girl looking at map on road

The idea that we should ‘Let go and let God’ has gained popularity in recent years, but what does it really mean? Do we have to give up on our own hopes and dreams for our life? Sit idly by, waiting for God to produce fruit? Cathy McIntosh helps us dive in and discover the sense of purpose and passion that comes from actively pursuing the plans the Lord lays on your heart. 

It was a conundrum I didn’t see coming. I’d done what I thought was a simple thing—signed up for a productivity workshop to create a life plan, complete with a 10-year vision and a way to engage with and reach my goals. I encountered more than I expected. The course instructor, Donald Miller, said something that made me reimagine a long-held belief. I’d often recited the common phrase, “Let go and let God,” yet here I was being stretched and led to re-examine my thinking. 

Donald had said, “Fate is a terrible writer. If you’re trusting your life to fate, it’s probably not going to go well.” Mind you, He wasn’t saying God is a terrible Writer, but that trusting fate (events beyond one’s control) isn’t an effective life plan.

His encouragement was to create a map to fulfill our purpose. I wondered how to reconcile two mindsets. Should we really let go and let God do all the work? Or should we take control to intentionally devote ourselves to our Kingdom assignment? 

In certain faith-based circles from my earlier life, long-term plans were downplayed. To be honest, in the midst of a small church community of stay-at-home moms, this career-minded momma often felt like a misfit. While I never felt judged for my career decisions, it was clear I thought differently than most of the women in my Bible study group. 

I had dreams of success that often kept me awake at night. I worked full time, sent my kids to public school, relied on fast food far too often, and precariously balanced my career and family needs. Most of my friends, in contrast, lovingly homeschooled their children, served tirelessly at church, and prepared warm, delicious dinners nearly every night. They served God in line with their passions, yet my desires were different.

 

SHOULD WE LET GO OF PLANS AND EXPECTATIONS?

If topics like planning and goal setting ever came up, most of my friends would point to verses such as: 

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). 

 Or 

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:13-14).

I respected and admired these women and their choices (and I still do). The body of Christ is made up of different parts. I, perhaps, was a toe while they were hands. A huge part of me wanted to be like them, but try as I might, I knew something was missing from the life God had for me. 

Little by little during this season, I trained myself to let go of expectations. I wrote a devotional blog but kept myself from expecting a large following. I sold products as a side-hustle but kept any expectations for success dialed back. If just one person were helped, I told myself, I’d feel satisfied. But deep inside, I didn’t. 

I was confident God called me to begin each of these endeavors and inwardly longed for their success. Yet to actively pursue business growth felt as if I were lacking faith. I was convinced I’d be taking the matter out of God’s hands and placing it under my own control. So I did something contrary to my own wiring and settled for what was instead of aiming for what could be. Without realizing it, I was a toe trying to serve as a hand. I felt stuck and discouraged.

 

ENTERING A NEW SEASON 

Years later, I’d entered a new season as an empty nester, with an open calendar and more opportunity to pour myself into my career as I’d longed to do. I’d signed up for the productivity course and suddenly felt conflicted with a need to reconcile two viewpoints that seemed at odds. I wondered:

Is it best to stay surrendered, letting go and letting God handle everything? 

What would happen if I let myself dream? 

How would it feel to see the results of plotting out goals and pursuing them with passion?

 

REPROGRAMMING THOUGHT PATTERNS

As I listened to the encouragement from the workshop, a different set of Scriptures came to mind. We are given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Throughout God’s Word, we see Him as a God of order, therefore we should live orderly lives as well. He has a plan and a purpose for our lives (Ephesians 2:10), so we should have a plan for ourselves. 

Planning is a part of living and can help us accomplish His divine purpose for our lives. God, Himself, plants seeds of ambition and desire in our hearts—what a glorious gift! The Holy Spirit dwells in us when we follow His Son, and offers a life of fellowship with Him (1 John 1:3). 

In other words, once He fuels our desires, He invites us to partner with Him to fulfill them.

Whether He gives us the desire to homeschool or lead a business, to join the mission field or work in a quick-serve restaurant (or anything in between), we honor God when we do things passionately and for His glory.

This was a tremendously freeing revelation. I’d spent years beating myself up for being different from my friends, for wanting success and longing to pursue more. 

It wasn’t more money I was after, it was the knowledge that I was giving God my all in response to all He’d given. All at once, I felt every limitation I’d placed on myself shatter, replaced by the Lord’s loving nod to drive my ambitions forward, all for His glory. 

 

TO LET GOD LEAD IS DIFFERENT FROM LETTING GO

It was an enlightening experience to be sure. I could feel my thoughts and beliefs shifting as I developed my life plan in light of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to mind. 

God had planted clear desires and passions in my heart. With every part of me, I could discern the direction He was providing. Yet without a plan, I was wandering aimlessly. Without a map to my destination, how could I know the right path to fulfill what God wanted me to do? 

I began to see it as an act of worship to create a plan to intentionally pursue God’s calling. He chose me by name for this assignment. It is personal. And the best way to glorify Him through it is to pour myself into its completion. Once I discerned His lead, I didn’t need to let go, instead, I needed to grab hold. 

This new confidence ignited my momentum. I knew that the Lord would team up with me to help others and I felt my mindset transition from unsure to unstoppable. I could feel Philippians 2:13 manifest before me—God working in me, directing me, and moving me toward His purpose. 

 

A 3-STEP PLAN TO SURRENDER TO GOD’S LEAD WHILE PURSUING YOUR PURPOSE

As Christian women, we must always be mindful of the path God lays before us. He has a Kingdom assignment for each of us—one that will utilize the spiritual gifts and abilities He’s developed in us throughout our lifetimes. I find the following steps helpful in keeping His direction in the forefront while I pursue my ambitions: 

 

1. Pray

We must pray for clear direction and the patience to wait until that direction is confirmed. I’ve read that Anne Graham Lotz will not move in a new direction until she feels God’s lead followed by His clear confirmation. Running willy nilly, chasing after every shiny new thing, or toward every new idea we have is fruitless. We’re wise to seek God’s will with each step.

We must also pray for discernment about the timing of moving forward. As in my own story, it’s possible that desires begin to form during a season when they are simply not feasible. While I couldn’t jump right into an assignment I felt that God had given me, I could see that He was carefully and lovingly preparing me to step into action when the time was right. 

It takes great faith to seek God’s direction. It also requires great faith to wait for His perfect timing to follow His lead. Habakkuk 2:3 says, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” 

 

2. Make Plans But Hold Them Loosely

Let’s face it, there’s no science to discerning God’s will and direction. It often boils down to a heart for obedience and a willingness to trust Him. And the Lord rarely shows us the steps to a complete journey all at once. Maintaining a heart of prayer helps with the assurance that we’re in His will. 

So, we make plans but hold them loosely, seeking Him again and again before each step. This way we allow God to lead without running ahead of Him and driving toward our own ideas rather than His. Following God’s path often takes twists and turns we don’t expect and we have to remain open to His direction.

 

3. Work Hard to Pursue His Assignment

Once we’ve made plans and committed to following God’s path through them, we can work hard toward their accomplishment. Breaking down a project into manageable milestones will give us natural pauses where we can celebrate our progress and check-in with the Lord for any detours or route changes. We can also stay mindful of balance.

I tend to adopt a very task-oriented approach to my work, so it’s imperative that I’m intentional about balancing family needs and self-care. One of the questions I ask myself regularly is, How can I avoid regret today? I know my own tendencies, so by asking this question, I can preempt any mistakes I’m prone to making—like neglecting exercise or overworking. 

I carefully plan breaks and the end of my workday as diligently as I plot out the beginning and middle. My hard work must not come at the expense of the gifts He has given me.

 

RESOLVING THE INNER CONFLICT

Indeed, it’s possible to pursue your passions while staying surrendered to God’s will. It doesn’t require that we take our hands off the wheel to let go and let God do all the work. We are created with a purpose to fulfill and receive gifts and talents to use toward that end. 

I was reminded of a cartoon where a man repeatedly prayed to win the lottery but faced weekly disappointment. A friend asked him how many lottery tickets he’d purchased and he sheepishly admitted, “None.” 

Fulfilling our God-given calling is nothing like the lottery, yet the point is well made. Asking that God bless our endeavors without doing the necessary work is like expecting to win the lottery without buying a ticket. 

Consider the man who had been an invalid for 38 years. As his story unfolds in John 5:1-17, we learn that this man waited near the pool of Bethesda where he hoped to receive healing. Coming upon him, Jesus asked, “Do you want to be healed” (John 5:6)? The man explained there was no one to help him into the water. Jesus called the man to action. Our Savior gave the man a three-part instruction, commanding, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). 

When God plants dreams of greatness in our hearts, He equips us to pursue them. We can stop feeling the discouragement of what is and freely pursue the passions of what could be. Living a life of meaning often includes driving toward our divinely inspired ambitions while staying surrendered to the Lord’s direction and will. 

 

TO LET GO OR TO GRAB HOLD? 

A productivity workshop was a most unusual place to see the Lord bring spiritual growth, but He used it to invite me into a more active partnership with Him. I love what He’s revealed through the journey. I’ve discovered a new understanding of the Scripture that says we can do all things in His strength (Philippians 4:13). 

Instead of letting go and waiting passively for the Lord to move on my behalf, I feel called to grab hold and serve with intensity. Like the man near the pool, I feel empowered to stand up, pick up my tools, and move toward His purpose for my life. 

What God-given dreams are you currently pursuing? What might it look like for you to surrender to God’s lead and grab hold instead of letting go?

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9 comments
    1. Hello, from the UK.

      Cathy, you have no idea how timely this message is. Thank you for taking the time to write this and share your journey to pursue what God has been leading you into.

      I feel more encouraged to listen to my heart and not limit myself to living a life in which I hold back and not pursue the desires He has put in me and use the priceless gifts I have been blessed with. Rather, I will now step out of the comfort zone and not be too anxious about making a potential wrong turn (feels scary!) and like you, allow myself to dream and make plans and pursue them with full enthusiasm, holding on to Him all way.

      I’m nervous and excited but with God I can do all things and above all, may He get the glory and praise through it all.

      Exciting times ahead!

      1. Belinda, you said that so beautifully — allow yourself to dream and make plans and pursue them with full enthusiasm, holding onto Him always. I can’t wait to hear about the adventure that awaits as you step out with daring faith!

  1. You’re most welcome, Ann! God simply amazes me. Sometimes we assume things about Him and He shows us He’s SO much bigger than we understand! Thanks for engaging with the post today!

  2. Thank you for this inspiration. I am prayerfully waiting for God’s direction in our lives as my husband is getting closer to retirement, like where we will live, etc. I’ve been getting frustrated waiting but now after reading this, I am wondering if I’m missing His guidance. You have reminded me that He doesn’t give the end result just the process.

  3. Heidi, don’t we wish He’d just fill us in on all the details! But there’s joy in the process of leaning on Him. When He gives direction, we know it’s time to act. Many blessings to you!

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