The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” – Prov 16:9
“If you’re failing to plan, then you’re planning to fail.” So goes the cautionary line against floaters, drifters, and the self-pitying apathetic. The trouble is for many people, including myself, a lack of planning is not the problem. I’m constantly planning. We plan trips, meals, work projects, dates, outings, and finances. And yes, you can find plenty of people who are struggling and going bottom up because they’ve never stopped to make a plan for their future. But even there, the problem is not planning, strictly speaking. Those people are still making plans. It’s just that those plans tend to focus on today, instead of ten years down the road.
Our hearts are planning instruments. We can’t help but make plans. But you’ll never hear someone quote the above line in the aftermath of a health crisis, a weather shift, or a chance encounter with an old friend. These are variables so evidently outside of our control, they don’t bear mentioning. We adapt our plans around them. They fade to the background of our minds and planning, because we become accustomed to screening out all the things that are outside of our control, in order to focus on things we can control.
In a way, that’s a good habit. You won’t get much done if you’re factoring in an earthquake contingency plan as part of your daily schedule. On the other hand, if you operate on the equation of ‘planning yields success’, you’ll lose a sense of perspective, gratitude and balance. Peace and contentment slide farther out of reach. We begin expecting that the more detailed our plans are, the more controlled our future will be. This, of course, is a recipe for frustration.
When you hear people trace through the stories of their lives, or when you think about the plotline of your own life, how many times can you say:
“I’ve reached point x (where I am today), because five years ago, I planned to do a, which would lead to b, which would then produce c, up to where I am today!”
How much more often is it the case that you will say, or hear it said:
“I could have never planned this.”
“I never would have imagined being here.”
When you really think about it, or if you really listen to someone’s story, isn’t it much more often the case that our lives consist of events or people which simply “happen” to us, and then we respond as best as we can?
That’s what God is wanting us to remember from this verse. The point is not to chuck out planning (if that were even possible), and say:
“It’s all good, God’s got this.”
The point is, like James tells us, to underwrite all of our plans in our own minds with the caveat:
“If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)
God does not want us to be paralyzed in our plans. Quite the opposite. God is telling us that even in the way we plan, not to mention the outcome, it’s God’s purposes that succeed, so we should trust Him.