Sometimes it seems that the Christian faith is all about taking each day as it comes and trusting the Lord for whatever is needed in the moment. One might get the impression from Matthew 6:29-34, for example, and many other Scriptures that this is what God has in mind for us. Faith, in the minds of some, is winging it, believing that God will supply whatever is needed at the time. Planning of any kind is seen as the enemy of faith, of taking life into one’s own hands. Accordingly, faith is a spontaneous thing, not compatible with those who are always concerned with the future.
But is this really what the Bible teaches? Or is there a place for good planning? Could it be that faith is very much compatable with planning, even the expression of what faith really is all about? More to the point of my kind of work, should a pastor strategize and plan, spending long hours at preparing messages, crafting ideas for Board Meetings, considering ways to solve relational problems in the church, and so on? Well, maybe not — according to some. He should be spontaneous in preaching and other church ministries. He should go by “the leading of the Spirit,” which some understand as “winging it.”
Yet as I consider the matter of faith vs. planning, I have to say that there seems to be a good deal of support for the idea of thinking and planning ahead. Did not Jesus imply the benefits of planning when he asked, Who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? … Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? (Luke 14:28-33)? Though Jesus is here teaching about counting the cost of what it means to become his disciple, is he not also illustrating that planning is natural and should also be applied to our spiritual lives?
It certainly is the case that planning and strategizing is basic to human existence, for who is there that does not live for the privilege of making plans in everyday living and creatively carrying them out? Besides, it is evident that there are many other allusions to the biblical importance of planning. Here are a few:
- Proverbs 12:5 — The plans of the righteous are just..
- Proverbs 21:5 — The plans of the diligent lead to profit…
- Isaiah 32:8 — But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.
There are many instances in the Bible of how people of faith made plans — Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Mordicai, Esther, Daniel, Jonah. Even a casual reading of the Gospels will demonstrate that Jesus made plans. And the same could be said of the Apostles in their work as is evident in the Acts and the letters.
But there is a problem with the planning philosophy especially from a Christian perspective, and it is this: too often our plans are more about us than they are about planning from God’s perspective. And it is this which James draws attention to in James 4:13-16. There we see that our planning can be very presumptuous. We do need to plan, for that is what it means, I think, to live by faith. But we need to be careful lest our planning is merely a reflection of our own ambition. The best planning is very dependent upon God’s direction and approval. And this can only come as we spend time in learning to know God’s will through His Word, and listening to His Spirit in prayer, in meditation upon the Word, and in seeking the counsel of wise people.