In my last post I discussed the importance of having one big goal for your life which is vital if you want to make plans for your life. You can’t make a plan if you don’t know where you want to go. You can call this a personal mission statement, life goal, purpose, whatever, the point is that we see people all throughout scripture who have a very specific vision for what God had called them to do on earth. We need to have a purpose if we want to make a plan.
Once you have the big goal, though, what do you do in order to make plans to work it out?
Determine your steps
If you have an end in mind then what are the steps that you need to take in order to pursue it? We all only have so many “steps” that we can take in our life. Eventually our step count will max out and the Lord will take us home. So imagine that two people each have 20 steps. One person takes one step in 20 different directions and the other person takes 20 steps in 1 direction. Who went further over the course of their life? Obviously, the person who went in one direction. The key to effective planning is not about trying to get more things done, but rather getting the right things done.
Again this is why it is important to begin with the end in mind. We need to know the direction that our steps are to go in, so that we can determine what our priorities should be. Make no mistake, if we don’t determine our priorities, someone else will.
So break down your big goal into yearly, quarterly and monthly goals and think of those as steps. Angie and I both take personal retreats every year where we create space to be alone with God, pray, reflect and plan out goals for the year. I highly recommend getting some time to get away, get quiet and listen to God. Change of place and change of pace bring a change of perspective. So take time and map out what God puts on your heart. Write your thoughts down, because if something just exists in your mind then it doesn’t exist in the real world yet. Make your steps tangible and put them on a piece of paper (or in an app-we’ll talk more about that later).
The other benefit of determining your steps is that it give you the freedom to say no. If we just say yes to every opportunity we’ll be like that person who takes 20 steps in 20 different directions. We need to know how to say no and be ok with that. Now we shouldn’t say “no” just to serve our own selfishness. Saying no to one thing should be done so that you can say yes to the right thing.
Let me give you an example of this. I was recently presented with two different opportunities. One was to be the President of my neighborhood association. The other was to be a coach for a church planting group outside of Sovereign Grace (my family of churches). I had three options (side note, studies have shown that the best decisions are made when you are able to come up with three options, because it allows for more analytical thinking). I could say no to both, yes to all, or yes to one. After thinking about my current roles, goals and schedule I knew that I could not say yes to both, but I could probably say yes to one. Both options were equally exciting to me. I love my neighborhood and want to do whatever I can to contribute to its thriving. Plus it would be a great opportunity to connect with more neighbors and hopefully have opportunities to have spiritual conversations. On the other hand, I am passionate about church planting, enjoy the act of coaching and would love to be more intentional about investing in future planters. I prayed and I sought counsel from wise people who know me well. What I was seeking to discern was what would take me one step further in the direction of what I want to pursue with my life. You see, both were good options, but a good option does not mean it is the right option. If you remember from the first blog post, I feel called to see another percentage of Philadelphians come to know, love and serve Jesus in my lifetime. So which of these opportunities was a step in that direction? While I love church planting, ultimately that opportunity was not focused on this city and so I turned it down and went with being the President of my neighborhood association. Time will tell if that was the right choice, but regardless of the outcome, I feel at peace because I think I made that choice in the right way. It was an intentional step.
Create rhythms to your life
I’ve seen people shoot themselves in the foot by thinking that planning means just writing more things down and learning to live off a list. What this fails to account for is that we are, as the great human observer Shakespeare said, “creatures of habit.” Study after study has shown that we operate best when we have routines, not necessarily lists. Lists are important (we’ll talk about that when I discss tools), but before you make lists you need to establish some kind of general rhythm for your life. If you don’t take this step you will just feel overwhelmed by your lists and not be able to actually make good on your plans.
So, the question that should be asked is, ‘What rhythms do I need to have in place in order to pursue the end that God has placed on my heart?”
This will be different for each individual. For example one of my rhythms is that I need to work on my sermon early in the week and keep my calendar clear and then fill my calendar up towards the end of the week. If I don’t get to my sermon early in the week, I feel stressed and my whole work (and home) life suffers. But if I get a good bit of that done, then I feel relaxed and able to take my time dealing with other things. My Dad has the exact opposite rhythm. He can’t start working on his sermon until he feels under the gun. It is hard for him to focus without feeling some sense of pressure. So he does most of his busy work in the beginning of the week and saves his sermon prep for the end.
Those are examples from a work environment, but the same thing applies to our home life. So for Angie and I we know that if we are going to see another percentage of Philadelphians come to know, love and serve Jesus in our lifetime then we have to get to know a lot of people. So we have a rhythm to our week about connecting with others. Angie and I don’t like to plan things in the beginning of the week, but keep that open so that we can connect together, but then we know that generally we will have something going on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We don’t have to plan whether or not we will do something those nights. We know we will. It is our rhythm. We just have to fill in the details of who is coming over or where we are going.
Good planning involves some thinking on the front end, but ultimately should result in you having to think less as you go through life. How many times have you gotten in your car on your way to work, home, or some kind of destination that you routinely go to and when you get there you realize that you don’t even remember making the trip? We have a high capacity to live on auto pilot. This can be a bad thing if we have the wrong routines in place, or a really powerful thing if we are intentional about training ourselves to have the right rhythms.
So how can you create rhythms? What are things that just need to be automatic in your life?
Any plan about how to do this that doesn’t involve creating a rhythm of prayer and Bible study will never deliver you to the end of glorifying God. So if you don’t already have a rhythm of personal time with the Lord, start there.
As we create rhythms it is crucial that we do not allow those rhythms to make us slaves. Some people can become so attached to their routines that they miss out on the spontaneous opportunities that God gives to love and serve others (See the Priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 15). We need to have rhythms, but we need to be flexible with those rhythms and give God space to use us in unplanned moments. If we are unwilling to do that, then our rhythms have become our gods and we have fallen into idolatry.
Ok, that’s all for now… Next up: How to use tools to work out your plan
See you around the neighborhood,
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