Man’s Plans And God’s Purposes: When Methods Have Their Place

More of the same- when methods have their place“So Lord, how will I do all of that?” Moses asked. God had begun to instruct Moses regarding the construction of the Tabernacle. You can imagine Moses think “Oh my, where do I begin” and asking that question, so God told him:

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft”. Exodus 31:2-5

God also told Moses that he had similarly prepared Oholiab who could also teach others whom God had prepared. Whilst the text shows that God had especially equipped these men through the Holy Spirit, they still had to use the methods that God had provided to achieve his plan. Those methods were practical and could be taught and learned.

When it comes to doing things to fulfil God’s Kingdom plan we both need and rely upon methods. Think about it for a minute; you use a method to make the porridge in the morning. I am using several methods as a write these words. The question is, as Christian Leaders in Churches and organisations, when seeking to determine and do God’s will, how far can we go with methods? When are methods helpful and when do they hinder?

This third article in the “Man’s Plan and God’s Purposes” series examines some of the issues around this question.

Why God Provides Methods

Why did God provide Bezalel and Oholiab and equip with them with skill and teachable methods?

Because it required skill, ability and technique to make the Tabernacle to the standard required. God had described the key requirements for the Tabernacle. Bezalel and Oholiab would then have to take God’s instructions and work out the detailed plans concerning exactly how these were to be achieved; who would do what and when? This detailed planning required knowledge of the methods they world use, the specific special abilities of the craftsmen as well as project management skills to bring it all together.

Similar use of method can be seen underlying David’s preparation for the Temple and Solomon’s construction of it. Both men had received God’s direction and they designed the temple accordingly but then used construction and management skills to determine exactly how to achieve the construction in line with God’s requirements.

So it is plain that when it comes to executing plans that methods and skills have a role. Now, one must still be certain that a chosen approach fits with God’s plans. Why? Because God may only be revealing his purposes step by step and some change may be required. Some methods that we could use may be based on philosophies opposed to Godly thinking and behaviour. Also reliance on method, especially concerning direction, can make us deaf to God and would simply not be helpful.

The Use of Methods

The question that then arises is how should we go about making and executing our Kingdom plans as we seek to serve God?

Plainly we need to discern God’s plans, simply making our own plans is not sufficient. However, we are required to participate in the process, even where God sets it all up, as with Peter and Cornelius. Had Peter stuck with his wisdom and not gone with God’s plan he would never have gone with Cornelius’ servants. (See second  “Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes” article)

We need to be flexible enough to apply God’s direction appropriately as he makes it plain to us. Consequently we need to seek God’s mind through listening prayer and obedience. After all, we are seeking to align ourselves and be obedient to God’s plan. It’s his plan and purpose not ours.

  • Paul planned his second missionary journey believing it to be God’s will. If Paul had not had the desire to bring glory and honour to God through obedience he might of ignored God and fought on, attempting to preach the Gospel in Asia. What would have become of Macedonia then?
  • Joshua appears to have sought to use “conventional wisdom” (method) to plan his battles against Jericho and Ai. It was only when the assaults were according to God’s plan that he saw success.
  • Moses was given Bezalel and Oholiab to teach methods to the Israelites called to build the Tabernacle. They were endowed with the skills by the Holy Spirit to lead and manage the work.

How should we use methods and processes in achieving God’s will?

And the answer is: With great care and with submission to God.

Reflections on Methods and Plans

The situations that we have looked at show that there is a role for methods without doubt, but we must avoid allowing those methods to displace God and his direction through the Holy Spirit. In the Kingdom context we are to bring about his will not make it up for him.

As figure 1 illustrates, methods become more useful and valid as we move from the point of God’s direction towards executing a plan that is compliant to God’s direction. Provided of course that those methods are not counter to God’s commands and expectations, and that we are always open to his leading to change course. Also some methods are just not Godly, as we discussed in the second article, and we need to avoid those at all costs.

Figure 1 God’s Direction & Man’s Methods

The further away from the point where God gives us his direction the more useful methods will become. At the execution stage it may be a completely methodical process but consecrated to God. This we see in the construction of the Tabernacle. Fundamentally hammering gold requires the skills of a goldsmith and embroidering garments requires the skills of a seamstress.

But here is the problem with reliance upon methods.

We can choose wrong methods to achieve a specific goal. When it comes to declaring the Gospel Paul avoided human wisdom as a means of persuasion to believe but rather relied upon the power of the Holy Spirit. “..my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

When it came to of the construction of the Tabernacle Bezalel, Oholiab and their workforce were anointed by God to have the necessary skills. However, they were given only the end goal, the description of the Tabernacle, and they had to use their skills and associated methods to plan and implement the execution.

When it came to execution planning Joshua forgot that God might have a specific plan when he only took notice of the intelligence he received from the Ai spies. He applied only human wisdom and method to the attack and he was faced with a disaster (see the first  “Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes”article).

Wisdom based methods can become a substitute for God’s will, especially when developing high level and strategic plans concerning Vision, Direction, Objectives and Strategies.

God is the director and we seek to implement our part in his plan. The fact is that it is his plan and his vision set according to his wisdom. This means that he must reveal it to us. Methods that derive from human wisdom will by definition be unable to show us God’s wisdom.

The attraction of these methods is that it is perhaps easier for us to try and work these things out ourselves than struggle to seek to understand God’s mind. It may also make us feel that we are doing something significant. Consequently we may have a tendency to use methods indiscriminately without understanding that they are likely to cause us to diverge from God’s plan. After all “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We saw how Paul seemed to have planned to preach the gospel in Asia but that was not God’s plan.

Participating in God’s Plan

When it comes to our participation in God’s plans and purposes we need to keep in sight that:

  • God has a plan and it his plan that will prevail, we must therefore seek God in order that we might obediently align ourselves and join in with his will. (Romans 12:2)
  • God’s plan can be counter-intuitive or simply seem “off the wall” or even “unthinkable” from our perspective, in which case no planning method based on human wisdom can ever align with it.
  • Often God will only reveal his plan a step at a time; we therefore need to be attentive to him and flexible enough to be obedient to him as it is progressively revealed.
  • God’s wisdom is not man’s wisdom, which is the basis of man’s methods, so planning based solely on man’s method will likely miss the mark.
  • Methods can provide insight into situations enabling us to ask the right questions of God and so more intelligently seek his will.
  • Methods can enable us to think differently by developing new or different perspectives, releasing us to hear God when our thinking would otherwise constrain us only to the “thinkable”.
  • Methods can enable us to execute God’s plan, but we must always be attentive to God’s will, especially if he is progressively revealing his plan.
  • Nothing we do should be out of step with the Bible.

What can we do?

Apart from not using method to cut God out and not using methods that are in opposition to Biblical teaching, it is simply difficult to set out hard and fast rules about how to use methods for the Kingdom, they have their place.

When it comes to finding our direction, the more we can “tune in to God” the better. It’s his plans that prevail and it’s his purpose to which we need to be obedient. It’s here that using methods will at best cause us to ask God the right kind of questions. However, devising a Kingdom direction using human wisdom based methods alone will miss the mark.

When it comes to executing a plan, then methods come into their own because they are the outworking of our God given ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship. However, we must concecrate ourselves, our thinking and our efforts, always keeping close to God to be certain we are going his way and are attentive when he reveals his plan progressively.

As leaders, Jesus is our role model and it is notable that he explained that what he did was the father’s will not his own. “So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.'” John 5:19&20. We know from the Gospel account that Jesus stayed close to his father through times alone in prayer. When it comes to working out plans and strategies that is where we must be also.

Reflection

Take a moment to reflect upon how as a Servant Leader in God’s service you establish your plans.

  • How heavily do you reply upon methods to bring about the Kingdom?
  • How do you set about determining God’s direction and plan for you, your church or organisation?
  • Do you seek God’s direction at all levels of your work, even for the detailed activities?
  • Are you flexible enough to let God change your plans?

How far do you think it is appropriate to rely upon method when working out Kingdom plans?

This is part of a  three article series entitled “Man’s Plans and God’s Purposes” which looks at the issue of how we determine God’s plans and then execute them:

Part 1: Being Effective for the Kingdom

Part 2: According To Whose Plan?

Image: Patrick Hoesly Flickr

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