We need both planning and flexibility to serve God well

We need both planning and flexibility to serve God well

I love to plan ahead. I have goals for the year and the term, a to-do list that is extensively used, and an empty email inbox. I have had the basic plan of what I will preach on each week this year ready for some months and am always a few sermons ahead of what is happening this week. I do realise that not everyone loves planning like I do. There are planners and then there are spontaneous people; there are those who like order and predictability and those who ask, “what does God have for me today?”

When we look at the Bible, we see both emphases there. For example, Paul says this:

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16 ESV)

But then, in James, we read this:

13 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”– 14 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.

 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Jas. 4:12-16 ESV)

How can we reconcile these two ideas, of making the best use of the time and also being open to what the Lord wills? I think it needs to include planning. If we are organised and have a goal to aim at, we are in the best position to be flexible if God has other plans.

Let me explain how this can work using two examples.

  1. Many years ago, I was part of a church planting team at a university. We set up the church aiming to reach university students, and we met on campus. In our minds, we had planned to be friendly and open to people like ourselves. Yet God had other plans. He sent us a group of mainland Chinese postgraduate students who wanted to know more. So we had to change tack, setting up an Easy English Bible study group to help them. God used the church plant differently to our plans, but we could easily change tack a little because we had planned the basics like the worship services and preaching well.
  1. For many years, I have tried to have a couple of sermons fully prepared at any time. While this might seem like overkill, it gives me great flexibility should God bring me something unexpected. If there is a pastoral emergency or some crisis to deal with, or a conference to attend, or many phone calls to make, I can attend to those things. If I was not organised in advance, what would suffer would be the quality of sermon my congregation would hear that Sunday. I believe God’s people deserve good food each week and planning ahead means I can be more sure that will happen.

So, in this time of year when so many are speaking and writing about goals and planning, we face the danger of going too far in one direction or another. We need to get planning in the right place.

  • If you are a planner, like me, you need to also be flexible and open to what God might do. It could be that any goals you set in January might not happen. And that’s fine! Planning is wise and important, but it is a servant and not a master. We plan so we can be prepared to deviate from the plan in response to God’s unexpected work in our lives and our churches.
  • If you hate planning and love being spontaneous and flexible, you still need some level of organisation. It is not more godly or holy to aim for nothing and “go where the Spirit leads”. If you are organised, you won’t need to choose between good things when a crisis hits because you will be prepared. Planning gives you the opportunity to be flexible, even though that sounds odd.

Let’s plan to serve God well, whatever His plans for 2022 might be for us.