with friends and family, orchestrating feasts, and making sure that everyone has the holiday experience they were hoping for, take a moment to stop thinking about what comes next, or perhaps what didn’t quite pan out earlier that day.  Set aside the plan.  Breathe in the hope of a newborn Savior.  Remember the peace that He brings with Him.  Celebrate the joy that His birth offers.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What can we learn from Joseph and Mary’s reaction to their plans being changed? When was a time when you really knew you were living God’s plans for you? How did you know?  Or, when was a time when you realized that you were not living God’s plans for you? How did you know?
  2. 2. Proverbs 16:4 says: “The Lord has made everything for His own purposes.” What are the implications of this verse for our lives?

It Takes Planning

“So I arrived in Jerusalem. Three days later, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us except the donkey I was riding. After dark I went out through the Valley Gate, past the Jackal’s Well, and over to the Dung Gate to inspect the broken walls and burned gates. Then I went to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but my donkey couldn’t get through the rubble. 15 So, though it was still dark, I went up the Kidron Valley instead, inspecting the wall before I turned back and entered again at the Valley Gate.” – Nehemiah 2:11-15.

As Christians, should we plan for the future? If God is in control, then should we plan at all? The Bible talks a lot about the future and whether or not Christians ought to prepare for it. The Bible demonstrates that God is not only concerned for our earthly future, but also for our eternal future. So as Christians, we ought to prepare for the future. An example of that was Nehemiah. 

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia. For him to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls was not a step he would take randomly. For four months Nehemiah prayed and fasted about his plan before he approached the king for permission and help. His prayers paved the way for him to receive the king’s favor. Nehemiah knew his project required the king’s resources, so he was prepared when the king asked him what he needed. Because of Nehemiah’s preparation, the king granted his requests.

Nehemiah needed to understand the circumstances of the project he was about to undertake. Initially, he was not physically in Jerusalem, so his early assessment was made from discussions he had with people who saw first-hand the destruction and were knowledgeable about the current state of the walls and gates. Once on-site, he spent three evenings personally examining the damage to the wall and the gates before rebuilding. For our plans to be effective and complete, we need to invest time upfront—thoroughly assessing the project we are about to undertake.

Nehemiah began seeking God’s vision for rebuilding the wall. For Nehemiah to rebuild the entire wall around Jerusalem in only 52 days, it took an effective strategy (overall, long-term plan), tactics (short-term, specific actions that support the strategy), and God’s favor. When we seek God’s favor towards our work, we need to first seek God’s vision. Be prepared that it may be different from our own.

There are many ways Nehemiah could have tackled this challenging project. However, a key strategy he used was to develop effective teams that could address the needed repairs. At the same time, Nehemiah developed a strategy to overcome their enemies. Nehemiah 4:18 says, “All the builders had a sword belted to their side. The trumpeter stayed with me to sound the alarm.”

Plans are meaningless if they’re never executed. Nehemiah was a man of action. He developed his plan, but he also knew when it was time to act. He formed his team, delegated responsibilities, and then called his team into action.

Planning is important, but we must be diligent to move the plan forward.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Read Nehemiah 2:17-20: How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for many decades? What are some troubling realities you have become accustomed to over the years?
  2. Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” and the words, “they began the good work.” What good work has God given you to do, and what was your response to it?