When My Plans Don’t Work Out

Written by: Sarah Walker

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline.” (Timothy 1:7)

In the last few months, I have come across a few new and different opportunities to minister to other people. Each opportunity has been outside of my comfort zone, and would require me to take a step of faith. After taking time in prayer and seeking out counsel from people that I trust, I felt God’s leading to say “yes” to stepping out into each new opportunity.

Even though I trust Him, it can still be scary to step forward and say, “yes” to God! Taking a step of faith is a step towards the unknown. Questions like, “Can I do this?”, “How will I do this?”, and “Will I succeed, or will I fail?”, start to take over my thoughts. (And as they do, I notice how “I”-focused such thoughts are!)

If I were to dwell on all of the negative possibilities too much, it would probably be pretty easy to talk myself out of things before they even start!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I have done lots of different jobs in ministry over the years! I’ve lead several small groups, I’ve lead women’s ministry, I’ve been a Power Point person, I’ve been a youth leader, I’ve hosted endless events, I’ve been heavily involved in children’s ministries, I’ve filled in wherever help was needed! (except worship – my love and passion for singing is apparently not matched with any talent for singing!)

As I stepped up to fill into various roles, there have been many times that I’ve seen God do incredible things and where I have been incredibly blessed through the process!

Then there have been times where I feel like I failed miserably. Things just didn’t go the way I wanted them to! At one church, I took over leading a women’s ministry. I had arranged an amazing and powerful curriculum by a popular writer/speaker. I prayed a lot, and I put in a lot of work into preparing teaching and activities for women’s nights. There was lots of great social time, great teaching time, and great outreach time built in.

And in a church of about one hundred women, my average attendance for our events was five!

A ton of work and countless hours had gone into this, but all my efforts seemed fruitless.

Maybe I was wrong and I had missed God’s will in taking the leadership position. We all make mistakes in discernment sometimes! We can do a lot by our own strength and effort, but sometimes, if God isn’t in it, our efforts will be fruitless and frustrating.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Maybe it was a test, to see if I would persevere, to see if I would stick it out, to see if I would have the courage to say yes again, even after a rough season?

For you, God, tested us; You refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:10-12)

A challenging attempt at women’s ministry is definitely not like being in jail or going through fire, but it did take down my self-esteem for a while, and made me question my ability to lead!

Maybe I just failed at figuring out the right way to minister to that particular group. As I look back, I probably should have taken a different approach with those ladies, which I would do differently if I were doing it all over again!

That being true, it’s also very possible that what I saw as a personal failure was also God’s victory.

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1Samuel 16:7)

I based success on what I could see with my eyes. I was caught up in that oh-so-common church focus on numbers and visible results. The time and energy I put in did not match the attendance or the results that I expected, but if even one heart was impacted, one life encouraged – then all the hard work was not in vain! Sometimes God is up to things that we don’t comprehend at all!

And I have come to trust that hard work and perseverance, when it is done as worship to God and service to others, is never a bad thing! Even though the ministry didn’t go as I would have liked, I still showed God that I was willing to take a risk in stepping out into what I believed was His will – and that’s never a waste, either!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9-11)

I learned a lot in that season. As much as we learn in the good times, I feel like I learn even more in the challenging times. We don’t always succeed in everything we do, at least not tangibly. My husband, a pastor, often says that if someone can’t comfortably give an example of a failure in their life, and what God taught them through it, then he’s not interested in putting them in ministry positions! Through the failures, we are humbled, our character is developed, our faith is stretched, and we are reminded that GOD is the one who brings about ministry, not us!

I’m still learning how to do this, and I don’t always do it so well! But knowing that God is still God, no matter what, gives me the courage in HIM to step out again and again!