Summary: “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

I discovered something interesting today. I looked up all the times “purpose” and “plan” were used in the Bible. In the overwhelming majority of cases, “purpose” referred to God’s purpose regarding man and/or creation. There were mentions of this man or that man purposing something, but the majority of references dealt with God’s purpose.

On the other hand, mentions of “plan,” almost always referred to the plans of men. Again, there were passages that referred to God’s plan, but in most cases, where “plan” was used, it was in the context of a plan of men. By the way, my search software used the English Standard Version as its default translation. The word “plan” doesn’t even occur in the King James Translation of the Bible.

So what does all this mean? Why split hairs? Aren’t purpose and plan just different ways to say the same thing? After all, isn’t the plan to fulfill our purpose in life? We want to be happy, and fulfilled; we want to be free from need and we want to be loved. Isn’t that what God wants for our lives too? Isn’t God’s purpose, or plan, for us to live long and happy lives? So what’s the difference between a “purpose” and a “plan” and why does the Bible focus on God when it speaks of purpose and on man when it speaks of plan?

The Bible indicates that plan tends to look at things from man’s side of the equation and purpose tends to look at things from God’s side. The biggest problem I see in our concept of purpose today is in just whose purpose we’re really talking about. We’re all too eager for God’s purpose to fit into our plans. We’re really big on believing that God’s purpose is to prosper us or to give us good health or to keep us safe from harm. But we’re not so big on God’s purpose being personal sacrifice or personal holiness, or personal obedience.

The tone of our prayers is too often, “God help me get that promotion”; “Help me pass this test”; “Keep us safe on vacation and help us all have a good time without killing each other.” How often do we pray, “Thy will be done,” and really mean it?

What if God’s will, His purpose for your life didn’t include health, wealth and happiness? What if his purpose for you was death? Sounds kind of harsh doesn’t it? Surely God’s purpose for me isn’t an untimely and hideous death? What if it were? Would you still be able to pray, “Thy will be done”?


Five bodies floated in Ecuador’s Curaray River. All the bodies of young men, the oldest not yet thirty-two, the youngest twenty-seven. They were family men; all had wives, four had young children. One of the wives was eight months pregnant. All of the men were college graduates, all were missionaries.

Their adult lives were just beginning and they were full of promise. They had undergone intense training and were dedicated to spending their lives bringing the good news of God’s love to a people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Each of these men and their families had given up family, friends and a future at home to follow the purpose they believed God had put in their lives.

Jim, Nate, Pete, Ed and Roger and their families had spent months “in country” learning the language and customs of the people they were trying to reach with the Gospel. The five men had spent weeks flying Nate’s Piper airplane over a tiny settlement, dropping gifts and calling out in the native language, “We like you.” “We are your friends.” Finally they landed as close as they could; on a sand spit next to the river, still several hours by foot trail from the tiny village.

“Auca” means “savage” and that was the name the outside world had given to this remote group of people. The “savages” had a history of murder in every encounter with the outside since the conquistadors came to South America. They lived in the jungles of Ecuador; remote enough that after every bloody ambush, they would simply dissolve into the jungle and the outsiders would move on to safer territory.

But by 1956 the world was getting smaller. Oil exploration, the need to develop agricultural land, and the authority of the Ecuadorian government and its army, were all making their creeping encroach on the jungle. A final encounter with the Auca was inevitable.

These five friends knew that if their encounter with the outside world was one of force the Auca would not survive. They would be exterminated as pests; enemies of the greater good of progress. The mission of the five was to reach this tribe, win their trust, and tell them about the love of a God they did not know.

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