“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra
Have you noticed how the news seems to report more on what may happen than what just happened? Here’s a headline from Wednesday: With Dow Industrials at Record Highs, When Will Gravity Take Hold? Sheesh! Even the good news begs for more bad news.
Or try this one: Have you ever had something surprise you with such joy, so much delirium that you had no clue what to do next?
It was Benjamin Franklin who first said that in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. And yet we try, because nobody likes uncertainty. So what do you do when you’re standing face-to-face with a completely unpredictable future? You can offer money to people who promise to reduce your uncertainty – policemen, politicians, preachers, and “prophets.” You can bury your head in the sand and hope tomorrow never comes. Or you can find a way to confront your uncertainties with God’s power and courage.
Lessons from Paul’s Travel Plans
Now just to be clear, I’m not just referring to bracing for imminent disaster or catastrophic losses. I mean even those every-day surprises and disappointments. One source that has always been an example to me is the Apostle Paul. At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he runs through a list of travel plans. Travel plans! In the Bible! What’s his travel agenda doing in God’s holy book? Check this out:
I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia, for I am planning to travel through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay awhile with you, possibly all winter, and then you can send me on my way to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a short visit and then go right on. I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me. In the meantime, I will be staying here at Ephesus until the Festival of Pentecost. There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me. When Timothy comes, don’t intimidate him. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don’t let anyone treat him with contempt. Send him on his way with your blessing when he returns to me. I expect him to come with the other believers. Now about our brother Apollos—I urged him to visit you with the other believers, but he was not willing to go right now. He will see you later when he has the opportunity (1 Corinthians 16:5-12,, NLT).
Here are five principles that can help you prepare for the uncertainties in your future:
Paul’s future was just as uncertain as mine and yours, but one thing is clear – he was headed somewhere. As he began discussing his future plans with the Corinthians, he made it clear that he intended to come there again, but first he was going to Macedonia. That tells me two things about Paul. First, he wasn’t content with yesterday’s victories. Second, he had a plan. He may have changed his plan a hundred times, but at least he had a plan to change.
So what’s your direction? What course have you set that you are following until God issues a change order? People who seem to be going in the wrong direction don’t trouble me nearly as much as those who seem to be going nowhere at all.
Some interesting language in that little note of Paul’s. Words and phrases like “perhaps” or “if the Lord allows” – one translation has “maybe even.” All of these suggest that even though Paul had a direction in his life and ministry, he was also open to change and to God’s leadership. It’s one thing to have no direction at all. It’s another to be so rigid and locked in to your plans that not even God can get through to you.
Are you one of those people who believe that “plan B” shows a lack of faith? You’d better take that up with Paul. There are going to be times when you are sure you know the will of God, and you know where you’re going, and it just doesn’t work out that way. What are you going to do when those times come?
I love the fact that Paul had a vision for future ministry, but his vision began with where he was. There was work to do in Ephesus, and he wouldn’t leave until the job was done. He was going to be faithful and responsible where he was, until God told him to go somewhere else.
One of the rudest awakenings I ever had was the discovery that I was living on “Someday Isle.” You ever been there? Someday, when I get out of school… Someday, when I get married… Someday, when this kid gets here… Someday when I get that new job or promotion…
The problem is, when you’re living on Someday Isle, you are ignoring or making excuses for the opportunities that are right in front of you. Your future begins with whatever you are involved in now. If you want to get a hold on tomorrow, start by seizing today.
Paul looked at the challenges all around him and described two things: an open door and many adversaries. May I suggest to you that any time God opens a door for you, there are going to be adversaries? And the opposite is also true – when you see adversity, it’s time to start looking for the open door.
What you see when you face those circumstances says a lot about you. Some people only see the open door. Some only see the potential problems. But some people face the opposition with optimism and when they do, they create opportunities.
One thing is certain – nobody ever moved forward with transforming power by expecting the worst.
As you look to the future, you’re going to have to realize that you don’t live in a vacuum, or on an island. There are other people with whom you must learn to live and cooperate. One thing that Paul shows very clearly is that he was a team man. You see this in his concern for Timothy and how he was treated. Lesson: Don’t get so caught up in your own little world, and your own plans that you forget other people around you.
You also see this in Paul’s respect for others’ plans and desires. I sure would like to have heard that conversation between Paul and Apollos. Paul wanted him to return to Corinth badly, and Apollos said, NO! Seriously. Somebody said “No” to Paul. The Apostle could have been critical, but he respected the wishes and desires of his friend.
Who do you need to look out for, work with, or draw help from? Who do you need to partner up with, support, or encourage? One of the greatest ways to manage your uncertainties is to stop living like a Lone Ranger.
In thinking about how Paul approached his uncertainties, it’s just as telling to me what isn’t present. You don’t see any fear. You don’t see bull-headed stubbornness. You don’t see a bunch of finger-pointing or excuses. You don’t see gloom and doom. And you don’t see a control freak living in isolation. What you do see is a man whose future was just as uncertain as yours, following hard after the calling of the One who still holds the future today.
And regardless of how your tomorrows turn out, you can trust Him.