Have you even had something completely planned-out, only to have your plans changed and your course redirected? I certainly have, many times, and if that is your experience also, you are in good company. There are two meanings to “What next?“, and we will explore both meanings.
Saul had it made. He had graduated with honors from the most prestigious law-school in Jerusalem, he was well-respected by all in the religious community, and he had a mission. He was even a Roman citizen. He had it made, but God had other plans for him.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9)
We see the first “What next?” in this section: So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
When Saul had an encounter with the risen Lord, he asked “What next?“, because Jesus confronted him with the error of his ways. If this wasn’t a dramatic turn of events, I don’t know what else is.
Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”
And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.
So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. (Acts 9:10-19)
Ananias was justifiably-concerned when God told him to go to where Saul was staying and lay his hands on him to restore his sight, but God had plans for Saul, which bring us to our next “What next?“.
“Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Not only had God chosen Saul to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, he would endure a lot of suffering along the way. Saul was going from being an emissary of the Chief Priest to being an Apostle for Christ Jesus, from persecutor of the church to being a church-planter.
The first “What next?” resulted in a drastic change of plans, but the second “What next?” is one of those “When is the next shoe going to drop?” kind of events. His life was going to rapidly go from “good” to “bad“, and “bad” to “worse“, WAY-WORSE, as he underwent increasing persecution as his ministry grew. The only thing that saved him at one point was his Roman citizenship.
Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, wrote a significant part of the New Testament, and several of his letters were written from prison. Paul’s “What next?” has become our encouragement, encouragement to keep the faith and persist through and in spite of our own “What next?” situations.
God doesn’t need our permission to change our plans, sometimes leading us to say “What next?. He also very rarely shows us the big-picture or the whole map, preferring instead to give us turn-by-turn directions. That makes us uncomfortable because we are planners by nature. We don’t plan a trip without knowing our destination, but following God’s directions requires trust. Do we trust that God knows what He is doing and will lead us in the right direction?
I have written several times about how God has changed my plans, sometimes on a moment’s notice with a phone call or text-message. I have gradually become more comfortable with this state of affairs, and it has forced me to become less of a “planner“. Even though I still say “What next?“, it has becoming more of an expectation that God has another “assignment” for me, not that He is going to shake my tree again. He knows what He is doing, even if it isn’t obvious to me.
Are you ready to have your plans changed? God doesn’t need your permission…