Pastor Kris Vallotton of Bethel Church in Redding, California is known for addressing relevant topics in the Christian life in a down-to-earth and honest manner. He lives up to the tagline of his blog: Raw, Real and Relevant. Time and again, his blog posts — though drawing conclusions I do not always agree with — cause me to think hard about what it is I believe and what it means to be a Christian.
And a recent piece of his was no exception. In it, he asks the question, “Can you mess up God’s plan for your life?” He answers by quoting Jeremiah 29:11, which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you” and concludes that God does not have just one plan but many, all designed to “get you to your purpose.” Vallotton argues that “perfection was never the plan” and invites us to “take the high stakes out of the equation of our destinies and take the weight of the world off our shoulders and take a deep breath.”
I must admit, I am one for taking a deep breath (and for anyone encouraging me to do so), especially if I find myself taking life too seriously. And let’s face it: All of us are inclined to find ourselves taking life too seriously from time to time. It does not take much these days to find oneself wrapped around the axle of life.
But something about Kris Vallotton’s scriptural interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 gave me pause: It just did not sit right with me. And of course, that just got me thinking . . .
Below are my reflections on the topic of God’s plans, messing up God’s plan for your life, taking life too seriously, and everything in between.
- “Plans” Does Not Necessarily Suggest Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Let’s say I work for an advertising agency and you are one of my clients. If I say to you, “I got some really great ideas for your product,” am I suggesting to you that some of them are mediocre and will fail? Hopefully not!
Likewise, if God says to us, “I know the plans I have for you,” He is surely not suggesting some of them are not going to work out. In fact, God being God, His plans are perfect. We are the ones with imperfect plans — or at least imperfect cooperation with God’s perfect plans.
- Our Whole Life is a Plan B. This is where I am with Kris — though perhaps not exactly in the way he means. We often have it in our heads that the Christian life involves being spiritually lost, then getting saved, then perfectly executing on God’s plan for our lives. The last step is what Kris calls the “spiritual tightrope.”
The problem is: Steps one and two suggest we are not terribly inclined to perfect execution. What makes us think we will be any good at it now?
Now here you may have your own answer. You may say God does in fact demand perfect execution — a Plan A. And so you adopt a lifestyle of rigid practices and rules to ensure it. But I think such a life only manages to keep us small and, ironically, protects us not from imperfection but from God Himself. By insisting on a Plan A, we actually fail it.
Or you may say we now have the Holy Spirit, so we have power to perfectly walk out the Christian life. Be that as it may, it still does not seem to keep us from the experience Kris describes in practice. We find ourselves with the weight of the world on our shoulders, feeling as though every decision we make is high stakes. Our Plan A falters, or perhaps freezes us into immobility.
I would like to suggest the entirety of the Christian life is a Plan B — and a Plan C, and D and E and F. But this, in my opinion, does not mean God is not into perfection. Rather, we must take a closer look at how perfection is defined.
- Perfection Is not the Problem. The problem I have with the idea that “Perfection was never [God’s] plan” as Kris says, is that it can leave us with the impression that in any moment or situation we face, God does not really care what we do. I simply do not believe that properly characterizes the God we serve. Perfection has always been God’s plan.
But how we define perfection is critically important. As Kris’ article makes clear, many of us have a tendency to obsess over the decisions we make and the things we do when it comes to seeking perfection in the Christian life. This reveals something about the perfection we believe God seeks: We think it is primarily about conduct — or what we have called perfect execution.
But the reason preoccupation with our decisions does not bring peace but instead only anxiety is because God is not into perfect execution; He is into perfect union. He desires intimacy.
- It Is All About Intimacy. Something interesting about Kris’ message is that after declaring perfection was never God’s plan, he does not recommend that we simply not care. On the contrary, he says, “I want to encourage you that no matter where you’re at in your journey, keep pressing forward and pressing into [God]. He’s good, and He’s got your back!”
What Kris is really doing here is not so much abandoning the notion of perfection, but rather replacing one perfection with another: The perfection of intimacy. Believing the weight of the world (and God’s continuing favor in our lives) rests on the next decision we make violates perfect intimacy. On the other hand, knowing that God’s goodness is not dependent on a single decision, or any decision really, deepens it.
What does it mean, then, to “keep pressing forward and pressing into Him”? We are talking here about the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit, so it may be different for each of us. However, I would suggest at the very least, it will involve less effort around actions and decisions to attract and ensure His favor, and more effort around cultivating a lifestyle that attracts His presence.
Which, after all, may be the whole point of all this.