Bill Gates had a vision to put a computer into every home and so he made a plan about how we would to pursue that vision. Steve Jobs had a vision to change the way we use our phones and so he made a plan about how he would pursue that vision We see things like this in the business world all the time. Few are as successful as Gates or Jobs, but there are all kinds of people who have a vision for something and make plans to achieve their vision. They don’t wait for “doors to open”. They don’t rely on “feeling led in the moment.” They make plans and get stuff done.
Christians can have a hard time making plans. We can feel like planning is somehow “unspiritual” and prefer to be “led by the Spirit”, which we think means just going through life spontaneously with no clear focus. But go ahead and try to find a verse that says we shouldn’t plan. Let me save you some time (feel free to check me though), that verse doesn’t exist. Yet there are many verses that call us to make plans. Eph 5:16 commands us to “make the best use” of our time, Proverbs promises that “the plans of the diligent surely lead to abundance” and the wise man is commended for making plans. Every day that God gives us is a gift from God that He wants us to use to maximize the good that we can do in this world for him. It is the lazy servant who took the talent the master had given him and made no plans about how to increase it, but buried it in the sand. He is condemned for squandering what he had been given (Matthew 25:14-29), It is a tragedy when businessmen like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs make better plans to sell goods than the people of God who have the only message of hope for this broken world. Our vision of seeing people come from death to life through faith in Jesus should be too great in our hearts for us not to make a plan to get after joining God on His mission. I couldn’t agree more with John Piper when he writes, “Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love.”
How do we do this though? How do we move from just feeling inspired to actually getting stuff done? How do we go from good intentions to meaningful action?
I am going to do a series of posts with some practical advice on how we can make plans to join God in His mission of building from brokenness. Now, as a pastor, I can’t just jump right into practicals without making sure that it is clear that doing things for God must always be empowered by who we are in Christ. God doesn’t love us based upon what we get done, but upon what Jesus has done. In our efforts to spread the gospel it is vital that we don’t forget the gospel. God loves us because we are united by faith to His son Jesus and therefore, God’s love is ever abounding, always forgiving, never diminishing and constantly faithful. We must be secured in God’s love for us as we seek to share God’s love with others. “A Christian is something before he does anything; and we have to be Christians before we can act like Christians.”- Martin Lloyd-Jones
One more quick thing before we get going. I want to make sure that it is clear upfront that everything that I’m going to write about planning is completely unoriginal. I owe a lot of this to my Mom who is a master planner, Tim Wolf who taught me how to plan during a high school discipleship class and from reading broadly on this topic over the years. Since I don’t think my Mom or Tim are teaching any seminars on this topic, let me recommend the books that I have found most helpful.
1. Do More Better by Tim Challies
Short and punchy. It is written by a pastor with tons of very practical wisdom.
2. What’s Best Next? by Matt Perlman
The best biblical case I’ve read about why being a productive planner matters so much for the Christian. I think he gets a little bogged down in details sometimes, but overall, a very helpful read.
3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective Individuals by Stephen Covey
This book has sold well over 25 million copies for a reason. It is a timeless classic written in a very accessible and practical manner. This is a book that I think everyone should read in their lifetime.
4. Essentialism by Greg McKeown
A question I commonly ask leaders is what are they currently reading that is really challenging them? In the past two years from pastor to CEO, this is the book that I have heard most commonly recommended. I have read it through three times and still gain something new from it each time.
Ok, so with these things in mind, here are some suggestions about how we can make plans.
BEGIN WITH THE END
A common thing that motivational speakers will say is to think about what you want people to say at your funeral and then to give your life to achieving that eulogy. As Christians, I don’t think we should think about our funeral. I think we should think about the day when we appear before our Savior and he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What do we want God to say well done for on that day?
You see, we need more clarity than just “Glorifying God and enjoying him forever”. God has made each one of us as unique individuals. He has given us unique combinations of abilities, resources, experiences and opportunities that He wants us to use in a unique way to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Certainly there are general principles that apply to each one of us. We are all called to do justice and love mercy (Micah 6:8), care for the vulnerable (James 1:27), do good deeds to others (Matthew 5:16) and in all these things “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Col 3:17 ESV) However, in scripture we see people living by more than just these general guiding principles. From Nehemiah who had “what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” (Neh 2:12 ESV) to Paul who said “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation” (Rom 15:20 ESV), we see people throughout scripture with very clear “ends” in mind. They knew what they had been given to do. They knew what they wanted their lives to count for. They had more than just an idea of wanting to “glorify” God. While they were excited to get to heaven, they knew there was a reason that they were still on earth. They shaped their whole life around that reason.
So why does God still have you on earth? It must be for more than just glorifying Him. You can do that in heaven. What are ways that you can only glorify God on earth? What’s something that is broken that you feel God has called you to join him in rebuilding?
We need to pray and ask God to show us. He is not reluctant to do so, for he has prepared good works for us to walk in (Eph 2:10). We don’t start to find our purpose by getting out into the world, but falling to our knees before the God of heaven. If you have listened to our Nehemiah series we’ve already seen this repeatedly. Nehemiah was a man of action, because he was a man of prayer. Through his prayers, God put in his heart what He wanted Nehemiah to do (Nehemiah 2:12). In order to plan we need to have purpose. Purpose comes from prayer.
What burdens has God given you? What do you seem to care about more than other people? While there are certain things that we are all called to as Christians, God will give some of us greater burdens for particular things. We can either use those burdens to feel self righteous towards those that don’t share them, or we can use those burdens to start making plans about how we want to go about what God has put on our heart.
What are the abilities, resources and experiences that God has given you which you can use for Him? From swinging a hammer to talking well, being business minded to artistically creative, God has made each one of us in such a way that we have unique things to contribute to His mission. So think about your abilities (and ask others so that you have an honest picture). What are you good at and how can you use that for the Lord?
We need to live with our eyes wide open. Often the direction we are praying for is right in front of us, but we don’t see it because we aren’t watching. What has God put in front of you? Who has God put in front of you?
We need to begin with the end in mind, because if we can find one big thing that will then inform how we plan the million of little things of our lives. Martin Luther King, Jr had a dream to see people of all colors living in equality. William Wilberforce had a vision of a world with no more slavery. I have a desire to see one more percentage of Philadelphians come to know Jesus in my lifetime. I know a very successful businessman who wanted to make enough money so that he could live on 5% of his income and use the other 95% to fund mission efforts in his church and community. I have another friend who is a doctor and uses his skills and expertise to serve in a variety of ways in his church. I know a man who is a janitor and who uses that position to make meaningful connections with kids who otherwise would get looked over in the system. They are all very different people and they all have one common goal, using their lives to glorify God through reaching people who are far from God. However, how they go about that goal is as different as they are. When they get to the end, they will be commended for different things. But by the grace of God, they will all be commended.
So what is your end? Here’s another way to think about this: what is something that you can only do on earth that you can’t do in heaven?
Now we might not ever achieve our end. This is why it is crucial to have our identity built on Jesus, not on our achievements. However, an identity built on Christ should never lead us to live an unintentional life. If we value the life we have in Jesus, then we should want to spend that life for the glory of Jesus. We can’t make plans about how to do that if we don’t have one big goal that we are seeking to pursue in our lives.
Check out part 2 coming soon, where I discuss figuring out priorities and using our habits for good.
See you around the neighborhood!
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