“God has something better planned!” people tell you kindly and comfortingly when something you’ve dreamed and planned and prayed and worked for has not happened. When you planned to be on the mission field by age 24, but you had your school loans to pay off first. When you planned (admittedly at age 9) to be married and have fourteen children by now, and you never even managed to get the first date part accomplished. When you planned to have your whole missions budget raised and to be in Europe by last spring, and it didn’t happen. “Take heart! God has something better planned!”
And what people mean by “something better” is something spectacular, something amazing, something miraculous, something that will burst over you all of a sudden with fireworks and magnificence and joyousness. A miraculous provision of funds. A perfect, European, missions-oriented spouse. A place in missions which will be all the better for the long delay. God’s better must always be something that will make our hearts cry out in joy, right?
But then, what if it doesn’t happen? What if you prayed desperately for a spouse, or a baby, or a healing, or a miraculous provision of funds, or supernatural favor, and either it didn’t happen, or it didn’t work out the way you planned and dreamed it would? Does this mean God has failed, or didn’t care, or has been too busy to take notice of you? Does it mean “God has something better” is a lie? Should we just stop hoping?
By “God has something better,” people never mean, “You are just going to keep slogging on and on and on in the face of a stony silence in regards to miraculous outpourings.” They never mean, “Actually what you dreamed when you were 9 is never, ever going to happen.” They never mean, “You won’t get to the mission field until you’re 35, and then only by sidling in sideways.”
But what if that’s what “God has something better” actually means? What if God’s better is actually the thing that feels so much worse while it’s happening? What if the very thing that is undesired and feels harder and more painful and unfair and even traumatizing is actually God’s better, better for you than miracles and short cuts and open doors and being given what you want so badly?
Over my two years of itineration, I filled 12 journals with reflections on my journey. I was reading over them this week and realizing how many times I made plans that I was certain were what I needed. I was going to raise my budget and be in Europe by January 2015. I was going to raise my budget and be in Europe by May 2015. And when those plans fell through, how many times I wrote confidently that God was sure to do something miraculous just around the corner to cover for it. And He never did. Nothing miraculous and extraordinary happened to make up for the dashing of my plans.
I’m making more plans right now, because I am a natural planner and plotter and dreamer. I plan on getting my visa application into the mail by next week, and I plan for God to expedite the process through the Belgian bureaucracy, and I plan to have it approved in time for me to be in Europe before a big missionary conference that is happening on my birthday. It’s a brilliant plan. So reasonable. So logical. It could happen.
It also could not happen. Maybe I’ll spend my 35th birthday pouting to myself in my apartment in Missoula. Maybe nothing remarkable or joyous or delicious will happen in exchange for my lovely plans not coming to fruition.
This is not a cynical, hopeless blog post. It’s actually a joyous one. Because God’s better is better, no matter how it feels at the moment.
What’s better than instantaneous, miraculous provision that makes people glorify God? How could struggle and pain and lots and lots of crying and pouting and disappointed hopes and slogging and finally having to take the undesired route be better than miracles?
Because of this:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I actually never understood these verses before. I didn’t even like them.
But the hope for favorable events, the hope for our own (perfectly good and God-honoring) plans to come about, the hope even for miracles to get us out of our situations is a hope in circumstances. Such hope is easily dashed. Whereas the hope that comes from perseverance in the face of difficulty and pain, and the character and maturity God desires for us that come from such dodged, white-knuckled perseverance…that is a hope in God. A trust in His authority, His sovereignty, His wisdom, His superior plans. That hope does not disappoint us.
That is the better that God has planned for us: not necessarily (but not necessarily not) better external circumstances but rather better internal development into who He created us to be. Better maturity, better faith in His never-changing goodness, better submission to His will. It may be wretched getting there (or it may be brilliantly delightful—it may be both at the same time), but it is better. Better than having what we ask for and never getting there.
God did not give me financial and timeline miracles while I itinerated (well, maybe one or two little ones…), and He paid absolutely no attention to my brilliant and reasonable plans, and He did not expedite my process, except at the end, when He did it in a way I absolutely didn’t want. But He’s made me into a person who understands perseverance a whole lot better than I did two years ago and who is willing to say, “I want this awesome thing…but if You don’t give it to me, I trust You.” It took a great deal of whining and “Whaaaii aren’t You helping meeeee?” and no doubt I have more opportunities for whining and pity parties to look forward to in the future. But I have greater hope in God’s eternal character than I did when I started out itinerating with all my optimistic plans for Him to follow. I suppose that’s better.