Fully Planned?

What’s wrong with this ad?

No, it’s not the places they’ve chosen. True, these are not “frontier missions” trips—the gospel is already available in all those places. It would be difficult for a short-term missionary to accomplish much if they were pioneering a new work. Still, we are never done with evangelization, not until Jesus returns. Missionaries work in all those countries, and I’m sure they could use some help.

No, it’s not the “low budget” cost of the trip. That’s wonderful. It not only makes a cross-cultural mission experience accessible to more people, it frees resources to be used in-country.

Ah, yes. It’s the “fully planned.”

That must sound reassuring to someone who is leaving the good ol’ US for the first time. Since this ad is marketing a Bible college, we surely don’t want to worry any parents out there. Fully planned. No surprises. Everything under control. Just the way we like things.

But wait, isn’t this a mission trip? Why do we go on these trips? To see a new culture, to grow closer to God… those are our benefits. Isn’t the main point to share the gospel? Isn’t our aim to see people come to a saving relationship with Jesus?

And who actually does that work? Do we? Sure, we represent “Jesus with skin on.” God definitely uses people to bring in the harvest. But isn’t it the Holy Spirit who does the actual work of salvation?

“Fully planned.” “Holy Spirit.” Somehow, those two don’t mix well for me. It makes me sad when we have things so planned out, so organized that there is no room for God. What will we tell him when it’s all over—that we were very scheduled? Or that we loved those around us?

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen Christians try to fully plan something. We do it in our church services. We do it in our ministries. We do it in our daily lives. And we generally think it’s a good thing. Why else use it to advertise a Bible college’s mission trips?

I may be preaching to myself here. I love to have everything all arranged ahead of time. My calendar has blog ideas reaching well into 2011. I don’t like being interrupted, or having my plans changed. But that’s not God’s way.

Jesus was constantly being interrupted. He had so many people following him at one point that he and the disciples couldn’t even eat—there was simply no room (Mark 3:20). He would go off to pray and the disciples would track him down (Mark 1:35-37). Everywhere he went, the sick and demon possessed were brought to him for healing.

In one case, he was on his way to heal a critically ill girl when a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up and touched his robe. He stopped to deal with the woman, making him late enough that the ill girl died. Talk about interruptions! If we had planned the event, we probably would have told the woman, “Sorry. You’ve been bleeding for twelve years. You can wait another day.”

God, however, isn’t constrained by our limited understanding. In the end, both the bleeding woman and the dead girl are healed… and God is glorified. (The same event appears in Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, and Luke 8:40-56.)

Yet, in the midst of all this seemingly unscheduled ministry, Jesus is able to say that he only did what he heard the Father telling him to do.

It’s all right to plan things, but we need to hold our plans loosely. God might have some plans of his own!

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there….” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. … Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

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