Why Plan B is Plan A: Learning What God Wants for Your Life
- Shawn McEvoy Managing Editor, Crosswalk.com
- 2010 4 Oct
Sometimes even our best laid plans don't work out the way we'd hoped. We don't all grow up to do what we thought we would do, and what looks like failure descends upon us all. However, that does not mean God is absent from our struggles. Pete Wilson, author of plan b: what do you do when god doesn't show up the way you thought he would?, believes that it is only by overcoming fear and giving up control that we are able to discover the life God has planned for us.
Crosswalk.com: Pete, in Plan B, one of the things you demonstrate is how God does His best work in some of our most hopeless situations. If that's a given, is there ever a "Plan B" or was that really the only workable plan all along?
Pete Wilson: Well, you could really go deep with the theology behind that. I think we all face Plan B's, because often life does not turn out the way we thought it would. We have all of these dreams, but no one ever dreamed that they would end up with cancer at 35, or that they would be divorced at 45, or lose their job at 50. You face all of these situations in life that just do not turn out the way you hoped they would. So, in essence, they are certainly plan B's to us. Now obviously, for God in His sovereignty, I don't believe that it is His Plan B. But for us, from a human standpoint, we face these shattered dreams all the time.
(Watch the video version of this interview below)
CW: Regarding shattered dreams, one of the things you say is that we need to learn to put fear in its proper place. Which is…?
PW: Fear is also just a normal thing. Fear in and of itself is not an issue. Fear without faith is a huge issue, especially for those of us who are believers in Christ, because fear establishes the limits of your life. If you fear heights, you will stay low. If you fear outside, you stay inside. If you fear people, you will never be in community. Since it establishes these limits on your life, it is essential that you not allow yourself to be paralyzed by it, but that you allow fear to almost become the fuel that pushes you forward through that uncomfortable moment.
If you look throughout history, if you look throughout the pages of the Bible, it is full of one person after another who had to face some kind of fear. In fact, every character in the Bible that God uses in a significant way had to go through that situation where they were facing fear, and they had to trust God in its midst that He was larger, that He was enough to sustain them through whatever it is that they feared.
CW: So how do we reconcile using fear and the importance of fear without it being part of the spirit that God gives us?
PW: Well, it is part of living in a broken, sinful world. I don't think fear is something we should look for but, the reality is, we are going to have it. Even the most mature believers face situations where they are going to experience fear. Fear is something that can be produced in our mind. It is not necessarily a bad thing. It becomes bad when we allow those fears to dictate our choices over faith, when we allow the fear to drive us instead of our faith.
There are some fears that are healthy fears. Fear right now is what keeps you from running out in front of a car. It's what keeps you from touching the hot stove. So there can be a healthy fear, but whenever you allow your fear to overcome your faith, and what it is that God can do, that is when I think our lives can go sideways.
CW: People have fears of not being in control, or of having to go to Plan B, and having things not work out. Is there ever a time to take matters into our own hands and become the stewards of our own dreams?
PW: It is a balance, and this is really difficult. As a pastor I face this all the time. People come in, and they will say, "Here is where my life is at. How much of this am I responsible for and how much of this is God responsible for?" Nine times out of ten, I tell them, "I don't have a clue." It is very difficult to look at somebody else's life and figure out that balance and that path for them. I think that at the end of the day when you are in the midst of a crisis, your illusion of control—and I think control is the greatest of all illusions—your illusion of control just gets shattered.
The illustration that I use a lot is that we view life like a little marionette puppet, where you have these strings that run down to it, and we think that we are the puppet-master of our life. We have a string that runs to our finances, and we have a string that runs to our marriage, and we have a string that runs to our career. So, what happens is, when you face crisis, all of a sudden you realize that the control was an illusion. In that moment, you are going to do one of two things. Either you are going to continue and try to control and manipulate what you cannot control and manipulate, or you will get to the point of surrender. Getting to that point of surrender is really the catalyst of spiritual transformation. It is not that we need crisis for spiritual transformation. What we need is surrender. Crisis, generally, is the vehicle that gets us to that place where we surrender.
CW: If getting to that point is so enriching and rewarding (and so many of us have been there before), why do we fear crisis or surrender, and why do we cling to the illusion of control?
PW: Well, I think it is part of human nature. Nobody likes to feel like they are out of control. It's why I'm more afraid of riding in a plane than driving a car and yet, statistically, I am much safer in a plane. I like the car because I have control. I do not like the plane because I am not the one behind the wheel.
There are so many analogies in life for that. It's scary. I believe this is part of the spiritual transformation. It's funny how, as Christians, we will trust Jesus Christ for our eternity, but we don't trust Him with our life. It does not make sense, but it is getting to that place where you say, "All right, Jesus knows more about relationships than I do. He knows more about money than I do. He knows more about this career path than I do." It is transitioning from accepting Jesus not just as your Savior but understanding He is also your Lord. He is your Teacher. There is a way in which we are to live our lives, and He kind of lays that model out for us.
CW: In the chapter "Your Jordan," you say that Plan B situations often require more of you than you thought you had. Plan A, as we develop it, seems perfect. Plan B is harder and less appealing. So why does God seem to delight in Plan B?
PW: You know, because of exactly what you just said. Plan A is all about what we can do in our own power. God does not get any glory through that. It is only when I do things that I know are beyond my ability, beyond my knowledge, and beyond my powers and my skills, that God ultimately gets glory. So that is why you see all throughout scripture God puts people in situations that are beyond anything that they are capable of doing on their own. That is why I talk in the book about that misconception that we often have in Christian circles that "God will never give you 1 Corinthians 1:13."
We have taken a verse, and we have kind of manipulated that. The verse is talking about temptation. It is not talking about the circumstances of life. Yet, we have taken that phrase, and we have made bumper stickers out of it and t-shirts and everything else. The reality is that God is going to intentionally put you in positions that are far beyond what you can handle. It is what drives you to Him.
CW: Can you describe what is happening when one comes to his or her own Jordan River, and why that is a crucial moment?
PW: Well, I think what is happening again is, we are at that place where we are facing what we believe to be impossible. We are about to encounter God in a way that we have never encountered Him before. I think the tendency for all of us, as Christians, is when life does not turn out the way that you thought it would, you immediately jump to, "God has abandoned me. He is not with me. He does not know. He doesn't care." So when you face that Jordan River, what happens when you are faithful and you trust God even when it seems like he is not there is you discover what I think is one of the most incredible truths in all of scripture: that God is powerfully present, even when he seems to be apparently absent. He is there.
It gets us to this place - at least I believe this - where you have to put your faith in God's identity and not His activity. If you are always basing your faith on God's activity, which would be the circumstances of life, then your spiritual walk is just up and down, up and down, because that is what circumstances do. It is good news, and it is bad news. When you place your faith in God's identity and who He says that He is, that is really when you begin to have some incredible spiritual growth, because you are basing it off of His promises and off of His identity and not off of His activity.
CW: Making plans for what we call "our" life feels like a private, individual thing. So how do you come to suggest that when you get to Plan B, you need community more than ever?
PW: Well, I talk about community in the book because I think that a lot of Christians, when they are in the midst of Plan B, run from community at the time that they need it the most. I think community is this incredible gift that God gives us in the midst of shattered dreams. It doesn't take away the pain, but community helps you reframe the pain. So it helps you begin to understand and see it through a different light.
The reality for me in my life is, like everyone else, I have had success and I have had Plan B's. I have had Plan A's that worked, and I have had a lot of Plan B's. Most of the success and the Plan A's that have worked in my life have not equated to authentic community. It has been a very superficial community that I have experienced when life is going well and there is lots of success. The authentic community that I have experienced in my life has been the result of Plan B's: crisis, and shattered dreams.
There is something about success that just tends to make people very superficial, and when you are around people who are in the midst of loss (and as a pastor, I have the opportunity to be around people all the time who are in the midst of great loss and crisis), what I see is authenticity. I see them being real. I see them longing and reaching out for authentic community. I will take that any day over the superficiality that I often see in circles of success.
CW: Is that why you say your greatest fear for yourself and others is a mediocre, unexamined life? Because for a lot of folks I know - myself included - that sounds like their everyday preferred schedule: for nothing to go wrong so we can go home and eat and relax and watch TV with an unburdened mind...
PW: I think the majority of us are living mediocre, unexamined lives, and we don't pause to really understand this incredible story that God is working in us and through us. I wish that as human beings there was something inside us that would wake us up to the story of God besides crisis, besides Jordan Rivers, besides shattered dreams. But the reality is, for pretty much every person I have ever met, without crisis and without shattered dreams, we live unexamined, mediocre lives. It is not until we experience pain, it is not until we experience a shattered dream or a Plan B, that we actually wake up to the story of God that is going on in us and through us. Then we start to seek Him, and we start to become serious about wanting to become the men and women that He has created us to be.
Pete Wilson is the pastor of Cross Point Community church in Nashville. Visit his blog at withoutwax.tv.
Plan B is also available in Spanish. A small group study will release in February 2011. For more information, visit www.ThomasNelson.com.
Publication date: October 4, 2010