Saturday, 28 April 2018

To plan or not to plan?

I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 1 Corinthians 16:7

I can just about remember, from my childhood, posters that might go up on a church notice-board advertising a forthcoming meeting: for example, “Friday 6th July at 7.30 p.m, D.V”.

D.V? - what on earth does that mean? Answer: it’s short for two Latin words, deo volente, “God willing” (say dayo volenty). The people advertising the meeting were definitely hoping, indeed expecting, that it would go ahead as planned; but they didn’t want to take anything for granted. God, after all, might have other ideas and the meeting might never happen. So they felt the need to cover themselves, so to speak.

To most of us today this seems old-fashioned to the point of being rather quaint; we might be tempted to smile.

But if it’s a fault, perhaps it’s not a bad fault to have.

As Paul brings his first letter to the Corinth church to an end he outlines some of the plans he has for the future, especially in regard to visiting them: “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”. Whoever wrote the Letter to the Hebrews speaks in very much the same way about the need for Christians to move towards real maturity of faith: “And God permitting, we will do so” (Hebrews 6:3).

The Bible writers clearly weren’t against planning ahead - but always with the proviso: if God permits.

My wife and I spent a few minutes the other day looking ahead in our diaries to see what we might expect in the coming months: responsibilities we have committed ourselves to; holidays we hope to enjoy; visits we plan to make; events we expect to be involved in. But though we never actually spoke the words “God willing”, that thought was always there in our minds - these things, for all we know, may never happen.

Another memory from my very early days as a Christian was people who didn’t think you should plan ahead at all. These were days when many Christians were still reading the King James Version of the Bible - and didn’t Jesus clearly tell his disciples that they should “take no thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34)? Quite right: but what they didn’t realise (and, to be fair, why should they?) was that the word Jesus used is better translated “don’t take any anxious thought”, “don’t worry about the future”. (The people I’m thinking of weren’t, of course, true to their own resolve, for life would simply be unliveable if we literally never thought about what was coming and made sensible plans accordingly.)

Where does this lead us?

I suggest four things.

First, let’s not be afraid to plan ahead. We’ve seen that Paul and the Writer to the Hebrews did. Still more, so did Jesus - see, for example, John 7:1-11.

Second, let’s always plan prayerfully. As we shape our plans for the future our over-riding concern must always be to stay within the will of God: never mind what I want, what does God want? There are times when various options in front of us seem very attractive, but they may lead us away from God, even if they are not sinful in themselves. I wonder if anyone reading this is teetering on the brink of an unwise decision about the future? Be careful! - you could spend a long time regretting it.

Third, plan in light of the fact that it may never happen. It was, I think, the sixteenth century devotional writer Thomas a Kempis who wrote: “Man proposes, but God disposes”, and he was right. (Of course, the Bible had got there first: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).)

Even perfectly good plans may never happen: that godly Christian who collapses and dies of a heart attack at ten-thirty one morning no doubt had plans for that day...

Fourth, plan in faith. God is your heavenly Father, and he loves you. Trust him, then, even if you feel afraid - indeed, all the more if you feel afraid. Remember the very simple words of the song: “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future”.

Oh, and here’s a word I direct first and foremost to myself, because in this respect I am the most miserable of miserable failures... If something happens to interfere with your carefully laid out plans, smile and pray to see it not just as an interruption or a nuisance but as a God-given opportunity. Who knows what good might come of it?

Whatever, at all times remember DV!

Lord God, everyday life throws up so many possibilities, so many choices and decisions I have to make. Please help me to remain calm and trustful and to be open to the quiet leading of your Spirit. Amen.

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