Planning Like Paul

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Some Christians think that making plans for your life is the opposite of being Spirit-led.

They’ll chide you for:

  • Setting goals
  • Having ambition
  • Striving toward anything at all

They’ll tell you that if you make plans then you aren’t trusting God. What you really need to do is just let go and let God.

But is this the model of the Christian life that Scripture presents us with? Should we never make plans? Are goals simply a manifestation of a lack of faith?

No. Far from it, I will argue.

And this is no better evidenced than in the life of the apostle Paul.

Paul was a planner.

And there’s a lot he can teach us about planning while still being open to how God might redirect us.

Even before He met Christ, Paul was a man filled with zeal. Though it was a misguided zeal (Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:6). This zeal without knowledge is what led him into the awkward position of persecuting God’s church in God’s name.

But when Paul meets Christ on that road to Damascus, everything changes. The Lord redirects the entire trajectory of the man’s life.

He now has a new focus.

But you’ll notice something. When Christ calls him, Paul:

  • Doesn’t cease being ambitious.
  • His zeal isn’t suddenly snuffed out
  • And he certainly doesn’t stop planning

Paul just aims these powers at a new and better object: The proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This was not an easy calling.

Even when Christ called Paul, he told him that suffering was part of the deal.

โ€œBut the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’โ€

Acts 9:15โ€“16

But herein is another lesson about planning and goals. Paul didn’t find the strength to endure his hardships, adversities, and setbacks by taking a passive attitude toward life.

“Well, I got put in jail. I guess that’s just a closed door now. Oh well!”

He trusted God. Yes. But that didn’t manifest as a laissez-faire attitude toward the Christian life.

No. Paul kept the goal in front of him.

Paul had confidence that his calling was from God and that the payoff for pressing on would be well worth the pains of persecution (Philippians 2:5โ€“11; 3:8โ€“16).

Paul’s trust in the promises of Christ motivated his perseverance. He could push forward toward his goal because he knew that even though the details might not work out as he had planned, the outcome was guaranteed.

But Paul was also flexible when it came to his plans.

As Bradon Crowe notes in his book Every Day Matters,

“Paul had things he wanted to accomplish on his missionary journeys. He had a clear vision of the places he wanted to visit, and reasons for doing so. Paul made plans and aspired for the best ways to discharge his apostolic task.(26).

But, my goodness, the man’s plans were constantly impeded.

  • Paul’s plan to visit the Thessalonians was hindered by Satan (1 Thess 2:18)
  • He had his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7โ€“10)
  • And his plans to go to Spain probably never materialized (1 Tim 3:14)

But those setbacks didn’t seem to phase him.

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Because though he had his plans, he always subjected them to the plans of the Father.

  • When he was stopped from preaching in Asia, he went to Phyrigia and Galatia
  • When was couldn’t go to Bithynia, he saw a vision from God of a man calling him to Macedonia. So he went there instead (Acts 16:6โ€“10)

When you study the life of Paul you see a pattern. “Paul’s journeys evidence a mixture of both careful planning and recalibrating on the fly.” (Crowe, 27).

The man knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he had well-reasoned plans for how to accomplish it. But that did not prevent him from allowing God to redirect him both providentially and directly.

How could Paul plan carefully yet hold those plans with an open hand? Here’s the key: Trust in the sovereignty of God begets flexibility in our plans.

A passion for God’s glory is what draws us to make plans to please Him. But it is our confidence in His absolute sovereignty that allows us to not despair in the face of setbacks and to pivot at a moment’s notice without getting frazzled.

What can we learn from Paul’s example?

The apostle often instructed his audience to imitate him, so let’s do just that. What can we mimic in the life of Paul when it comes to planning and goal setting?

1. Have a clear aim

Paul had:

  • One passion
  • One focus
  • One clear mission for his life

So much of his power to persevere came from having that crystal clear vision before him at all times.

When you start to view your life as a vehicle for the glory of God and turn all of your faculties and unique giftings toward that calling, you will naturally begin to identify what needs to be done and make plans for how to accomplish it.

Know why you’re here and let that be your North Star.

And a funny thing happens when you get your priorities straight, you struggle less and less with managing your time.

2. Have faith-filled flexibility

God’s not always going to bring our plans to fruition. And that’s more than okay.

It’s a good thing.

Strong confidence in God’s sovereignty will help you to pivot fast when the Lord truly shuts a door.

This of course depends heavily on whether you have made the plans of your life to be in accord with God’s plans.

If you aim to glorify God, you can be confident that providence is your ally.

When you walk by faith setbacks don’t lead to grumbling, but thanksgiving.

3. Have a diligent work ethic

Paul planned, he was flexible, and he was also no slouch. He was disciplined.

This is probably what irks me most about the “let go and let God” crowd.

It’s laziness. It’s apathy. (Not to mention it’s unbiblical.)

When you look at Paul’s work ethic you find an example worthy of imitation.

When you recognize the weight of living a God-glorifying life, as Paul did, you don’t take it lightly.

You’re a steward of the King of Kings, so act like it. Put your head down and do the work like you feel honored to be serving such a gracious God.

Conclusion

The world is filled with folks who work hard, plan well, and are flexible in the service of temporal or even sinful goals. But shouldn’t Christ’s church be the paragon of diligent labor?

For we have a greater goal, a greater God, and a greater good awaiting us if we press on in His power and for His namesake in whatever we set our hands to do.

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