Read James 4
If I don’t want to spend three times more than I wanted, I make a list before I go to the grocery store. Sometimes I remember to read it while I’m in the store.
If I want to graduate college in 15 years or less, I make a plan as to what I will take and when I will take it.
If I want to get to my destination without too many stops for directions, I Google it. Don’t ask Siri. That girl will give you attitude, but Google is generally reliable.
If I want things to have a chance of going smoothly, I produce an order of worship. There is not much variation from week to week. Sometimes on Wednesday nights, I will change things up a bit more. I even send a draft bulletin out to worship leaders and people who have an active role in the service.
Before we dived into Good News 2012, I wrote and published a plan. Some of you might remember it. It had worksheets for all of our outreach events. It had reporting forms. It had a prayer printed into the plan.
Over a decade ago, before I could be ordained, I had to be observed moderating a session meeting. Reverend Dale Nease came over to watch me conduct a meeting.
Now realize by this point in my life I already had my Million Meeting Medal, Third award. Running a meeting was not a huge challenge. I had been producing an agenda, collating handouts, and all the other preliminary things needed for a meeting to go smoothly for the past 2 years.
But I was going to be evaluated on this meeting. So, I made sure that the margins of the handouts were perfect. The agenda had just enough detail to prompt the discussion but not so much as to preempt it. I even spelled some of the big words right.
I was ready. The session knew what was going on so they were extra nice during the meeting. Dale was an easy-going guy and I didn’t expect him to throw a wrench into the works to see how I would handle it.
Realize, I have been to training in which there are planned disturbances to what you are trying to teach or the meeting you are trying to lead. Part of the training was how you address the disturbance and stay on course. Dale didn’t bring any such fun to my meeting.
By meeting’s end, I knew that I had aced that sucker. It might not have been the best run meeting in the history of the universe, but at least in the history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Dale pronounced his evaluation: Tolerably Legal.
What! It had to have been the best meeting ever. I put some planning into that sucker. Tolerably legal? Give me a break!
Plans are a part of life.
Plans seldom go as planned.
There is a military axiom that a simple plan executed aggressively now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
There is another military truism that the plan never survives contact with the enemy.
So, we come to counsel from James on plans and planning. On the surface, it might seem that James doesn’t think that we should plan at all, but that’s not what he is saying. He said, don’t boast in your plans. Don’t think that your plan is invincible. The only invincibility, the only certainty, the only plan you can trust comes from the Lord.
If it is the Lord’s will, our plan will fall apart before it has a chance to fall into place, then we can dive into his plan.
Are plans bad? No, boasting about our plans is bad. Putting too much hope in our plans mocks God and God is not good with that.
God sent people out to subdue the earth. They made plans and began executing them to build a tower to heaven. They wanted to make a name for themselves. They were showing off what they could do with their own plans.
I don’t know if they thought they could get to heaven, but they would have something to boast about. God said, “That dog don’t hunt.”
God has good plans for us. They are plans to prosper us and give us hope and give us a future.
So, what do we do?
Make your grocery list.
Develop a plan to graduate college in less than a decade.
Produce a budget.
Plan the route for the trip.
Plan your vacation.
Plan for your children’s future.
Plan your day.
For those who have done any sort of work where you’re the boss, the employee, and the janitor, you know this saying: Plan your work and work your plan.
Salesmen, consultants, and farmers know this. They also know, that making adjustments to the plan is more likely than the plan going as planned. Plan on it!
Planning is good. It is good self-education. Planning requires research and analysis and composition.
Planning requires reading and assessment and synthesis of all sorts of input.
Planning requires focus, dedication, and creativity. Planning always leads you to the recognition of things still not planned.
Planning is good stuff, but don’t get married to your plan. Don’t boast in your plan.
Make big plans but don’t boast in your plan. If you must boast, boast in the Lord. That is where you find certainty.
We make these plans about what we will do next month or next year or for the next ten years and forget to realize that we are on this earth for only a short time. James said we are but a mist. It’s here and it’s gone.
Plan your work and work your plan but know that God has better plans. The more we seek God and grow close to him, the more our plans will be like his, but we must remember that he alone is sovereign.
We have this wonderful thing called free will but God directs the steps of the believer.
So, plan without worrying about tomorrow. Invest yourself fully in your plans—don’t be lukewarm about them. Work at them as if you are working for the Lord and not for human goals.
Plans are not bad. Boasting in our plans is bad.
Make your plan a work of art and science—the best masterpiece it can be in the time allotted—and then humbly place it at the feet of the Lord—ready to execute it or what the Lord gives you in its stead with equal enthusiasm.
And while you are making your plans, plan to do good at every opportunity for opportunities will surely arise.
James wraps up with an advance admonishment for those who stick to their plans when the Lord has directed them elsewhere.
If you know the good you should do and don’t do it, that’s your sin.
Paul said in similar fashion, that which we do out of anything but faith is our sin.
Henry Kissinger had a style that he used in dealing with subordinate’s plans. He would receive the plan, let it sit unread for a week or two, and then ask if it was the best that the planner had to offer.
If the answer was no or involved hesitation, he gave it back to be reworked. If the person said yes, then he read the plan.
Shouldn’t we always want our plans to be the best that they can be before offering them to the Lord?
If you are going to plan—and you should—make it full of faith, goodness, mercy, love, and a reflection of the good plans that God has for you. Make it the best plan ever and then place it at the feet of Jesus.
Thy will be done!