As we approach the New Year many people begin to make plans and set goals for 2015. Some set financial goals or weight loss goals. Others make travel plans and decide on Bible reading plans. I could go on, but you get the picture. Planning is a good thing (cf. Prov. 21:5). I think it’s a part of what it means to be created in the image of God. After all God has a plan for all of history which culminates in the coming of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:10). But we live in a fallen world. And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we go about planning in the wrong way from time to time. Some people use planning as a way to “play God,” while others have little room for planning; they’re more impulsive. When it comes to planning, we need a balanced and biblical perspective. And I think it would also be helpful if we took a balanced approach to planning.
A Balanced Perspective
Some people are so intent on making plans and sticking to the plan that it can at times seem like they think they’re God. Why do I say that? Planning can be a way to try and control your life. Some planners have very little flexibility or patience when things don’t go according to plan. What does God say about this? Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (cf. Jas. 4:13, 14). The wise plan, but they trust God knowing he is in control.
Balanced planning also realizes that the best plans are not made in isolation from other people. God has created us to not only live in right relationship with him, but also with others. And part of that involves seeking counsel from others. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (11:14). But counsel alone is not sufficient. We need to seek wise counsel. Proverbs 20:18 says, “Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war” (cf. 24:6). When we plan in isolation from wise counsel we are playing God, in a sense, because we’re not acknowledging God’s way of wisdom. The way of wisdom is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the benefits of good counsel.
A Balanced Approach
Not only do we need a balanced perspective on the role of God and the role of others in our planning. We also need a balanced approach to planning. So much planning has to do with the physical—exercise goals, financial goals, etc. And that’s good. But what about goals for our growth in grace? God is the one who works in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure, but we’re also called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). I think good planning for gospel growth may be a way to work out our salvation.
Evangelicals regularly make Bible reading goals (not unlike the way everybody else makes exercise and weight loss goals!). But while Bible reading may be one of the most important goals a Christian can make, Bible reading is not the only thing to help us make progress in spiritual growth. One way you may consider a more balanced approach to your planning for spiritual growth in 2015 would be to use our membership covenant as a categorical guide to plan and set goals.
Our covenant calls us to the following commitments:
- I will build up others in the body with the Word. What is your plan for growing in the Word in 2015 so that you can grow in grace and build others up? I suggest Don Carson’s For the Love of God that uses Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. Tom Macy turned me on to this in 1999 and it has served me well ever since. I also suggest doing some reading in theology throughout the year. You may try using the New City Catechism (which can also be done with your families) or reading Evangelical Convictions, a commentary on our Statement of Faith. You may also consider a Bible memory plan, like “Fighter Verses.”
- I will pray with and for others in the body. What is your plan for prayer for 2015? You may consider the following resources/ideas: The weekly prayer page in your bulletin; Joe Thorn’s schedule for praying through the Valley of Vision; a prayer partner or small group; the Wednesday night prayer meeting; etc.
- I will gather with the body regularly to worship. Have you ever thought about the need to plan to gather regularly for worship? I’ll never forget a sermon by Tom Macy on this topic. Will you plan to get a good night’s sleep on Saturday? Will you adjust your travel schedule and your kids’ activities schedule to plan to gather regularly for worship on Sunday morning?
- I will serve and care for others in the body using my spiritual gifts. What is your plan for service and stewarding your gifts in the body? If you need help knowing how to get involved in service we would be happy to visit with you.
- I will give generously to care for the needs of the body and to support our mission. Pastor Mike has already written on this in previous newsletter articles. But do you plan your giving or do you simply give when you get the urge or we make an “ask”? I’d encourage you to plan now what you would like to give in 2015. You can learn more about ways to give at firstfreewichita.org/give.
- I will partner with the body in evangelism and missions. Do you have a plan for outreach? Pastor Curt is a big proponent of intentionally praying for a few people that don’t know Christ. Do you have a few people you can pray for next year? Who will you share the gospel with in 2015? Did you know we have a missions prayer calendar we update each month? You can use that to pray for our missions partners. Or you could use Operation World to pray for certain countries.
- I will submit to the authority and disciple of the church. The church’s authority and discipline are certainly exercised in formal discipline or excommunication, but that’s a rare occurrence. The more important ministry prevents formal discipline. It’s the daily ministry of every believer as we speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15), where we exhort one another daily to see that nobody has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Heb. 3:12-13). Do you have relationships and times set where this can take place? Are you in a small group or accountability group? What’s your plan?
I could have used a different filter to think through a balanced approach to planning for spiritual growth. But hopefully the membership covenant illustrates the point. God calls us to work out our salvation. We’re told to make every effort to grow in godliness. Ultimately God does the work! But we play a role in our sanctification. It only makes sense that we would plan to grow in grace.