I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner. I like to plan my calendar for the year ahead of time. Being a spreadsheet junkie I even attempt to plan our finances years in advance. Paying off debt or saving for the little ones’ college are things that don’t tend to happen accidentally, so I try to at least have a plan. Of course, the lines between plans and goals sometimes blur, so I have to be willing to accept the unexpected and missed targets.
Never have I had more plans changed than in 2020. Perhaps you can relate. My calendar was quite full, with conventions and speaking engagements and even a long-anticipated family vacation with my parents and siblings and all the cousins.
Then COVID-19 happened. One by one events were canceled. Travel was curtailed. Borders closed. Airlines grounded their aircraft and put idled planes in storage. Even one of the busiest airports in the world, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, shut down five of its six runways to park 600 planes, two-thirds of Delta’s fleet. In just a few weeks the best-laid plans of millions evaporated into the new norm of stay-home orders and precautionary shutdowns. Layoffs, furloughs and reduction in pay became the norm for pretty much all of us. Plans and goals went out the window as the uncertainty of the future changed priorities and abilities.
So, some may wonder, what’s the point of planning with the world changing so quickly around us?
The Bible encourages planning and preparing for the future.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it ... ” (Luke 14:28)
But, at the same time, Scripture makes it clear that many of our plans will have to be considered tentative.
“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:14-15)
So how do we reconcile the injunction to plan with the need for plans to be tentative? Here are a few of the observations I’ve been able to make regarding planning.
First, relax. For planners like me the uncertainty and change can itself be debilitating and paralyzing. Sometimes I just have to take a deep breath and remember that God is still on the throne and that my life is in his hands.
Second, be grateful. Whatever I’ve lost in plans or payroll, I’m still better off than the vast majority of the world’s population and have reason for immense gratitude.
Third, look for opportunities. After the initial closure of churches and cancellation of events, the world began to use technologies like Zoom and others for virtual meetings. All of a sudden, without travel, any of us could preach anywhere (at least anywhere we were willing to deal with the time zone difference). I did church services in India and Malaysia and all over the U.S., sometimes as many as four per weekend. There’s a saying that whenever God closes a door he opens a window, and there’s a lot of truth to this idea. Don’t worry so much about what you’re not able to do — do what you can! If you’re laid off or furloughed, use the hours to spend time with family, take care of projects or otherwise use your time profitably.
Fourth, learn what you can from this experience. Most of us didn’t live through the Great Depression, and we’ve perhaps lost many of the values and habits of those who did. Things like avoiding debt as much as possible, saving for the future, or even planting a garden suddenly become more important in an unstable world. The difference between planning and contingency planning is that the former assumes the world to be constant and predictable, something we’ve all been reminded just isn’t true.
Fifth, identify those things that are reliable and dependable. We can value more our friends and family that stick by our side through thick and the COVID-thin. Some things just don’t change, and among these are God’s word, his love, and his promises of a new world with no sickness, unemployment, hunger or pain.
When everything else is changing, it’s a good time to focus on things that don’t change. It’s always God’s will for us to be saved, to accept Jesus as our personal savior and make him the Lord of our lives and best friend. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. He’s gone to prepare a mansion for us, and will come again soon (John 14:1-3). We can plan to be there with him on that day, a part of his eternal kingdom. And even COVID-19 can’t change those plans!
Chester Clark III is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor living in Dalton. Contact him at email@example.com.