Making Plans in Pencil

— JaRED SEGERSTROM —

Few things in life bring me more enjoyment than making plans. I love putting the next few months down on my calendar, organizing it under the categories of “Family,” “Church,” and “Work.” In the last few weeks, I added graduation open houses, youth camp, and a wedding to our summer calendar. Short-term planning keeps me from overbooking and allows me to schedule fun for our family. 

I also love long-term planning. About once a month my wife and I find ourselves relaxing in the living room after our daughter has gone to bed, talking about our future. We love to dream out loud about ministry aspirations, more children, paying off those dreaded student loans, and even future trips we’d like to take (Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand, anyone?). Discussing these long-term plans infuses excitement into our mundane weekly activities.

Making plans is by no means an evil activity. In fact, planning the future often evidences wise stewardship. But taken too far, our planning can actually demonstrate foolishness and a selfish heart.

In his letter to dispersed Christians, James offers a caution to those who make their plans without consulting God. James 4:13-17 says,

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.

To summarize, James tells his readers to make plans in pencil. Planning your life without seeking God’s guidance will leave you bitterly disappointed. However, humble planning marked by flexibility demonstrates wisdom and trust in God. James gives four reasons why godly people make plans in pencil.

1. We can’t predict tomorrow, but God already has.

James was speaking to thrifty business people who were determined to get rich quickly. What was wrong with their plans? They forgot that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We are all one job loss, one illness, or one tragedy away from derailed plans and uncertainty. Is the solution to make no plans whatsoever? Of course not. Instead, we make plans but commit them to our loving Father who has already written the script for our life. When we do encounter unexpected changes, we ask God for the faith to trust him and to respond in a righteous way.

2. Our lives are short, but God is eternal.

James reminds his readers that the length of our lives more closely resembles the steam coming off our morning coffee than a centuries-old river or a mile-deep ocean. Our days are limited. Our God, on the other hand, has never been bound by time. He is sovereignly moving all of history towards a finish line, which is the eternal restoration of the relationship between God and his creation. We are wise to order our lives around the only things which will enter that eternity: the souls of people and the Word of God. 

3. Our knowledge is tainted, but God’s will is trustworthy.

Have you ever made a decision based on faulty logic or incomplete information? It’s an exceptionally frustrating feeling. The fact of the matter is we don’t know as much as we think we do. Sin has affected every part of us including our intellect. Our all-knowing God, however, has a mind free from sin’s effects. We can trust him when our knowledge falls short. When we tell someone we are going to do something “Lord-willing,” we are not throwing in a superstitious Christian cliché. Instead, we are reminding ourselves and those around us that God knows better than we do. At the end of the day, I want my life to mirror the plans of my all-knowing Father, not my own tainted knowledge.

4. Our desires are evil, but God’s desires are perfect.

When we brag about our pre-determined plans to others, we simply reveal the evil desires of our heart. James 4:1 tells us that it’s those same evil desires which cause us to fight with other people. Wanting our own way, following our own dreams, and planning independently of God and his will, all reflect a heart which places self above God. We need to discard our self-exalting agenda, and instead walk in the new life we’ve been given through the shed blood of Jesus. Each morning we get up, rejoice in the new mercies waiting for us, and ask God to align our desires with His holy character.

As you write out your plans for the upcoming week, month, or even lifetime, listen to the wisdom James 4 provides. Put away your ink pen with its unpredictably short-term agenda, tainted knowledge, and selfish ambition. In its place, pick up the humble pencil and write out your plans, all the while trusting an eternally-minded God to change those plans to line up with His perfect character.