Our life planning must start with God

Gordon Hendrickson

By the Rev. Gordon Hendrickson
Eastern PA Conference Coordinator of Congregational Development

By the Last week for Palm Sunday, we looked at how to overcome the fear or anxiety of death.  We have no control over this aspect of life.  I was just reading Philippians where Paul says he would rather be in heaven with Jesus; but if God still has work for him to do, then he will stay and do it.  Life is about living for what Christ wants us to be doing to build His kingdom. 

Oftentimes we are so absorbed in living life that we forget why we are here.  I say this about the church, too.  We are so busy doing church that we forget why we exist as a church. 

As my wife Karen and I plan for our retirement, we have to balance what we want to do with our time and the finances to enable this to happen.  How much time do we want to work or not to work?  How much time do we want to play—go on extended vacations or stay in Florida for extended periods of time?  How much time do we want with kids and grandkids?  When do we downsize and sell our home here in PA? At some point health issues may change any of the above. 

Young families have to do the same planning, too.  How much money do we need to live? Where should we live?  Are we making enough, or do we have to look for part-time jobs to supplement our income? Or maybe we need to accept a transfer for a better paying job. 

And at what cost to our children and personal health do we do this?  Do we need to scale back and really look at getting debt-free? How do we balance work and family?  What should we allow our children to do, and at what cost to our finances and to our family time together?  How do we balance our faith responsibilities with our busy family life? What are our responsibilities to our own parents? 

What often happens in our plans is God gets pushed to the back or becomes merely one slice of the pie in our list of things to balance.  In reality, God should be the first priority in all decisions of what we choose to do.  He is the pie.

Let’s take a look at Holy Week and the Easter story.  The darkest time in human history is when Christ dies on the cross.  For all who believed that Jesus was the answer, the Messiah, his death brought to an end HOPE.  Those who were walking on the road to Emmaus, talking with the resurrected Jesus, state this plainly. “We had hoped he was the Messiah who would bring salvation to the world.  All of our plans went up in smoke.”

Why didn’t they recognize Jesus?  Was it the sun in their eyes or was it their lack of belief at that moment?  You see, God’s plans are often different from our plans. None of the disciples understood God’s plan.  For them, God doesn’t die. 

If you study the early church, you will see this heresy play out. God can’t die on the cross.  He only appeared to die.  Unless, Christ dies on the cross, none of our sins die with him, and there can be no eternal life.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians that God’s plan for salvation seems like utter foolishness—but to those of us who believe it makes perfect sense.

Let’s move back to our planning in our lives.  You may not know this about me, but I am a person who can plan five and ten years out.  Seeing the big picture has always been a gift.  Yet, even in all my plans God has other plans for me. 

Last week I shared my plan not to go to Africa, but God changed it, and it became a part of my plan of salvation from God. Continually not listening to God is called sin. Fortunately, there is grace. God often asks us to go a different route than we ever imagined. 

I was senior pastor at St. George’s UMC in Philadelphia when I had a call from God to leave the pastoral ministry and to go and do—he didn’t tell me what. I felt a little like Abraham receiving the call from God to leave Haran and go to an unnamed destination, to a land he would never own. God told him he would have descendants in this land, as many as the stars in the sky, but he had no children. He was a senior citizen looking at retiring with family and friends in Haran. No wonder Sarah laughed when she heard God’s plan for her husband.

The implications of not knowing your future work can create a certain bewilderment. After all, I was 50 years old and I was receiving a nice compensation package—around $75,000, including housing, health insurance, pension, and salary. The new call guaranteed nothing.  What would Karen say? What would people around me say? How was I going to continue to pay the mortgage and other bills?  

After talking to everyone in my life about this change, I told God I needed an angel to “tell me this is what you want me to do.  Send me someone to validate this call.”  Have you ever demanded the same in your life?

I was attending annual conference at Tindley Temple UMC in Philadelphia when a person sitting three rows in front of me came and tapped me on the shoulder. He said he felt God calling him to talk to me. He was the conference youth minister, whom I barely knew. 

We left the church and went out on Broad Street to talk. He said he had no idea why God wanted him to talk to me; but he proceeded to tell me about his plans. He said he had resigned from his position as conference youth pastor. He and his wife were leaving to go back to Las Vegas where they came from. Neither of them had any jobs to go to and didn’t know how they would make it. They just trusted God to provide for them. 

There was my angel or my messenger from God.  I left St. George’s to begin a journey to do whatever God wanted me to do.  It became rather evident that this included training pastors and doing mission work. Of course, I also started to do training to do capital campaign fundraising for churches, to do retreats for churches, and to look at connecting with two churches to do some short-term mission work. 

I found a core of people from St. George’s and UMCOR who became a part of my ministry team.  They supported me with money and joined my mission projects.  We had regular worship together at the Coventry Tea Room—my first and only restaurant. God opened up a means for me to help buy this restaurant with two other partners.  It provided some revenue and meeting space for my mission gatherings.  

In addition, I expanded an off-campus school for local pastors in the Eastern PA Conference through Wesley Seminary.  Also, I continued to do the Eastern PA Conference licensing school for local pastors.

When it was all said and done, new ministries were started and funds came in to support my family.  Isn’t it amazing how God works? One other item of note:  Ten percent or more always came as a tithe off the first fruits. After all, it is all God’s money.  In fact, as the years have gone by, some 20 years since our Acts 6 ministry started, Karen and I have been financially blessed. 

In today’s coronavirus setting, fears of financial ruin are all around us. What if I lose my job or if my business closes?  How will I pay my bills, my mortgage? What has happened to my retirement funds, etc.?  

All of our plans aren’t happening the way we planned them to be. Our focus must shift back to God to do the planning for us. You see, at the beginning of this message I talked about our plans for retirement or our plans for our families. But the curious part missing is God.  God is not just a slice of our planning. He is the whole pie. 

God will determine where you work, who you marry, where you live, whether you have children, what is important or not important in your life, your finances, who your friends will be, etc. You see, all of our time, energy, talents, and money are God’s. We do our best in planning; but God must be a part of our plans, and we have to be open to some radical changes if He calls us to do so.

Remember, God’s plan for our salvation seemed foolish to those first disciples until they turned their lives over to Christ, and they began their journey of their salvation with the Holy Spirit guiding them.  Yes, there will be times in which we make our own decisions without God and we will pay the consequences.  Going against God’s will is simply called sin.  But, there is repentance and forgiveness enabling us to get back on the journey with Christ. 

Happy Easter and may God continue to open your eyes to His Holy Spirit as He guides you through your journey.