Have you ever had to go to Plan B? You had “Plan A” for your life all figured out…but, things didn’t turn out the way you planned? I asked this question in a sermon recently, and a woman approached me after the service and said, “Plan B? I’m on Plan G, H, and I!” If we’re honest, all of us have had to go to Plan B or beyond many times! An unexpected illness, an unwanted challenge, or a door that slammed shut made us go to Plan B. Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, lost her 47 year old husband to a heart attack in 2015 while he was exercising. She never thought that she would be a widow at 45, with the primary responsibility of raising two young children. Ms. Sandberg wrote about this loss in her recently published book: Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. It is a practical guide to facing the inevitable hardships of life.
The Apostle Paul faced many hardships in his life too. Shipwreck, persecution, danger and torment were his constant companions. Many of his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Paul prayed fervently for this thorn in the flesh to be taken away (we don’t know what it was) … but God did not answer that prayer the way Paul wanted. Have you ever prayed so hard for something… and it just didn’t happen?
[tweetable]Paul is an example of the spiritual principle that in God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted. Everything that happened to Paul was for what God wanted to have happened through Paul. The Apostle Paul’s life illustrates another important spiritual principle that all of us need to learn. Adversity, challenges, and disappointments are the raw material of Christian maturity. One of the most important lessons that God wants to teach us as followers of Jesus is to relinquish control. Control is an illusion. Control is a fantasy of our imagination. As we learn to relinquish control, we learn humility… the art of letting go… and ultimately, we learn to trust God! Paul became a mature Christian through learning to let go of control…and to let go of the Plan A for his life. As Paul learned to let go of control, his attitude started to change. Ultimately, he learned to yield to God’s will and to submit his human will to God’s sovereign will.
Years ago, I got to know a brilliant professor named Dr. Howard Rice. Howard’s teaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary was so effective that his courses always had a waiting list. Dr. Rice was the author of many books, and, for a year, he was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which meant that he was asked to preach across America and the world. Dr. Rice had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. Every time Dr. Rice preached in a different congregation, which he did almost every Sunday morning, he had to be carried up onto the platform and he taught from the wheelchair…not the pulpit! Very few platforms (chancels) in churches are handicap accessible, so the Moderator had to be humble enough to let people carry him.
Howard was once asked what helped him to mature as a Christian. He grabbed the handles of his wheelchair as he said, “Because of my multiple sclerosis… and being confined to this wheelchair… I learned that I had to stop living on talent… and start living on trust!” Slowly but surely, God changed Howard’s attitude toward multiple sclerosis… until he could work through his anger with God and the illness, embrace his limitations and realize that, in a mysterious way, this illness was part of the work God was doing in and through him.
Multiple Sclerosis was not the life Dr. Rice wanted. It was not his Plan A! However, God used multiple sclerosis to help him mature in his faith. God has important spiritual lessons to teach us through the things that seem like detours and dead ends in our life. Howard Rice learned to embrace Plan B… G, H, I… and Z! Have we?