Allen Saunders, an American writer, journalist, and cartoonist, once said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." So, why bother with planning? Does God make plans? Does He have a Plan? Foolish questions—of course He does. A plan is nothing more than a blueprint, a design, an idea. One look at this wonderful universe of ours, and we have to know that God has a design, a Master Plan. Preparation involves assembling, constructing, and developing. Is that not what God is doing with each of us? He is assembling and building a Family. He plans for us to be in it, and towards that end, He is preparing us.
Noah did not start building the ark when those first drops of rain began to fall. No, before that, God had given him plans (Genesis 6:14-16), without which he could not have built the ark. Having come directly from God, there is no dispute that they were good and right plans.
What about the plans that come from our own minds? As a people, we are big on plans. Corporations have annual budgets, which are blueprints for the coming year. The government talks a lot about the "budget," which seems to be a work of fiction.
In the 1980s, new leadership of the Worldwide Church of God came in after the founder, Herbert Armstrong, died. We were told that the church needed a "Five-Year Plan." We had never had one prior to this, but apparently, it was impossible to go forward without it. Much was made of this, implying that poor Mr. Armstrong was something of a simpleton and did not understand the complexities of running a large organization. With the "Five Year Plan" in place, the church began a rapid decline.
It was not the planning that was wrong but the intent of those formulating the plan. God was not in the picture. The leadership told us repeatedly that we must not just "work harder, but work smarter." "Smarter," among other things, meant having this magic plan, but I do not remember being admonished to seek God's will! We have to remember that "we make a lot of plans, but the LORD will do what he has decided" (Proverbs 19:21, Contemporary English Version).
Many years ago, Herbert Armstrong wrote a booklet, "The Seven Laws of Success," in which he listed having a goal as the first of these seven laws. A goal is nothing more than a design, a purpose, a plan! The second law is preparation. Clearly, Mr. Armstrong completely understood the concept. One should have a plan, a goal, and then prepare. Where this grand scheme, this Five-Year Plan, went off the rails is the new leadership forgot the most important law of success, the seventh: "having contact with, and the guidance and continuous help of God."
A five-year plan was probably not needed for the church's success, yet a plan to handle growth would not have been a bad thing. Buildings needed today, for instance, must have plans drawn years earlier. It takes time for zoning changes, pulling permits, financing arranged, and so on. However, we would not set out to build that structure without first consulting God. Corporate America has an adage, "Poor planning and preparation leads to poor performance." To make this maxim apply spiritually, we should add another "P": Poor planning and preparation, and no prayer, leads to a poor performance.
In Romans 8:28, Paul writes, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." The J.B. Phillips New Testament puts it a little differently: "Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good."
What is a pattern? It is a form, a guide or design, a model or standard to go by. God is following His blueprint, His plan for us. As Paul states, this plan is for those "who love God." Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." This plan is for those striving to live a life that is pleasing to God. Along the way, trials appear that can cause us to deviate from the plan, to lose our way for a time. This is part of our preparation. All that has taken place in our lives has occurred to bring us to the place where we now stand. It is part of the Plan and preparation for what is to come. The two go together.
The word translated "purpose" in the New King James and "plan" by Phillips is the Greek word prothesis, which means "a setting forth." Figuratively, it suggests "a proposal" or intention. Literally, it means "a setting forth in advance for a specific purpose, placing it in view," referring to the showbread. We could literally read verse 28 to say "the called according to His showbread." Obviously, this would not be a correct rendering. The translators knew that in this context, God meant the figurative meaning of "purpose" or "plan." Still, the literal meaning of prothesis, "showbread," meaning "a setting forth in advance for a specific purpose, placing it in view" is also correct. Just as the showbread was placed in the Temple each Sabbath, placing it in view, so God's Plan is there for those with eyes to see.
The apostle in James 4:13-15 writes:
Come now, you 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"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."
Is James saying, "Don't plan"? No, not at all. He is saying that we should not be so puffed up that we boast of our plans. Rather, we should say, as verse 15 advises, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." In humility, we should state our intentions, God willing. We should never think that our plans are the only way to go. We have been called to do God's will. That is our overall plan.
Since God did not post it on Facebook, we have to figure out what His will is in our own lives. We have to form our own plan and seek His guidance through daily prayer and Bible study. If our plan is off track, God willing, He will show us, and we will make the necessary changes. This applies to both physical and spiritual plans. From something as simple as drawing up a household budget (a plan!) to having oil for our lamps. When we do this, Proverbs 16:9 should never be far from our thoughts: "A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps."
So, if we find ourselves at some point attached to a barrel of bricks by a rope, and that barrel is headed our way, planning and preparation tell us, "Let go of the rope!"
- Mike Ford