Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2015.
In elementary school, someone gave me one of those wallet-sized prayer cards made out of cardstock. It was pink and purple, with an adorable cartoon butterfly and big chunky letters boldly proclaiming, “God has a wonderful plan for your life!” Like any good 9-year-old, I hung the butterfly card on my wall and soaked in that truth every day for a long time.
People talk a lot about this wonderful plan that God has for us. After all, He has “plans for welfare…to give you a future and a hope,” right? (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV). And “for those who love God, all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Plus, “no good thing will He withhold” (Psalm 84:11). To top it off, He is our heavenly Father, infinitely more loving and perfect and wise than the best earthly father — He will give us fish and not a snake, bread and not rocks (Luke 11:11-13).
But this “wonderful life” sure doesn’t look so wonderful for the role models God gives us in His Word. For example, the disciples, who were basically all martyred. Or Mary, who loved God with all her heart and ended up shunned as a pregnant teenager. Or David, whose Psalms clearly show that though we remember him as a successful man of God, he was in the dredges. A lot. Let’s not even start with Job.
Before I can begin to think that these are exceptions (because, after all, anyone who has been made into flannel graph is a little hard to relate to) I can’t help but notice a similar pattern much closer to home. For example, there’s Adoniram and Ann Judson, an extremely godly couple who served as America’s first foreign missionaries, commissioned to Burma in 1812. From the world’s perspective, they lived a pretty wretched existence, involving everything from years in military prison to starvation, burying multiple children, and eventually the deaths of Ann, then Adoniram’s second wife, and finally Adoniram himself. Change the names, dates and country, and you get a pretty good picture of a lot of faithful missionaries.
God is a loving Father. That is absolutely, 100 percent non-negotiable. Clearly, the Scriptures mentioned earlier are true (although, context is important for a couple of them — Jeremiah 29:11 is talking specifically about the nation of Israel while in Babylonian exile, which, well, isn’t me). So, that means that we are left with two facts: (1) God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life and (2) The whole “wonderful” thing doesn’t seem to have worked out for a lot of people who believed that.
I think the trouble is that I’ve been given the wrong definition of “wonderful.” It doesn’t mean what I think is best for me. In some cases, it doesn’t even mean what is best for me, in an earthly sense.
Was it really “best” for Paul to give up his livelihood and reputation to eventually get thrown in prison and killed? Or was it “best” for Mary Livingston to go back to Africa with her husband, David, where she died at age 41 of tropical diseases? Honestly, no. Not if you are trying to imagine this “wonderful plan” from an earthly perspective.
I want a wonderful life, but that isn’t about me. It’s about the kingdom of God. A “wonderful life” is one in which we serve passionately, fiercely and to our final breath, completing the tasks we’ve been put here to do. God absolutely will take care of me. He promises that (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:25-34). It just might not look like what the world expects. An awesome spouse, beautiful children, and a 9-5 that pays the bills with plenty to spare isn’t guaranteed. Rather, God’s taking care of me means His enabling me to do everything I need to do for His glory. That could mean getting thrown into a situation where all of earthly life, from finances and health to relationships and emotions, is tottering on the edge every day, but His name is being proclaimed.
“Wonderful” is not what is best for my comfort, but what is best for His kingdom. We exist for the sole purpose of bringing glory to God. If we are following His lead and doing that, we are living a wonderful life.
I’m praying that this changes the way I think about my future. I need to quit asking myself things like, “What would be best for my career?” or “What would make me happiest?” I’m living for something bigger than that. The butterfly card wasn’t wrong: His plan for me is wonderful, but He has a definition of “wonderful” that lasts forever.
Emma Beecken lives in St. Paul, Minn., where she is studying education and history because of her love of small children and old books.
Copyright 2015 Emma Becken. All rights reserved. Used with permission.