“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
I remember underlining this verse in my Bible when I was younger. I always loved Proverbs. They were short and witty and to the point. Thirty-one chapters allowed me to read one a day for about 2 minutes and call it a devotional plan- a little bit of daily time with the Giver of Wisdom. Some of them didn’t make sense to my youthful mind. Some still perplex me today. However, many of them have sunk deep into my being and pop into my mind when I need them. I had one hanging over my bed in high school, on the ceiling above my head. I was known to sleep way past my alarm, and literally sleep through my alarm, or rather multiple alarms, and it seemed nothing could get me out of bed. So I thought if I looked up and saw an inspiring saying, it might stir me a little… “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9) I can’t say my waking habits improved much that year, but I have a feeling over time it has sunk in just a bit, or at least given me a little shame and guilt when I sleep too late!
One verse that has remained with me and pops in my head quite often is ten chapters after the verse about being a sluggard. Proverbs 16:9. Here it is again:
Sometimes I would ponder this verse and not quite understand it. We make choices every day that determine our steps, so how could the Bible tell us the Lord determines our steps? What about our free will, our own strength and motivation and forward movement and determination? I know God is sovereign, but what does this quite mean? Is everything controlled by Him and we are just puppets? I have let it simmer inside my mind for about a dozen or so years, and this is the year it has truly been evident in my life and more clear than ever.
I’ve been sitting in the hospital with Jamie this week as his white blood cell count is down. I can’t say it has been fun for either of us, but it’s just how things are right now- he is hospitalized in an isolated room and basically in a bubble because he has about zero percent immune system at this time. So I stay a few feet away and sanitize my hands about as rigorously as I did before brain surgery and try to bring some cheer. He told me a few days ago, “You know, I’m not sure why we even try to make plans. We just don’t make plans anymore, because every time we do, they change and God has another plan.” We had plans this week and weekend, all good and fun…and then he got rushed to the ER and caged like a lion at the zoo (with friendly nurses and doctors as the spectators). There should be a sign that says, “Look, but DON’T touch! This lion is at risk for infection!”
Then we found out that our dear friend passed from this world into the next to be with Jesus, after fighting brain cancer for 4 years. A dear friend who walked into my life one year ago, August, and was one of my biggest and bravest cheerleaders through my own brain tumor battle. Anytime I was afraid, I thought of Nancy and knew if she could overcome fear with joy, then I could too! And now tomorrow, I will sing publicly for the first time since my surgery, and it will be at her funeral service. This was not my plan, but this is God’s plan. And it is filled with grief and glory, bitterness and beauty. The plans we make shift like rolling sand in the waves, and God’s course for our lives is determined by only His Holy Will and Power and Love.
So what does it mean for us to plan our course, but God determine our steps? I think it means we dream, we look into the future, we set goals, we make plans…but along the way we are ready and willing for God to step in as He pleases and to change the details to His liking. Sometimes this mess of a broken world changes our steps too, and then God intervenes with His love and mercy and miracles to make our steps a little smoother and the path a little brighter. He doesn’t always tell us exactly how things will go or promise an easy course, but He does promise to never leave us nor forsake us as he goes with us on the course (Deuteronomy 31:6). He also promises to be our sun and shield, to give us grace and glory, and to withhold nothing good from us when we walk uprightly and acknowledge and trust in Him (Psalm 84:11).
Here I am, spending most days at the hospital, not sure what’s next on this course…trying to plan a future, a wedding, and a marriage with Jamie, but not sure how the many details will all work out. I’m finding, we’re finding, that this raw trust in the One who determines our daily, hourly steps is what makes this journey so beautiful. We are cherishing the great unknowns on this adventure and realizing that the sudden surprises and changes along the way are what cause it to all be so thrilling (even if sometimes it is painful, inconvenient, or a bit scary). And as I go to Nancy’s service tomorrow, I am reminded again that the adventure doesn’t stop here on this earth…The Lord determines the steps of His beloved children right into His presence in His perfect time, and we walk toward the home our hearts were made for all along.