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The economy stinks.  It’s a different world than it was two years ago or five years ago or ten years ago.  Many, if not most of our plans have changed dramatically.  So, how do we plan for the future? 


Q. How does a typical man show that he is planning for the future?
A. He buys 2 cases of beer instead of one


There’s got to be something better than that.  What can we do to make sure our plans for our lives are fulfilled?


I’ve been studying the book of Ezra lately.  It has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.  And it tells us a lot about our plans, God’s plans and the future plans.


Here’s a little background.  In 586 BC the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and exiled many of the Jews.  The Persian empire then began to gain strength and in 539 BC they overran the Babylonians and essentially took over.  The Persians had a different approach toward conquered peoples under their King Cyrus--he allowed many of them to return to their homelands.  These events prompted the Bibles’ book of Ezra which details the return of the Jews to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.  


Anyway, the book of Ezra begins this way:


“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled the prophecy he had given through Jeremiah.  He stirred the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation in writing and to send it throughout his kingdom:  ‘This is what King Cyrus of Persia says:  ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.   Any of you who are his people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!”--Ezra 1:1-3


“Then God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord.  And all their neighbors assisted by giving them articles of silver and gold, supplies for the journey, and livestock. They gave them many valuable gifts in addition to all the voluntary offerings.”--Ezra 1:5-6


The book of Ezra begins with the king and the people coming up with this great plan to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 


Then the rest of the book of Ezra is a series of upset plans.


Chapter 3 describes how they started building the foundation--it ended up taking two years just to do the foundation--longer than they expected.  Chapters 4 and 5 of Ezra describe constant opposition of the project. 


 “Then the local residents tried to discourage and frighten the people of Judah to keep them from their work.  They bribed agents to work against them and to frustrate their plans. This went on during the entire reign of King Cyrus of Persia and lasted until King Darius of Persia took the throne. Years later when Xerxes began his reign, the enemies of Judah wrote a letter of accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem”--Ezra 4:4-6


Cyrus began his reign in 538 BC.  Darius reigned from 521-486 BC.  Xerxes began his reign in 486 BC.  So this opposition lasted over 50 years.  That was not in the plans.


Chapter 4 ends with this:


“So the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem had stopped, and it remained at a standstill…”--Ezra 4:24 (NLT)


I highly doubt that even the most skeptical of people who went to rebuild the temple would never have planned on the work being shut down.  It stayed shut down all through chapter 5 as the neighbors and city government seem to have won.  Plans were dashed.


It was over.


Then comes chapter 6--one of my favorite passages in the Bible:


“So King Darius sent this message:  ‘Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province west of the Euphrates River…—stay away from there!  Do not disturb the construction of the Temple of God. Let it be rebuilt on its original site, and do not hinder the governor of Judah and the elders of the Jews in their work.”--Ezra 6:6-7


God used the King of Persia to tell the local officials to let the work continue.  That was unplanned.  But wait, there’s more:


“Moreover, I hereby decree that you are to help these elders of the Jews as they rebuild this Temple of God. You must pay the full construction costs, without delay,,,so that the work will not be interrupted”--Ezra 6:8


God moved the king to tell the city--“Let them build, and you pay for it!”  They hadn’t planned on that either.  But wait, there’s more:


“Give the priests in Jerusalem whatever is needed in the way of young bulls, rams, and male lambs for the burnt offerings presented to the God of heaven. And without fail, provide them with as much wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil as they need each day.  Then they will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the welfare of the king and his sons.”--Ezra 6:9-10


The king ordered the locals to not only let them build, and not only pay for it, but to also provide everything the Jews needed to take care of their religious services.  A new plan.  But wait, there’s even more.  This is my favorite part!


“If any of you don't obey this order, a wooden beam will be taken from your house and sharpened on one end. Then it will be driven through your body, and your house will be torn down and turned into a garbage dump. I ask the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem to destroy any king or nation who tries either to change what I have said or to tear down his temple. I, Darius, give these orders, and I expect them to be followed carefully.”--Ezra 6:11-12 (CEV)


How can we plan for the future?


Here’s one of the main ideas of the book of Ezra: 




A hinge verse from the book:


“From that day to the present it has been under construction but is not yet finished.”

--Ezra 5:16


So God has our plans under construction


James writes:  “Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog--it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

--James 4:13-17 (CEV)


Comedian Stephen Wright says, “I’m a peripheral visionary. I can see the future, but only way off to the side.”


And Tony Snow added, "We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails

as far as the eye can see--but God likes to go off-road.”


God laughs at our plans.


God’s plans are better than my plans


“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

--Jeremiah 29:11


My plan was to go to Cal Berkeley, get a job on Madison Avenue and live happily ever richer.  God’s plans landed me at UCLA, in a drug fraternity, confronted with the gospel, and headed into ministry.  God’s plans are better than mine.


God’s plans are bigger than my plans


Cyrus and the Persians and the Jewish remnant had a plan to rebuild a temple.  God’s plans involved writing parts of the Bible!


“Whatever you do, wherever you live, if you belong to Jesus Christ, the call from heaven has come to you to the highest honor a human being can experience. The Son of God is spreading His love, His lifestyle, and His life-saving message across this planet and you know what? He has summoned you to join Him in His glorious Administration. Don't settle for anything less.”--Ron Hutchcraft


God’s plans are more exciting than my plans


The original plan in Ezra involved a rebuilding project.  God’s plans involved ups and downs and sharp wooden beams suitable for impaling!  He is so much more exciting than we are.


We want to go on the carousel when God has us slated for Mr Toad"s Wild Ride.


More than that, our plans are like, “Its a Small World.”  We’ll get in the boat and step off solid ground for a while, and maybe we’ll experience something new.  But God’s plans involve “Splash Mountain.”  We’re going to have highs and lows and twists and turns and probably end up drenched. 


And there will be pictures.  There are no pictures at the end of “Small World.”  When we get off “It’s a Small World” we only think of how we can get that silly song out of our heads.  But at the end of “Splash Mountain” there are pictures of our reaction.  People are laughing and re-living it and congratulating those who got soaked.


In heaven I expect pictures.  God will say, “Check out the look on your face when I threw a wrench into that silly plan of yours!  You were scared to death!”


God’s plans are more expensive than my plans


God laughs at our plans because He knows His way is going to cost a whole lot more than we budgeted for!

There’s this notion that all God wants is our money.  I suspect there is some truth to that because His plans rarely involve small sums, extra money or rainy-day funds.  He wants us to do things that mean sacrifice, large donations and giving it all.


God’s plans have different timing than my plans


We want what we want now.  God’s plans involve going off road and long delays--even 50-year waits.  Jesus showed up four days late for Lazurus’ funeral--but Hid timing is always perfect. 


If you want to make God laugh just show him your plans.  Chances are they are smaller, cheaper, more boring and a whole lot worse than His.


So, back to the original question, how do we plan for the future?


Some suggestions:


1.Be open to God's plans

 Ask God to move my heart


“My God was on my side and I was ready to go.”--Ezra 7:28 (TMV)


2. Do something

 “Ezra, it’s up to you to do something!  We will support whatever you do. So be brave!”--Ezra 10:4 (CEV)


There’s an old saying that it’s easier to steer a moving car than a parked one.  Let’s start moving, and let God steer us or even turn us around if he wants.


3.  Give


“ All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings”.--Ezra 1:6


One thing I love about the book of Ezra is everybody gave--everyone.


Let’s give to God and keep giving because God’s plans are expensive.


4.  Be patient


God has me--and you--under construction.  His plans take time.  But He always comes through.  So, let’s get ready, let’s open our loves to God, and let’s wait for him to come through.  He always does.