God Does Not Have a Plan for Your Life

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By Jennifer Johnson

“God’s plan for your life isn’t a map you see all at once, but a scroll unrolled a little at a time, requiring faith,” Rick Warren recently tweeted.

“God will accelerate his plan for your life as you put your trust in him. God is giving you victory sooner than you think,” says Joel Osteen.

Less prominent Christians champion the theology as well. In responding to a new believer’s question about his career, a contributor to Bible-Knowledge.com writes, “God will now be the one to fully guide you into whatever jobs he will want you to have. . . . The choice is no longer yours! In the meantime, God will make sure you have enough money and support coming in to keep you afloat until this next job comes through.”

It is comforting to believe God has mapped out our future. It is exciting to think he’s bringing me victory. And I would love for God to make sure I have enough money while I passively wait for it to happen.

But unlike pastors Warren and Osteen, Mr. Bible-Knowledge, and many Christians I know, I don’t believe God has created a plan for my life—or for yours.


Problems with “The Plan”

• We take verses out of context.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a cherished verse, frequently used for encouragement in graduation cards, post-breakup pep talks and, yes, job searches. (Well-meaning believers have recited it to me in all three contexts.) Along with The Bachelorette and people who refuse to vaccinate their children, its yanked-out-of-context use is one of the biggest pet peeves of my life.

Somehow we forget the grim reality surrounding this verse: amidst oracles of doom and judgment against Judah, Jeremiah says these words to comfort the people (as a group) with promises of eventual restoration and return from exile.

This is a bit different from claiming it as a guarantee of a fulfilling job, wonderful spouse, or ministry “call.”

Moreover, for every verse we quote to support the presence of a divine plan, there are others suggesting God is not super concerned with our understanding of it.

Throughout the Bible we encounter people frustrated and confused by life. Abraham is challenged to sacrifice Isaac. Joseph is jailed in Egypt for speaking the truth and behaving honorably. Hosea is asked to marry a prostitute. John the Baptist is imprisoned and beheaded; before his death he questions the point of his entire ministry. “Are you really the one?” he asks Jesus.

Most of the “Bible heroes” experienced huge setbacks with little explanation. As for the “ordinary” believers, Jesus spoke in parables his followers didn’t understand and weren’t supposed to (Luke 8:10).

From his caution about trees in the Garden to the mysteries of Revelation, the Bible consistently communicates God’s love, his wisdom—and his apparent unconcern that we figure him out.


• It can harm, not help.

For years I believed God not only had a specific plan for my life, but he was keeping it from me. As I struggled to choose a major in college, I wondered about all the other 20-year-olds in my dorm. Did they have it figured out? Why would God enlighten them and not me? As I made the first steps of my career I pleaded with God to show me his will. “You know I’ll do anything you want,” I once prayed. “Why won’t you tell me?”

My friends have struggled, as well. When I explored these concepts on my blog, one commented, “Doesn’t God lead us if we spend enough time in his presence? Isn’t a lack of ‘calling’ really a sign of an immature Christian?”

If we don’t see The Plan, it’s easy to feel forgotten or ignored by God. The belief in a heavenly micromanager almost guarantees feelings of anger and resentment when the answers don’t come.

Or, like my friend, we assume the communication problem is our own lack of faithfulness. Perhaps if we prayed more fervently, fasted more frequently, or read the Bible more regularly God would finally break down and give us a glimpse of his will.

The God-has-a-plan theology must also encompass our heartaches. Does his plan really include sexually molested children? If God “gave you” your spouse, why does your equally faithful friend remain unmarried? If we believe God has a detailed plan full of good things for every person, we must also have an answer (better than “everything happens for a reason”) for that devastated child and lonely single man.


• It ignores the freedom God gives us.

“The choice is no longer yours!” exclaims the website writer, apparently delighted at his loss of options.

Yet the Bible consistently points to God giving us many choices; from asking Adam to name the animals to allowing our rejection of his Son, God offers humanity a staggering amount of freedom.

We love to talk about God as Father when it comes to his love, care, and compassion, but if we are going to use the metaphor we must accept its full ramifications. My own father does not control my life. He does not make decisions for me, tell me where to work, or insist I marry a specific person. He did not tell me what to write in this article. He raised me to think critically, develop my character, and use good judgment.

If good earthly fathers do not dictate life for their children, why would a perfect heavenly Father?


All Stars

So why is the belief in God’s master plan still so prevalent?

For one thing, it’s a spiritual way to abdicate responsibility—if I can figure out what ministry or profession I’m “called” to, I don’t have to risk making a bad decision on my own.

If God has already planned our majors, careers, spouses, and futures we can bypass the hard work of dating, auditioning, interviewing, researching, moving, learning, and failing. (It’s interesting that while many of us will reject Calvinist theology in matters of salvation, we embrace the idea of a predestined personal life.)

By the way, my childhood dream was to become a belly dancer, which I consider irrefutable proof that your first “calling” is not always the best one.

Many of us also believe life is a movie and we have a starring role. Have you ever noticed God always calls people to plant a church, start a ministry, or launch a speaking career? No one ever gets called to work as a maid at the Best Western in Altoona, Kansas (population 454). No one “has a passion” for less excitement or less attention. As the popular Monster.com commercials remind us, no child ever said, “When I grow up I want to file all day.”

But believing God has a specific (and blessing-filled) plan for their lives lets American individualists feel special. Preoccupation with oneself seems more holy if wrapped in Christianese language.

The problem is we aren’t all special. There was one Moses and millions of followers, one Mary and a country full of unremarkable Jewish girls. For every Billy Graham there are stadiums full of “ordinary” Christians.

Do we not feel “called” to be one of these nameless, obedient believers, or does it just offend our sense of importance? As author Donald Miller says, if you are a pregnant virgin or an angel wants to wrestle with you, God may have a plan for you. Otherwise, it’s likely you are a not a main character in the story he’s writing.


Choose Your Own Adventure

Because we’ve tied a belief in God’s plan to our understanding of his love for us, a sense of loss can accompany this realization. Some people feel scared or alone; others confuse it with lack of faith in God’s sovereignty. When I once told a boyfriend I didn’t believe God had chosen a specific person for me to marry, he sputtered and stammered, “Are you really a Christian?”

Yes, I am a Christian (one who is glad she ended that relationship). I believe God is firmly in control of his creation, accomplishing his work of redemption and salvation through (and in spite of) us, and inviting us to partner with him. I believe the call to every believer is the same—to become more like Jesus and to serve him in our own small corners of the world.

But he allows us to choose how we obey this call, and for me this is proof of his great love. He promises to direct our steps, but not to dictate them. He doesn’t say we’ll always understand, but he promises we won’t be abandoned. Jeremiah’s assurance of “a hope and a future” is not a guarantee of career fulfillment or marital bliss; it’s the promise of real relationship with a faithful, mysterious Father.


Jennifer Taylor, one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Read her blog at www.seejenwrite.com.

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  1. You hit the nail on the head when you said Gods plan is for us to be more like Jesus. That is what it’s all about and has been about before the foundation of the world. To be like Christ. God has a plan, it’s called salvation. My life is broken and I can’t fix it. Failed marriages, failed jobs, failed at being the best father I could have been and I can’t fix it. I have failed at many things in my life and I can’t fix those things, but I have found the one thing that I can win, one thing I don’t have to fail at, and it’s my God given choice, my free will. I can say no to sin and yes to Jesus, I can choose to have faith in Gods word. I can still win this race and that’s success!

  2. Great sentiments Phillip. Sounds like you are definitely on the right track.

    Jennifer – what a wonderful article. Honest & refreshing. Really helped me.
    P.S. So glad you dumped that guy that questioned your Christianity. Good decision.

  3. I agree BUT your point of an earthly father and perfect heavenly father falls short. I get the point about God not controlling but your earthly father doesn’t know you like God nor does he see the future today like God does. The whole analogy of God as father will always fall short because earthly fathers are not perfect.

    Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People makes the point that everyone wants to be important. The whole superstar Christian thing is really damaging to the faith on the whole. I see it manifested in basic religious rituals like closing our eyes and squinting our faces or extending our hands when we pray. Its also in the whole church structure and liturgy of our services and “leadership” It is everywhere and makes it hard for me to concentrate on what is important in church. People just want to feel like a super hero and therefore want miracles and other fireworks for all the wrong reason. We want these things and money so that we can spend it on ourselves not others or to glorify God.

    We have a warped sense of entitlement in recent generations and I believe propaganda and expectation of a “special plan” by groups like Campus Crusade has really crippled many Christians with a constant nagging that they are inferior, just making the wrong choices, and leading people to less of a life than they could have if they just made a decision.

  4. This is well-written and where my thinking has been struggling. Growing up in the church, praying, seeing my reality, etc. I have struggled with the concept that God has a plan or a calling because I have struggled and still do to figure out my fit in this world and how to achieve my dreams and goals. More and more I believe the Lord is there for our own individual moral compass and that how life goes is more a result of the Law of Attraction, our genetics, personality, how we present ourselves, how we are perceived by others (either accurately or inaccurately), the natural talents we each possess, our personalities, the skills we have learned and the people we have met. I still pray, but am not sure anymore what gets heard…I just chalk it up to he is doing something, there is a spiritual world playing into our lives, but the rules of the world I see dictate the most and blessing from obeying the Lord seem more in the next world than in the current world as I live.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I appreciate your faith and how down to earth you are with life. I needed to read this.

  6. Have you ever read “Decision Making and the Will of God” by Gary Friesen ?? It is a real eye opener. There are many “traditions” of the Christian faith that are just not biblical. Also many of the stories used by “motivational pastors” are not normative, not even in the lives of those where the miraculous happened.

  7. I think that there’s a difference between God having a ‘plan’ for someone and a ‘purpose’ for someone. God has HIS plan (for all of creation), and we all fit into that plan. Thus you could say that we all have a different role in God’s plan – which we could call our purpose.

    so I’d say, God Has a plan, not for us, but for the salvation of the world and our purpose in life is to join God in His plan in the way that He wants us to.

    The problem, as some bloggers have stated is essentially that a lot of Christians feel that the only purpose that’s acceptable is super stardom and if their not the lead singer at Hillsong, a TV Evangelist or a Faith Healer then they’ve fallen short!

  8. I didn’t find this post one bit encouraging. No, I don’t think we are puppets and God is just going to give us a perfect life, but the word guidance would be nice to know is part of his plan. The way you spelled it out, we are down here on our own.

    “But he promises we won’t be abandoned”–the truth of the matter is we are. Prayers go unanswered and at times I have suffered depression so bad that I have almost killed myself.. The fact I didn’t is of no credit to God. I accept his Son so I don’t go to Hell, but you’re article just reinforced what I have always suspected: God gave us free will and wishes us the best of luck, but don’t bother Him by praying for anything.

  9. Jennifer: Thank you so much for this brilliant,well-reasoned article. It expresses thoughts that have confounded and vexed me for so long and which have nearly led me to the point of giving up on God.

    That God has the CAPACITY to micromanage is not to say that He either intends or desires to do so. I wish that so many evangelical preachers would come to this realization, because this ‘special-plan’ theology imposes insurmountable burdens on the body of Christ.

    Thank you again.

    Brian K

  10. GOD is perfect beyond our imagination. GOD has a plan for everyone. EVERYONE! On all continents on earth.
    Our very hairs are numbered.
    Everything happens for a reason.
    Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. – Hebrew 11:1

  11. A response to John:

    My heart goes out to you. I have struggled with a lot of suffering at the hands of others…and it’s far easier for me to accept that my personal suffering is somehow a part of God’s plan, than it is to accept that somehow in God’s wisdom, evil finite human beings are responsible for choosing from an infinite number of possibilities– the consequences of which we cannot possibly predict from our limited perspective.

    I don’t have the answer for you… But I can tell you that this idea of unrestrained free will in the world does not stand to reason, nor is it found in the Gospels. If you don’t believe me, read them again with new eyes– Jesus came for the sick, and the imprisoned. Who would choose to be ill or be in bondage of they could choose otherwise all on their own? For myself, I’ve come to believe that There is no free will apart from Christ. And the freedom we do find in Christ is restrained to whether we continue to choose a life in the Spirit, or return to one of separation and illusion.

  12. Well stated. Right on target. My impression is that believers understandably want comfort in the face of all the horrible circumstances that can befall us. it makes us feel better to think that God is benevolently behind it all. if that is the case, we can relax. but the Fall did a number of humanity, and not just unbelievers. we all labor under the effects of sin, and if God is programming things so that believers don’t have to suffer the consequences of the Fall, then the Bible fails to point that out. I do indeed wish all my life’s events were exactly what God designed, but in my heart I know personally the sinful motives that led to many of the unfortunate events I experienced. and I learned from them. but I doubt seriously that God programmed me to sin as I did. Good article, well articulated. thanks.

  13. Think of it this way. The Lord is our Shepherd and we are his sheep. Without a shepherd we would all be scattered and lost. When you become saved you are a part of the lord’s flock. Sheep do not make their own decisions they follow what the shepherd intends for them. If you follow and believe in the bible then you are being tended by God and you are not in control. You are a part of God’s will and we all play a role in it. When you follow Gods word every decision that you make in life is based on God’s word, so in a sense you are not making your own decisions. God is doing all of the decision making for you. Decisions unguided by God are fleshly decisions and we all know the outcome of fleshly decisions. God has a will for everyone whether it is glorious or humble. Just accept what God is doing in your life and know that he is working on you. God is not human and do not expect him to think like one. You will never understand the reasoning behind a majority of his decisions, so do not stress yourself out trying to. Just follow him and accept that everything that happens in life is a part of his plan for you. FAITH in god and everything that he says in the bible will destroy any doubt that you have. If your heart is with God and you have given yourself to him then the decisions that you make are driven by him and not you. YOU ARE NOT MAKING THE DECISIONS IF YOU HAVE TRULY GIVEN YOURSELF TO GOD HE IS.

  14. Well said, Eddie; some good points though Jennifer. I think these big preachers put people under a cloud of feeling inadequate because success in serving the Lord is portrayed as this big blinding ministry all the time and I sympathise with struggling to hear God on decisions . . . not that God doesn’t do that, but the truth is we should be looking to God’s Word primarily to discern his will. There’s been a lot of extreme teaching out there over the years in this matter, and I think it’s done a lot of damage. The emphasis in Scripture is on God leading us, as Eddie has said. I reccommend the books The Mystery of God’s Will by Chuck Swindoll and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges.

  15. Dear Jennifer: I have mulled over this article several times since it appeared in the Standard. I read all the comments, and there were many as you know, even from the highly respected Victor Knowles. Good points were made from both perspectives, but I tended to agree with the ‘opposition’ as it were.

    Still, when I thought about your article, my thoughts about God’s plans for us were nebulous, at best. Until this last year when it all seemed to gel. Goes DOES have a plan for each of us and that plan is that we each and every one will ‘die to self’ daily (Luke 9:23) at which point, all the pieces will fall into place; but that will look different for each of us. This is not an abstract concept; nothing in the Bible is, I have come to believe, though oftentimes it can be difficult to grasp these truths on a personal level.

    So I went back and reread your article to see if you had touched on this, but if you did, I missed it.

    And the reason God can be so detail oriented when it comes to each of us is because the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21) through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus (Romans 8:9).

    And then there’s Ephesians 2:10; sounds like a plan to me! : )

    Lest this smack of Calvinism, I believe we all have free will, and can spit in God’s face if we so choose and as the Romans did to Jesus. But once we surrender, and His Spirit invades us to the extent WE allow it, then we are more open to His presence and His guidance. And what a wonderful place to be…life abundant, to the max!

    L W Park

  16. I believe Jennifer is right on many points. But the Bible does say to acknowledge the Lord on all thy ways and he shall direct your path. It’s up to me to take that direction or ignore it and take my own. Fear is the biggest obstacle of trying to follow the Lord’s directions as we worry about the outcome resulting from following his direction. And just how much we fear his direction says a lot about how much we trust and know him…doesn’t it?

  17. I have been struggling with infertility for many years. People always tell me God has a plan, there is a reason you are struggling with this. I know for some, thinking that helps them, but it never has helped me. I don’t believe that God wants me to suffer and struggle. I don’t think he wants children born to women who are on drugs. Reading your article has put my mind at ease, more than anything anyone has ever said to me! Thank you!

  18. Thanks for posting this thought-provoking article. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. I believe God has both an overall plan for all of humanity and in many respects, a plan for each of us. He doesn’t necessarily have a program for each day or even year. He doesn’t necessarily have a spouse or career picked out for us, but he has given us the capacity to work these things out for ourselves and to seek guidance through prayer and the Holy Ghost. He has answered many of my prayers. I know He is there and wants the best for us. But there are many times where answers don’t come and we are left wondering what to do. These are times for growth. That is one of the main purposes of our lives – to grow in character, in capacity to choose and to act with our own free will. To choose to follow Christ! We have the Scriptures to teach us of his character and his actions. Go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).

    God’s plan is that all of humankind be redeemed through his Son. That is his work and glory. He knew awful and terrible things would happen to us here in this life because of the agency he gave us. His plan is to redeem us from those things as we accept Christ. People can heal from awful things. Think of Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped and raped at 14 – what could be worse? But she has healed through faith in Christ. Check out her video https://youtu.be/lfQlN_rhzNQ.

  19. I really enjoyed this post and article, Jennifer. Thank you for writing and sharing it, and please keep up everything.


  1. God Does Not Have a Plan for Your Life – By Jennifer Taylor | Thoughts of a Seminary Student

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