November 26, 1991
Last week’s mail brought a new catalog full of planning calendars designed especially for people with so many business appointments and activities they cannot keep track of them any other way. For a fee, one day, one week, or one month can be seen at a glance or at the turn of a page.
Personally, I find these calendars terrific for a homemaker-student-writer too. No matter how little or how much is on my agenda, it is far easier to remember if it is written in my book instead of stored somewhere in my brain. Besides, if most of my “plan-to” items are not committed to paper but merely left to good intentions, they somehow never get accomplished. Planning to do them – and writing down the plan – makes the thing somewhat more certain.
However, the Bible has a thing or two to say about planning. One statement goes something like this: “Hey, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,’ don’t you realize you have no idea what will happen tomorrow...?’”
James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote that. Was he suggesting that Christians should never make any plans? After all, if we have no idea what tomorrow will bring, why plan?
If that is what James means, I’m in trouble. One of my college classes is Principles of Administration and I have a major assignment due next week. It requires that I make a Five-Year Plan for my life. I must use a chart of some sort, base it on a purpose statement, outline various objectives, add goals for reaching those objectives, and include standards by which I can measure whether or not the plan is carried out. This assignment is a challenge. I have spent the past year essentially living one day at a time. Now I MUST think ahead, and in detail.
First, I need to settle the issue James raises about planning. The rest of the passage says “our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away,” like a puff of smoke. In other words, most of us are relatively insignificant in the overall scheme of things, at least as far as our own plans go. I might go somewhere, buy, sell, and make a profit, but when measured by God in light of eternity, plans that are designed to profit only me are really not very important – at least not for long and not to anyone else but me.
James then adds; “Instead (of making your own plans) you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”
James is not putting down buying, selling, or make a profit... he is just pointing out that if God says to do otherwise, we are foolish to make such plans. He says ignoring His will in favor of our own is “boasting in arrogance and all such boasting is evil” (verse 16).
So what can I include in my five-year plan that will not put me out of the will of God? James gives a final clue in verse 17: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
James says acts of goodness must be included in the plan. I already know WHY they must be planned: unless I think ahead and prepare to do unselfish things for others, my schedule will rapidly fill up with activity designed for me, for my profit only. Unselfish goodness is left out, also vanishing like a puff of smoke.
So my professor in Principles of Administration is wise. He did not misinterpret James. Instead, he has thought of a way to help those who take his class to make the first step towards godly living – planning it in advance.