Act Now

Read James 4:13-17

There is a famous English proverb which has an origin that is difficult to trace: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This proverb is an attempt to communicate the idea that an intention is meaningless unless it is acted upon. How many of us are guilty of saying something like “I will visit with my elderly aunt when my life slows down in a bit.” Often we make such a statement with some desire to act upon it but unfortunately something leads to the aunt dying and we never make the visit. Each of us can think of other examples of situations when we claim we are going to do something but we do not follow through and the opportunity is lost.

The writer of the letter of James is speaking about such a situation. Here it is pointed out that we can earnestly make future plans but there is no guarantee the future will come to be. The Lord is the only one who knows our future and where the next day will take us. The writer clearly communicates the finality and brevity of our existence. Anyone who proclaims the future plans which will occur is acting as if the future is in the individual’s control. This attitude is described here as arrogant.

The Lord does not have an issue with us making plans. Where we run into a problem is when we see those plans as guaranteed and under our control. This is why we are reminded here that we are not to put off to tomorrow the acts of love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Each day we are given opportunities to show these expressions as we act upon them. The good which we can do for one another should be carried out at the time the opportunity is presented instead of planning to get around to it another day.

God’s Plans

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV)

When a young person prepares to graduate from high school, the standard question he/she is asked relates to their future plans. At “senior night” of whatever extra curricular activities the individual participates in, when they are being introduced with their parents, their future plans are usually included in the introduction. For some determining future plans is relatively easy but others struggle in determining their plans. This will be the first time when they are making life altering plans. It will not be the last time of making such impactful plans though.

Jeremiah sends a letter to the Israelites who have been taken into exile by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The purpose of the letter is to deliver a message from God. At the start of the message God instructs the people to live normally in whatever city into which they are exiled. Then God’s message shifts to their promised return to Judah and Jerusalem. God then tells them that they will be brought back to Judah when the appointed time arrives. God says that there are plans for them to prosper, have hope and a future. When the people seek God, God promises to be found.

This is a valuable message for anyone who is in the midst of working on plans to hear. Even before we start planning, God has already made plans for us. These plans are intended to assist us in being prosperous. God intends to bring hope and a meaningful future into our lives. If while we are doing our planning we seek the Lord, we are promised a successful search. Then God will actively be engaged in our planning. The plans which the Lord has for us can be integrated into our planning process.

God has plans for you. Are you including those plans into your own?

Making Plans

Personally, I am a planner. I have calendars and to-do lists. Daily routines are important in my life. I feel more secure when I have a plan and then a backup plan to handle situations if my first plan gets disrupted. There have been many conversations between God and myself about plans. I often request that God helps me to follow through on my plans. The man who I married is also a planner who used to plan activities out months in advance and in great detail. Planning is a key part of my life.

I had a close friend who used to remind people that they can go ahead and put together a timeline but not to be surprised if God decides to chuckle and rearrange those plans. He was specifically talking about a process which was used to find a new pastor for a congregation. However, I think his words of wisdom apply to much more than that specific life event.

Over the years I have been placed in positions where planning was important but more important was being able to adapt at a moments notice. Having spent time working with youth required me to plan but know that at any time the Holy Spirit (or sometimes human intervention) could show up and quickly alter the plans. I have learned that making room for the Holy Spirit is more important than having a well-thought-out plan and sticking to it no more what.

God has told us in the words of Jeremiah:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord

Jeremiah 29:11-14a

An important observation to make here is that the plans are not spelled out or in detail. We are just given the assurance that God has a plan which will benefit us in the most important ways.

I strongly believe that God desires us to plan. We are reminded of the importance of planning and being prepared in the story which Jesus told of the ten virgins:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-13

For me, the key regarding planning is to realize that while planning is important and must be done, the Holy Spirit may lead us in a much different direction. Every time that I have allowed my plans to be altered by the guidance of the Spirit, I have discovered that the end result is much better than anything I could have imagined in my planning.

Go ahead and plan. Then listen for God’s chuckle and the feel of the Spirit showing you a change or a whole new plan.