COLLINS COLUMN: To plan or not to plan

Published 9:30 am Saturday, September 17, 2022

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By Dean Collins
President, Point University

I have a love/hate relationship with planning. My top strength according to Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment is called strategic. In many organizations where I have worked and on boards I lead, I am in charge of strategic planning. 

As leaders, we are called to look forward and come up with strategies that guide us to fulfill our missions. That seems reasonable and sounds good in principle, yet my struggle continues. I can’t help seeing the challenges ahead and coming up with strategies to overcome them. Yet the idea of writing down the plan to deliver future results is a struggle.

The wise king of Proverbs wrote quite a bit about plans. So did the psalmist and several other writers of scripture. Some scriptures seem to suggest that we should make plans but write them in pencil and not in stone. 

Consider Proverbs 16:1: “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.“

And Proverbs 16:9: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

On January 1 of this year, after praying and thinking about what I was to do in 2022, I wrote myself three instructions. The first one said this: “Pray more before starting any initiative.” I have read that line nearly every day this year and I have practiced it as well. Since then, I made plans and started working those plans. And after two or three months, God changed the plans.  The last half of verse 1 says: “but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” We can and should make plans, but we must remember that God has the final say. His plans, his answers, are far better than ours, and we would be wise to remember that and pivot to his plans when he gives us an answer.

I am also learning that verse 9 is true. We can make plans, but God establishes our steps. If we aren’t paying attention every day to nudges from the Holy Spirit, we may stubbornly work our plans and not realize that God has suggested a better path. Leaders and planners must be willing to adjust when God introduces a shift in what we think we are supposed to do.

Verse 3 sheds more light on our opportunity of planning success: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”

We must pray. We can and should plan accordingly. And then we are to commit our work to the Lord. Scholars say the Hebrew word for commit means to roll. We roll or shift onto the Lord the weight of everything we are planning. He takes the burden and delivers the outcomes he establishes. And these are always better than anything we can plan.

How many times in your life have things worked out exactly as you planned them? I think my stats are pretty low here, even when my strength is documented as strategic. I am generally in the ballpark, but I have repeatedly found that God’s answer is far better than my plans.

I think some of our challenges with our plans are rooted in our willingness to surrender heart, mind, soul and strength to the Lord. As long as we think we are the smartest and the best for the job, then we will likely interfere with what God could do with us and with our strengths and through our weaknesses. And by the way, God wants to use both our strengths and our weaknesses for his glory and to produce his kingdom outcomes. James may have been channeling some of the wise king’s thoughts when he said this in chapter 4 of his letter: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” So go ahead and join me in praying and in making plans. But remember the best outcomes and the best way to execute our plans come when we surrender them to the Lord. And we must be sure to set aside, even repent of, the self-confidence that tells us we know best. Arrogance has been the destruction of many plans and more people. Humble and surrendered planning will allow us to stay open to the ways God will bring about his will and a better solution than we could ever imagine.