“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5 (ESV)
Proverbs consistently encourages diligence in work but this verse adds an important contrast: planned versus impulsive actions. It is not enough to be busy, a person must be diligently working on the right things to be productive.
Planning Is More Important Than Plans
Winston Churchill, incorporating the wisdom of military planners such as Moltke the Elder, observed that ““Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” (1) Though game plans may need to be abandoned or significantly adjusted once the game begins (or, Moltke’s assertion that plans do not survive first contact with the enemy), the very process of planning allows a person to make wise decisions to adapt to the changing environment.
Proper planning includes the evaluation and elimination of alternate plans or ideas that might be use in the changing circumstances. Likewise, the evaluation of a course of action might indicate where following the plan would lead to a disastrous outcome though, initially, the plan seems to provide a desirable result. Evaluating such plans in advance allows one to refuse the tempting option in favor of another alternate plan that will provide better results. Additionally, the planning process should generate contingency plans that can be followed when problems strike. NASA, as featured in the movie Apollo 13, documented and trained on unusual scenarios and had documented plans of actions to deal with problem situations.
Using Priorities To Plan Purposeful Action
The danger of keeping to-do lists is that some people list tasks to complete without asking if they should delegate the work to others or even do the work at all. An important part of planning enabling the diligent to be successful is outlining goals and performing actions that lead towards those objectives instead of wasting time on things that might make one look busy but distract from a worthy goal. Plans help us say “no” to actions that are unproductive so we can say “yes” to tasks that bring success. Planning programs such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) and Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Successful People incorporate goal development and visioning to create plans that allow productive people to determine what tasks to perform, delegate, or eliminate.
Though the proverb has initial application in business success, the same thinking can help us grow spiritually. Do you have spiritual goals such as learning sections of the Bible or becoming more useful in God’s service? Do you have a plan for daily meditation, purposeful prayer, and teaching others? Sometimes we do not grow spiritually or produce fruit because we are satisfied where we are or do not think about what specific steps we need to take to grow in knowledge and be more active in the kingdom. The same principles apply (principles in bold, examples in italics):
- From your Bible study, identify ways in which you need to grow as a Christian.
- I need to be engaged with my brethren in their time of need.
- Specifically define and write down how you would describe having achieved success in the identified area of development.
- Every week I am sending cards, calling, and providing assistance to brethren in need in addition to daily prayers on their behalf.
- Write down what would be needed to achieve this goal.
- I need a contact information directory of the brethren handy, a weekly list of who needs prayers and some type of service, a weekly reminder to initiate actions or plan actions for later in the week, and a reminder to check at the end of the week to see if I have accomplished this goal. It would be good to have a collection of greeting cards and stamps to prevent procrastination.
- List specific actions required to achieve this goal and schedule the actions as appropriate.
- Make a list of everyone announced who is sick or in need. Schedule a recurring appointment on Monday morning to pray over those in the list and list by each name a specific action (or actions) to take this week. If unable to write the cards or make calls at this time, add phone reminders (or add to calendar) for what actions to do at what times. Perform the actions as scheduled. Set a recurring reminder on Saturday morning to review progress and see if additional action needs to be taken (i.e., follow up phone calls). Give thanks to God for the ability and opportunity to glorify Him by serving others to honor Him.
Following a plan like the one above for a month or two may actually develop a habit that may not require a specific schedule (though it would be good to keep in order to block times in the week for particular actions, though habitual). If the plan is not working examine to see whether you need to get more specific in your planning (“do good” is a great goal but not a defining action), actually do the actions you have planned (instead of snoozing reminders), or determine if you have chosen a goal you want to achieve versus what you think you should do but really do not want to do.
Haste Leads to Poverty
The second part of this verse is equally important. Impulsive action generally leads to poverty. Much debt is accumulated through impulse buying. Hard feelings result from impulsive words said or actions taken against others when deliberate thought about what to say (or whether to say something) could have alleviated many problems. Business have brought legal problems on themselves for acting hastily without thinking about the consequences of their actions.
Though bold action is often praised in business and the cinema, bold thoughtful action is what brings consistently good results. When we act impulsively, we are reacting to emotion or situations. We are allowing how we feel in the moment (which is ever changing) or the priorities of others to dictate our course of action. If you do not have a plan for your life, there will always be others to press you into service to achieve their goals and you can end up reacting to everything in life and suffering financially and professionally as a result. It reminds me of the interaction between Alice and The Cheshire Cat in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland:
Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go
If you don’t have a plan then any way seems right because you are drifting with the tide or blowing with the wind. When you have a goal (destination), and a plan (map from your origination to your destination), you can cut through the tide, sometimes steering against the wind, to reach your objective. Haste wastes time; planning redeems it.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)
(1) Strategic Plans are Less Important Than Strategic Planning, Harvard Business Review