Goals. Deadlines. Plans. Expectations. Dreams. These are all good, at least in principle. Most of the time. As the old saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” However, as a modern paraphrase of the Robert Burns poem also points out, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
|Plans are best written in pencil.|
For many years I’ve been a strong advocate of goal-setting and planning. I learned to make constant companions of my day planners, and I’ve delighted in crossing off items on my to-do lists and writing in things to do in future days and weeks. Plan your work and work your plan. Our recent trip to Italy was the culmination on months of preparations. Just the other day, I scheduled my annual physical for next year.
However, with the glorious 20:20 clarity of hindsight, I’ve learned plans should be elastic, sometimes even disposable. Because stuff happens – and sometimes it doesn’t. I think of aspirations I had in college; some of those came to fruition while others couldn’t have been more off-target. I couldn’t possibly have planned the directions my career would take or the things I would be able to achieve, along with the worthwhile goals I would never realize.
It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, but always important to realize as much as we would like to believe the contrary, we’re not in control of many things that go on in our lives. As Proverbs 27:1 admonishes, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
But we need to plan, don’t we? It’s irresponsible to face each new day with no idea of what we’re going to do, right? Yes, it is. But we need to balance that necessity with a recognition that God’s thoughts of what we should undertake might be very different from our own. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).
In His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus offered a similar warning about being too presumptuous about the future, even one day ahead. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).
Someone has wisely observed that “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” This doesn’t prohibit us from setting goals, planning for the future, or trying to figure out how to complete our “bucket list.” That new job or next promotion probably will require some preparations. Next summer’s vacation arrangements won’t take care of themselves. And forward-thinking for Christmas is well-advised. But these all should be filtered through a willingness to submit to God’s plans, knowing His are superior to our own.
As Jesus told his audience, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).