After coming back from a long weekend of planning meetings, it befuddles me how strange it is that we have to plan so much. In February, we’ll have the FST retreat, discussing plans, plans and more plans. Aren’t we supposed to depend on God? But this strange combination of dependence and planning are not opposite thoughts. If anyone understood dependence on the Father, it surely was Jesus Christ, and yet watch what he says:
“What king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Luke 14:31
“Sit down and consider!” Jesus said. He connects this parable about strategic planning directly to discipleship in the previous verse:
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:27
Planning is vital for those who would be Disciple-Leaders. Spiritual planning is simply the exercise of our free will to “come after Me” and “sit down and consider!” I struggled for years as a young Christian “waiting for something to happen.” I’ve since learned my problem: I would never “sit down and consider.” Until I did that, I floundered in confusion. My free will was frozen will.
So it is possible to simultaneously depend on God for leadership, provision and authority, but still contribute our own creativity, gifting and brainstorming to His Kingdom through planning.
Interestingly, we find that “planning” under God’s authority should be a time filled with power, unity and vision. These are words I would use to describe last weekend’s Sphere Leader’s retreat. It was such an inspiration, in fact, that we simply must have another planning retreat that includes more planners. (We will do so soon among the Word workers and leaders.)
There is a big difference between planning meetings among Disciple-Leaders and those dreary planning meetings we endure in the Kosmos. I can’t think of anything more exciting than having an opportunity to sit down “among my own kind” – that is, Disciple-Leaders – and entering koinonia together.
Nehemiah is a study in the careful combination of spiritual dependency on God and confident planning. He was a prisoner far from home, working in the court of the famous Persian king Artaxerxes. He was heartbroken, living in a strange land, living as a captive. The sadness was obvious:
I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified Nehemiah 2:1-2
Why Nehemiah’s terror? Unlike the rest of us, kings don’t have to endure depressing company. It’s a good way to get “fired” by beheading!
But Nehemiah was not merely wearing his feelings on his sleeve. He was deliberate, too. This is why he could jump on the opportunity to lay out a far-fetched plan asking Artaxerxes to help the Israelites. It was a crazy gamble, since King Art was a Persian. Why would he care about such a remote, trite people? But what an amazing response Nehemiah received:
Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. Nehemiah 2:6
How quickly Nehemiah answered the king’s stunning question! The answer was precise and impressive, and Artaxerxes immediately recognized this man was ready for leadership.
Artaxerxes said, “Go! Do it!” If Nehemiah were a less-prepared man, he would stand there stunned and overwhelmed with joy. But Nehemiah’s calculated reaction proves he was prepared for answered prayer:
And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me. Nehemiah 2:7-8
That was a huge shopping list he gave the king! Nehemiah was not reciting mere words wbeforehand: he was praying that kind of prayer which is so full of confident faith that it triggers confident planning.
Imagine how disgraced Nehemiah would’ve been if he kept returning to Artaxerxes again and again asking, “Just one more thing, please!” Because he planned, he walked out of that throne room with a mother-lode of power and riches from the throne of the Persian Empire.
He planing was exhaustive, but it paid off. Why don’t our plans meet similar success?
Here’s Nehemiah’s power: “The good hand of my God was upon me!” he said. When the hand of God is with the Disciple-Leader, it’s like a windstorm that sweeps the path ahead clear of debris. Watch what I mean:
Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. Nehemiah 2:9
Nehemiah received an army he never asked for! Nehemiah’s requests were bold, but never did he imagine asking for an army escort. But King Art was obviously so impressed by Nehemiah’s resolve, and so sold on Nehemiah’s cause, he initiated the army himself.
It reminds me of an old pioneer who was asked how he survived the hardships of frontier life: “Trust in God,” he said. “And keep your powder dry!”
This is Planning-by-Faith. It is not the same as saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Such a statement is not found or rooted anywhere in the Bible. Those that “help themselves” are those living Kosmos-ethics where self-worship rules. To those who “help themselves” Jesus says this: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it!”
Far from helping himself, Nehemiah was burdened for the Kingdom of God. Because Nehemiah knew about God’s will, and because he was burdened for God’s will, he planned with confidence knowing what the future would bring.
“But what about my future and my will?” someone might ask. “God’s future is one thing, but knowing my future is a complicated matter! This is what worries me!”
Therein lies the source of many follies and fears: separating our future from the Kingdom of God. Is it possible to build a future far more brilliant and fulfilling than the Kingdom of God? For those who want it, it is easy to gain a foothold of great confidence, according to Jesus:
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Them that would bypass Christ’s wisdom for “marching to the beat of a different drummer” as the Cult of Self would advocate invariably sink into a dark world of follies driven by fears. “But perhaps he hears the beat of a different drummer?” the American philosopher Thoreau would object. Let the “different drummer” quit skulking in the shadows, come out, and compare his kingdom plan against the Kingdom of God! Then it will be shown how Thoreau’s “different drummer” is merely sounding a retreat: “Run away! Get far away from God!”
Faith breeds order
Leaders like Nehemiah think through the situation. Faith breeds organization, because biblical faith is based on fact, not feelings, and it is rooted in confidence, not wishful thinking. Anyone with real faith knows that God will answer, and even how God will answer. The spiritual leader then plans for the inevitable answer.
This life of Planning-by-Faith is far different from the resigned-faith of false religions. Man-made religions depict mankind as mere pawns caught in the hands of a dictator deity. The Greeks invented “The Fates”, and other deities followed the same pattern: remote, dark deities with secret plans. What’s the attraction of man-made religions? Such an aloof and secretive deity is easily dismissed, nothing we do really matters anyway, so the religions become simple: placate the deity, and otherwise carry-on as best as one can.
The God of the Bible is so different. Yes, He certainly has plans, and yes, His plans certainly will prevail against the greatest of human kingdoms – even Persia of King Artexerces has no power to stand against Him. But He is public and openly invites us to join His Kingdom. He is unashamed about His intentions and spells them out clearly in the Bible.
Those who make plans to follow His will then become “Stewards of the Mysteries of God.” He calls us “Stewards” because he enjoys making plans with us, and He encourages our creative contributions to The Kingdom. We can rely on His promise to grant us more than enough resources to invest and plan with.
Planning for Fellowship
Our aversion to planning is damaged and distorted by our experience in the Kosmos. Planning meetings in the Kosmos is sheer drudgery, dominated by simple-minded logistics and a cold-hearted pursuit of more cash for the shareholders. “Let’s hurry so I can go home,” is an appropriate slogan for planning meetings in the Kosmos.
Planning for God’s Kingdom is wildly different. It is an exercise in fellowshipping with God because we are “God’s fellow-workers.” We can depend on God for survival, planning then becomes a more creative labor of love undertaken by those who “Love the appearance of His coming”, who love the King of Kings, and who love each other.
It was a great SLUM retreat, even though we spent almost all the time planning! It will be a great Fiscal Support Team retreat, planning for the future of this exciting ministry!
Upcoming: what did we do on the SLUM retreat?
- The Farthing
- Why Are People So Mad at Jesus?