“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Plans – The word “plans” is from the Hebrew root hashav. In this case it is the noun mahashavah. The verb form “make plans, reckon, account or think” is used 121 times. There are several different meanings, but they are all within the context of creating something new. The most interesting use of this word is found in Genesis 15:6 where the meaning is “impute” or “account.” In that verse, God counts Abraham righteous – He imputes righteousness to Abraham as something new and unanticipated.
In the noun form mahashavah, the word means “thought, plan or invention.” It is used in Genesis 6:5 about the evil thoughts of all mankind, in Jeremiah about the plans that men follow, and in 2 Chronicles about creating an invention. Again, the context is about new things.
“I know the new ideas I have for you.” God’s plans are never cast in concrete. They are flexible, adjusting to our lives as our circumstances change. It is easy to think that God has only one perfect plan for your life and that if you make a mistake or sin, the plan will be forever destroyed. Then you will have to live with second best, then third best and so on each time you fail to meet expectations. But God does not have one perfect plan for you. He has one purpose – one goal – that you become all that you were meant to be through conformity to the image of the Messiah. The goal never changes. But the plans are new ideas every day. God is full of surprises. An eternal inventor.
Oswald Chambers said, “Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” (June 13th, My Utmost for His Highest) Abraham Heschel would remind us, “Biblical revelation must be understood as an event, not as a process. What is the difference between process and event? A process happens regularly, following a relatively permanent pattern, an event is extraordinary, irregular. A process may be continuous, steady, uniform; events happen, intermittently, occasionally. . . . The term “event” is a pseudonym for “mystery.” An event is a happening that cannot be reduced to a part of a process. It is something we can neither predict nor fully explain. To speak of events is to imply that there are happenings in the world that are beyond the reach of our explanations. What the consciousness of events implies, the belief in revelation claims explicitly; namely, that there is a voice of God in the world – not in heaven or in any unknown sphere – that pleads with man to do His will.”
Consider what this means for understanding our lives. How many of us actually believe that God can act in our lives in totally unique and unanticipated ways? Or do we rather turn to the lists for living, guiding our behavior by extractions and abstractions from His Word or others’ experience. The Seven Habits, The Twenty-one Irrefutable Laws, the principles of Purpose-Driven whatever, the “patterns of success,” all these and many more describe God in a box, a God who is no longer surprisingly creative. The “God in the box” must conform to our experience and expectation.
There is a very good reason why Heschel says, “to believe is to remember.” We are called to be witnesses to God’s ways, not examples of our distillation of His ways. Yeshua healed the blind – never twice in the same way. The Father is the author of ingenuity. Why should we live as though all His choices are reducible to our systematic theologies? Mike Yaconelli wrote a book about serving the dangerous God. He touched on a theme we rarely wish to consider. God does not conform to our images of Him. He is full of surprises. Those who expect to encounter the God of surprises are far more spiritually attuned to His engagement in this world. The practice of active waiting is a time to remember that God cannot be contained by our restraints no matter how theologically correct those boxes appear. Our objective is to let God loose in life, to throw off the abstractions of our theology and look for the events, to recognize the absolute uniqueness of His hand, to turn the world of circumscribed conditions on its head and shout, “Yes, Lord, I am ready for whatever You wish. Here I am!”
If you took God out of the box of your own expectations, what do you think would happen? Ah, but don’t give me a lists of answers. That’s the box you’re in already.
Topical Index: plans, mahashavah, Jeremiah 29:11, inventor, new