By Michael E. Brooks
“For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints” (Romans 15:22-25 NKJV).
Changes of travel plans happen more frequently than we desire. Over more than twenty years of foreign missionary activity I have lost track of the number of canceled stops, missed flights, and changed schedules which I have experienced. Some of those have been my decision; many others have been caused by unexpected events or airline schedule changes.
The uncertainties of travel immediately after the New York terrorist attacks of 9/11 caused one campaign to be canceled. On another occasion, an attack on the Royal Family of Nepal forced us to abandon that trip after only a few days. Several other less dramatic incidents have forced changes.
Paul reminds us that such uncertainty is not new. He had apparently made previous plans to visit Rome which he was forced to change (Romans 1:13). Is he to be labeled undependable or dishonest for such changes? Not at all. There are things beyond our control which affect our plans, regardless of our efforts or intentions.
James instructs us to exercise caution in all such arrangements.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;’ whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'” (James 4:13-15).
These uncertainties convey certain lessons. First, we are not in charge. God is sovereign, and he will determine all our future activities. We must humble ourselves to accept his will, and busy ourselves to determine it insofar as we can.
Additionally, we must plan flexibly, not only with regard to time, place, and purpose of our travels, but with regard to the consequences.
If I plan to accomplish a certain thing on a given trip, what will happen if I cannot make that trip as planned? Will the goal fail in accomplishment? What if it is essential? How will that failure be compensated for? It is not always possible to provide for every what if?, but when a plan B can be established in advance, it is certainly a good thing.
Finally, we must be willing to acknowledge that others may have to change their plans on occasion, and not hold them to a higher standard than that to which we wish to be held. We understand the cause of our changes.
We may not be as able or willing to understand why others don’t do what we expect of them. They are no more powerful than we, and are subject to the same hindrances. Let us understand.