Does God have a wonderful plan for your life?

Does God have a wonderful plan for your life? July 10, 2014

If we tell someone, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” is that true? imageFor those unfamiliar with the line, it comes from “The Four Spiritual Laws,” developed by the late Bill Bright of CRU (formerly, Campus Crusade for Christ). It is the opening sentence for one of the most commonly used evangelistic presentations in China and the world. I’m not questioning the first part, “God loves you.”

But what about the second part?

Define “Wonderful

This post draws from my experience in talking with people who have heard this or similar type evangelistic presentations. So, I’m not talking about intent. The purpose of the line, of course, is to convey God’s gracious love and grab the listener’s attention when sharing the gospel. These are admirable goals, however, might we actually mislead someone?

Many in East Asian cultures have a pragmatic view of religion. When they hear about this “wonderful” plan, they naturally think in terms health and wealth. By the average person’s definition, “wonderful” means something like having a lot of family and friends, plenty of comfort, good health, and a good deal of money. I’ve heard time and time again stories of newer “believers” who are shocked that something bad happens to them (like the death of a relative) sometime shortly after “accepting Christ.” They hear God wants to bless them.

What else are they to think, especially when they are told that this wonderful plan is for their “life”?

Define Life”

Let’s be honest….most modern evangelistic tracts emphasize “eternal life,” not this life. Yet, the first of the Four Spiritual Laws does not say God has a wonderful plan for your “eternal life.” That wouldn’t actually be true if you were speaking to a non-believer. No evangelical would say that non-believers can expect a wonderful eternal life.

Therefore, think about it. How should our listeners legitimately understand us? What exactly does one intend to communicate in saying, “God has a wonderful plan for your life?”

Pretty consistently, the Christian life in Scripture is depicted in rather difficult terms, certainly nothing that people would call “wonderful.” It may be significant and meaningful, but it requires a lot of nuance for someone to understand this by the word “wonderful.”

Adam Ford has a nice comic over at his blog that captures the point. I’ve included it below.

What do you think?

What has been your experience?

What if we talked about the cost of discipleship as much as the “wonderful plan” for their life?

What might be a clear way of communicating?

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  • Great Post and a topic that needs MUCH more significant consideration.

    I think this is all about assumptions and care with terminology – some of the basics in effective communication of any sort. In so many areas of evangelism and discipleship we fail to be aware of possible mis-understanding of words. We make so many assumptions, and we neglect to ensure that the hearer has understood the meaning we intended with clarity and accuracy.

    This is a much bigger problem than just ‘wonderful plan for your life’. When we say “God loves you” – we have to ask what the person listening understands ‘love’ to be. If we don’t clarify and correct any mis-understandings that person will interpret our words in the light of the meaning they apply to those words whether that meaning be correct or incorrect. The words ‘God has a wonderful plan for your life’ and ‘God is love’ are not incorrect if understood with biblical meaning. God’s idea of ‘wonderful’ and ‘blessing’ are not our idea. His thoughts are far above ours but we so often neglect to communicate that in our effort to (wrongly) make the gospel simply ‘attractive’. Words such as ‘success’ and ‘prosperity’ and ‘riches’ that are used in Scripture are used in certain contexts with much wider meaning than material ‘stuff’ and ‘money’. Healing in Scripture is used in more than the physical sense. When an evangelical asks a Roman Catholic if they have ‘received Christ’, a Roman Catholic will say ‘yes’ as they understand they ‘receive Christ’ in the wafer at the Mass’. The trouble is, in our evangelism and discipling new Christians, we so often fail to stop and think that the hearer is most probably not putting a biblical meaning to the words we speak. They will be putting their own meaning from their own religious, cultural and personal experiences. We may both, in a sense, be speaking the same language in vocabulary but we are speaking vastly different languages in meanings!

    This extends to even the basics of the gospel message. We need to understand the way the hearer will understand words such as ‘God’, ‘sin’, ‘forgiveness’, etc.

    This of course is so relevant to the honor/shame context as well as other cross-cultural contexts. ‘Sin’ (ie doing wrong) in honor/shame contexts for example is interpreted as bringing shame before people. ‘God’ in the context we work in is understood as the ‘highest ancestor, uninterested and detached and uninvolved in humanity’. ‘Forgiveness’ is understood solely in the context of restoring relationships with no taking into account the actual ‘breach of law/guilt’ or need to confess that which brought about the damage to relationship. If we simply say “God wants to forgive your sin” – what is the hearer understanding?

    When we add this to what I believe has been a ‘half-gospel’ that has been presented which, as you rightly pointed out, has not emphasised the cost involved in following Christ – what it means to be willing to deny self and cease seeking honor from people to do what God requires and we have failed to do – to honor Him above all else, we are going to have all kinds of problems. There will be problems in the church and with ‘Christians’ who don’t see a need to confess sin but just want everyone to love each other and enjoy happy relationships, but also see God as failing to live up to what He promised when they don’t get rich and don’t cease having difficulties in their earthly relationships.

    To complicate matters further, when reaching honor/shame emphasis cultures – in particular the one we work in, the hearer is not about to tell you that they don’t understand something or that they are confused about what is being said, as that will seem to bring shame on themselves (since they don’t understand) and/or shame on the person speaking (for not explaining themselves clearly or putting that person in a position of not knowing an answer to something). So it is even more difficult to ascertain that a person is mis-understanding. Yet this just highlights the even greater need for us to make every effort to better understand the context in which the gospel message is being heard so that we ensure it is heard the way it is meant to be heard…otherwise actually that person remains ‘unreached’ with the gospel.

    Ah, yes, Jackson, you have highlighted a VERY important and rarely spoken about issue indeed!!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I think many of your ideas will resonate with people. I appreciate your feedback and reflection.

  • Reblogged this on Werner Mischke and commented:
    Great post from my friend, Jackson Wu.

  • Ditto Sandra above. The last few years in our household have been challenging to say the least. When Christian friends say “God has something better for you around the corner. .” my answer is, “yeah- maybe a truck.” If it would serves God’s purposes for illness, unemployment, accident, persecution, losing your investments- even if you’d tried to do things right in being a good steward of the time, and resources God has given you,- or rather, us– we’re left to trust and redefine what “better” is. Some of the heroes in Hebrews 11 went around a corner and into a coliseum in animal skins for putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I’d prefer the hard word that’s honest, the lament that opens my heart to God and and upfront need for intercession to accept God’s good and to ask for strength and courage to be a good witness. Thanks for bringing this wishful language up to the light.