Make plans, be flexible

I have never heard God speak to me, at least not in an audible voice. But I do go through times in my life when messages hit me clearly and repeatedly. Whether I am listening to a sermon, reading scripture, talking to a friend, listening to music or even watching TV, something begins to get repetitive. I know that God is trying to get my attention. Lately, He has been trying to teach me about the importance of being available.

We teach a lot about planning in business. Planning is a good thing! You envision your plan, develop your plan, discuss your plan, test your plan, revise your plan, and once you think it is good enough, you go out and execute your plan. That makes sense. We like to think that good planning is some kind of guarantee of success, and that if we think about something enough in advance, reality will follow the plan in every detail.

College is a time when we do a lot of planning. We spend years thinking through how our future is going to unfold. We study, prepare ourselves and develop potential career paths and timelines for our futures. Sometimes, this is how we try to negotiate with God. We want to see a plan, evaluate it and maybe even send it back to God for revisions to make it acceptable. We want to know in advance what is going to happen before we actually sign off and go do it.

God, however, has had a pesky tendency to round up fishermen, carpenters, shepherds and a bunch of other people who were just living their lives and surprise them with a radical new purpose. When someone like Moses or Jonah argued back, God basically said, “Just go do what I told you to do!” In that moment, it was not necessary to stop and approve a plan before acting. What was important was to be available to do the crazy thing that God wanted.

I remember that day back in college when I swore I would never be a teacher. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that it could not involve speaking in public. The thought was terrifying to me, and I remember laughing in the face of one of my professors who suggested that I might try teaching a class someday. Shortly after that, God allowed me to teach a class and my life was forever changed. I learned that God’s plans are better than mine and that he doesn’t feel compelled to get my approval. The life I’ve had is not the one I thought I wanted, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It all came down to some key moments where God demanded that I make myself available, even though I thought I had a different plan.

Henry Mintzberg said that strategy alternates between intentionality and emergence, just as one foot follows the other. There are times when we can plan and act more purposefully, but then there are the other times when we must contend with things we never anticipated. For a planner like me, the emergent times are challenging, but that is where I have really found God’s purpose for me.

God expects us to act with wisdom and purpose, but sometimes he surprises us with something crazy that redefines our lives. In those moments, we often find our true purpose. I know that is true, because that is my story. So, even when you think you have your future all worked out in your mind, be open to the crazy doors that are opening around you … and step through with faith and courage. I promise you, you won’t regret it!