09.11.20 Decision Making: Make Plans/Hold them Lightly
If you have been praying for direction and suddenly…you get a call from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time…and that person talks about the very topic you have been praying about…maybe even says that they felt compelled to call you…what does it mean?
-You don’t know what it means…you do know that someone has called that you haven’t heard from in a long time…but you don’t know for certain what or if it means anything other than that.
You are praying about what Job to take or direction regarding a change of major…suddenly a “door” opens up…out of town job offer, scholarship offer for a different major…what does it mean?
-You don’t know what it means…open doors can be opportunities or they can be diversions, threats.
-If you see an open door…you don’t automatically walk through it just because it’s open…no matter how coincidental the circumstances.
-If there is a “closed door” of opportunity…same holds true…maybe you should redirect maybe you should endure…the status of the “door” doesn’t tell you which.
You have this impression, feeling, sense that God wants you to do something…should you do it?
-It depends doesn’t it?
If it is clearly given in Scripture as something you should do…then you didn’t need the impression…you already have the Bible.
If it’s not clearly outlined in Scripture…then you don’t really know for certain if this is God…or if it’s just you.
“Terry, don’t you believe that God speaks?”
Of course, I do…I also know for a fact we don’t hear as clearly as he speaks…and most of what we need to hear he has said in his word…the Bible
And…many people have become disillusioned, deceived…superstitious…and passive… all in the name of “wanting to know the will of God.”
I know that there are some specifics that are important for us to know…things that are not in the Bible.
For instance: It’s not in the Bible whether we should remodel the church in September of 2020 or not…or what you should major in…who you should marry (in specifics)
-But there are guidelines and principles in Scripture for how we should decide and proceed with decisions like these…principles of wisdom and faith and love…these include…prayer, community…and many other things.
But, again…to the original question… “You have an impression or a ‘sense’ that God wants you to do something…should you do it?”
-Unless you have chapter and verse…then maybe you should…maybe you shouldn’t…The Bible is infallible, our impressions are not.
*We need wisdom to make good choices.
You have determined to wait on God before you take any action…when you know his will then you will move forward.
-Is this a good idea or not?
-Again, it depends on what you mean by “wait”
-If you “wait” by being busy doing what God clearly wants for you…being productive and active in good work, relationships, ministry, and the pursuit of Christ…then that is likely “good waiting”
-If you wait by being passive, fearful, inactive…then clearly that is “bad waiting”
This year: Wise living from Proverbs
This month: Wise planning or wise decisions
Summarize the month of September in a paragraph: “God speaks through his Word, his Spirit and his People…to give us direction for our lives…what to think, believe, do and become. Wisdom is pursuing his goal for our lives as outlined in his word. In short…his will is that we become like Christ. We are to become mature and active people…living decisively not fearfully or passively. We don’t need to know the future; God already has that fully in hand. We need to prepare and plan for the future by acting with wisdom, faith, and courage today…his will for our lives…is that we grow in Christlikeness and all that entails.”
We want to do God’s will…so of course we want to know God’s will.
But here’s where things can get muddy…we can, without realizing it…not really want to know God’s will so we that can conform our lives to that will.
We can, without realizing it…want to conform God’s will to our lives.
I did this without realizing I was doing it…two years ago:
-I won’t elaborate, but I was praying for God to direct me regarding an issue of some importance to me.
-But in retrospect, I really was just trying to strong arm God into telling me the future, a specific future in fact…I wanted him to go along with my plans and then tell me my plans were his plans.
– “Terry, that’s dumb”
-I agree but it was more subtle than that in the process…I see this more clearly now in retrospect.
-Fortunately, God did not comply…I had all the information that I needed to be faithful day to day…my desire to know the future or to force a certain future was out of line.
Decision making and trying to discern the will of God can become…
“Oh God tell something good about my future and what decisions I can make to ensure that good…future”
“Tell me the future so I will live risk free” which often equals “Faith free”
What do you think of a parent…who tells her daughter…step by step how to get through the day?
It depends…is the daughter 2?…it’s a good thing.
Is the daughter 22…not a good thing.
The goal of parenting is to raise adults…people with wisdom and character and courage…who know the good to do and then do it.
*God desires maturity from us…that we would increasingly know his will and ways and have the courage and faith to act on that knowledge.
What if a preoccupation with knowing God’s will for our lives subtly makes us into people who are preoccupied with our lives…not God’s will?
What if an obsession with knowing exactly what he wants us to do…makes us passive and undermines us becoming who he wants us to be?
What if it is less about faith and more about fear?
The well-known verse Jeremiah 29:11 is often used to “claim” a good future for ourselves.
“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.”
Sounds pretty straight forward…God has plans for me…they include prosperity and protection from harm…what’s not to like about that future?
The context for that verse was that God’s plan for Israel was not what they wanted for themselves.
In fact, God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah was super reluctant to pass those plans on to them…when he did…the people mistreated him…they didn’t like God’s will.
They brought in their own prophets who told them what they wanted to hear.
So, the false prophets said “The future is bright, all will be well”
The people replied, “Brilliant! Right on! Surely this man is a prophet”
Jeremiah said “You are going to lose your nation…God has decided it.”
The people replied, “Shut up! False prophet!”
So, what was the actual future God had planned for them?
Babylonian captivity…defeat in war…exile…loss of virtually everything.
Then what does 29:11 even mean?
It means that on the other side of loss and pain…God had a future for his people…he would bring them back…not every single person would experience the same kind of prosperity and protection…but his purposes for his people would stand.
As for individuals…they could, if they would…find confidence, comfort, courage…protection in knowing that God and not their own sin and not the Babylonians…was in charge of ultimate outcomes.
But they wanted God to bless them in ways they wanted to be blessed (and would hear nothing other than a message of blessing)…but they really didn’t want to hear God’s actual will.
Because life was about them…not about God.
If they had truly been open to hearing what God had planned (and it involved some very bad news at first)…then they would have been positioned to make better decisions than they did.
The goal in knowing the will of God is to become more fully the mature people of God…it is to conform our lives to his will…not his will to our lives.
So, the primary goal in decision making is to maximize the glory of God in my life…all other goals are subordinate to that one.
Decision making is about “plans”
Good plans require a good goal.
What is the goal for your life?
You can have many sub-goals…marry, own a business, teach, write a book, join the military, have a baby…all great goals, valid goals.
But THE foundational goal for the follower of Christ is to become like Christ…more and more over time…in order to more fully enjoy and glorify God…the reason for which he has made us.
As I said, this year, we are looking at Biblical Wisdom, this month “wise decisions” or “wise plans”
Today we will look at several verses from Proverbs chapter 16.
These verses speak to the need for a healthy balance between proactively making plans and fully surrendering those plans to God.
*Keeping the tension: God is sovereign (his purposes will stand), I am responsible (I must make wise, courageous choices)
To continually seek this balance, positions us to make better life decisions.
16:1 To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.
This does not discourage planning but encourages humility and openness to change…more specifically…openness to God’s ultimate plans not our own.
“Reply comes from the tongue” means “this is what actually happens.”
We are to plan (plans “belong” to us)…this is what we want to happen
We are to trust (outcomes “belong” to God)…from him comes the “reply of the tongue”…this is what did happen.
That verse sets the stage for life balance in decision making.
Look at the NT wisdom book…James…he makes essentially the same point.
James 4:13-15 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.”
The idea, again…make plans, hold them in an open hand…open to the Lord.
This is not simply adding the words “If the Lord wills it” to our plans…it is not a magic incantation but a life orientation.
This is moving through life with a heart that understands…I must proactively plan and prepare for the future…and I must fully trust God with outcomes.
Balance is very difficult in this…especially when we are very attached to our plans.
We can become people who are afraid to make plans…or people who refuse to let go of plans they have made.
Let’s go on, add a nuance to this theme…the book of Proverb’s favorite nuance in fact…the heart.
2: All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
We can easily convince ourselves that our motives are pure/good…that is…we truly do want to know the will of God in order to make the best decision.
When we are convinced, we operate with completely pure motives…we don’t question our decisions as much as we should.
This verse warns…we might not “mean as well” as we think we do…watch your heart.
This verse cautions about over confidence in our own goodness…trusting our hearts too much.
We are often quick to judge the motives of others…but to consider our own motives as being pure and honest.
This verse is not advocating for paranoia…to question every single decision’s underlying motives.
But it is, advocating for humility…recognizing that we are all very easily self-deceived in believing in the purity of our motives for decisions.
Our motives…are almost always…if not always…mixed.
make plans…hold them in an open hand…check your heart
Go to verse 3.
3: Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
Sounds a bit like having a Genii…ask what you want, get what you ask.
But of course, the qualifier is “Commit whatever you do to the Lord”
Which again, is much more than a prayer for God to bless our plans.
Verse 2 is a heart check on verse 3…we are easily fooled into thinking we really want what God wants.
The test is when our plans do not work out like we had hoped or planned.
“God, I don’t understand…I committed my plans to you and now they have not worked according to my plan…why?”
These three verses together are summarized like this…
“Make plans that align with the will of God, if they fail to come to fruition, clearly they didn’t align with his will so…trust God with outcomes now…then be faithful to continue to make plans that align with his will.”
Is this circular logic…what does this even mean in real-life decision making?
In 2 Samuel 7 David approached the prophet Nathan with his plan to build a temple.
Nathan said “Why not, after all, you are king after God’s own heart.”
That night God told Nathan… “Back up Nathan, you should have checked with me, David is not going to build the temple…his plans (and yours) are not my plans.”
David then spent the rest of his life preparing for the temple to be built…but by his son.
David probably had pretty good motives for what he wanted to do…he was Israel’s best king…but it’s doubtful that his motives were pure.
However, either way, it was not what God wanted for him…he had to adjust his plans to God’s plans.
Let’s go on…verse 4.
4: The Lord works out everything for his own ends— even the wicked for a day of disaster.
There are various views on what the Sovereignty of God entails as relates to individual human choices.
I will give you my own personal conviction: God is completely sovereign and in control and humans are completely responsible to choose and our choices impact outcomes.
I don’t understand how that works but I am convinced that it does.
It is not a contradiction…it is a mystery.
A contradiction is something that cannot be true at the same time in the same way.
A mystery is simply something out don’t fully understand…this is not a cop out…there are plenty of mysteries in the world…that we live with every day.
Here in verse 4 we see that God is in control of the wicked acts of human beings and uses even their evil for good…good being his own ultimate purposes.
The Joseph story illustrates this principle.
God uses even the evil actions of the brothers and Potiphar’s wife to place Joseph into a position within the Egyptian hierarchy so he could provide haven and life to the people of God during a horrible famine.
There are many other examples of this…most notably our redemption provided by Christ brought about through an act of horrifying evil, the crucifixion.
Another example of this proverb may also be found in the events that led to the downfall of the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel.
When the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded the country, it was described in Daniel as a an “evil day.”
From the Babylonian perspective the victory was a gift of their gods.
But the biblical narrator tells the ultimate truth “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hands” (Dan. 1:2 NIV).”
God uses all things for his good purposes, even evil people and their wicked acts.
In the NT, Peter proclaims that, though Jesus was put to death by wicked people, this was done by “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:22–24; quote is from 2:23 NIV).
None of this means that God authors evil.
Humans author their own wickedness…but the point is that God maintains ultimate control.
God can use the very act of human rebellion and autonomy for his purposes.
This verse nestles in with the other verses in the chapter to bolster confidence in God’s will and ways.
“I can plan…but what about all the evil and messed up people and events that I have no control over…they can mess up my life! Why plan?”
Because God is in ultimate control…not wicked people…or random events.
You and I are to plan…and to trust God who does have control over all people and events.
One more verse…that again summarizes this point…
9: In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
There it is again…we plan…these plans originate in our heart (mind, will, emotions)
We have ideas about what we want to happen in our lives…we make those ideas into plans…actions items…this is normal, good.
But we must keep in mind…we are responsible (to plan and to act)…but we are not in control.
So, we can plan with confidence as we grow into a more mature knowledge of God’s will and ways.
And then we move into life with faith….knowing that though our plans may fail, his will not.
But…in place of faith as the engine for living out our plans…We sometimes install “worry.”
Why would we do that?
Because we know intuitively that we can’t control the future…so we use worry as sort of substitute for control.
When we worry about things, like the future…it can feel like we are actually doing something about them…but of course…we aren’t.
Jesus said, “Don’t worry about your life.”
-Physical needs and don’t worry about how long your life will last
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
He said “Don’t worry about clothing, possessions, food, drink, don’t worry about tomorrow.”
He didn’t say…”don’t plan”…he did say “don’t worry”
Worry is sometimes substituted for good planning and good action.
Worry is a failed strategy for dealing with the future…what is the Lord’s strategy?
“Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness…and all these things you worry about will be added in as well”. Matt 6
So…make plans…trust God with those plans…don’t add in worry.
If your plans don’t succeed…reorient to God…adjust your plans and press on.
Today is part 1 of 4 as we look at wise decisions/planning...all four fit together.
Today: Summary: We make plans, the Lord determines outcomes…these twin truths are complimentary not oppositional in our lives.
Our priority in decision making must be to pay attention to the big “Why” of our lives?
Why do you exist, what is your purpose?
Our life decisions and planning flow from our life purpose…God’s “will” for your life…is that you become like Christ in the way you love God and others…character of Christ.
So plan…trust…adjust…become like Jesus in all of it.