These days you can’t make plans more than a week out. Ask any educator preparing for the school year. Things change daily, even by the hour. This leaves life feeling chaotic and uncertain.
So how do we go about our work?
Is it worth all the effort?
Should we make plans, or just throw up our hands?
I’ve been dwelling on Psalm 127. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) This Psalm re-frames our perspective on work and planning when our work seems in vain.
In response to Psalm 127, here are three practices that I think capture its spirit. They put us in the posture of proper work and planning.
Pray as much as you plan.
“Unless the LORD builds the house . . . “ Before your start building, make sure you’re at the right construction site. Before you even begin to plan for any task – your family, home, career, future - ask God what he wants. Don’t insult him with work that is contrary to where he is.
How often do we pray like this: “God, I have a great plan. Now come bless it!” Instead begin, “God, what is your plan? Where are you already blessing? I want get in on that.” Making plans is prudent. But how often we plan and how little we pray.
Hold plans loosely.
A tight grip means that I want control. I’m obsessed with my ideas. I’m married to a particular plan. Especially in times of uncertainty, we tighten our grip. An open hand means I have a general direction, but I’m adaptable and flexible. God can redirect me at any time.
I have looked in the Bible for examples of long range strategic planning. Of course there is God’s master plan of salvation. All his plans are good and eternal. But I can’t think of any good examples of human strategic planning.
For example, the early church in the book of Acts had a general direction from God: take the gospel to the ends of the earth. But the day to day plan was constantly recalibrated. Paul and the Apostles held plans loosely and were open to the redirection of the Holy Spirit. Paul made plans and was regularly detoured from Ephesus to Philippi to Colossae. It’s not that you don’t make plans, but you hold them loosely. Each day you hold a finger to the wind to see which way the Spirit of God is leading.
Sabbath means to “stop” or “cease.” One day a week you need to stop working. Be unproductive. Rest. Go for a walk. Pray. Hang with family. Take a nap. Why is Sabbath so important for our work? God teaches us about work when he tells us to stop working. Sabbath gives us perspective on our work. Our work is important, but we’re reminded that God works even when we don’t. The practice of sabbath is especially important when our homes have become work spaces.
“Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Ps. 127:1) We are laborers, not the Master Builder. We are watchmen and watchwomen, not the Guardian of the city.
Do you think too much of your work and too little of God’s work?
Do you overestimate your ability and underestimate God’s?
Even good work can be misguided. Even our best plans can seem futile. When your work is at an end, you begin to see the work of God.