Praying then Planning
By Peter Robert Rose
We learn as we mature that few things go precisely as planned. We learn to expect the unexpected, to prepare contingency plans and to have alternative systems in place. We practise risk management and value flexibility. We review past activity and then apply lessons when planning future events.
But have we learned about communicating with God, even before the planning begins? Have we established patterns in our lives of looking to God for leadership, listening to Him and only then setting our planning systems in place in accordance with what we believe to be His will?
This article draws on examples from Scripture to remind us to consult fully with God before, when and after we establish our plans. It encourages us to select, adopt and adapt what Jesus taught and practised.
Scripture presents diverse models for reaching significant decisions. How do we know which model to apply for each situation?
Acts 13 opens with the church in Antioch worshipping and fasting. We are not told whether they were planning a mission. Yet the Holy Spirit spoke during their worship and commanded they set apart Barnabas and Saul for the Spirit’s work. After fasting and prayer, the church placed hands upon Barnabas and Saul and sent them off. The Antioch church evidently was open to the Spirit’s leading, and certainly was ready to comply with the command they received. A lesson for us is to be a worshipping community, open to the leading of the Spirit, and courageous enough to comply when directed to do so.
Some have used Acts 1:15-26 to demonstrate the consequences of our planning ahead of the leading of the Holy Spirit. Peter explained to the gathered believers the need to identify another to replace the traitor Judas. They proposed two men, Joseph and Matthias. Then they prayed. They asked God to show them who was to take over the apostolic ministry from Judas, then they drew lots. Some consider they proceeded without God’s guidance. I am less convinced; I believe we do not err in asking God to close doors before us if something we pursue is contrary to His will.
Are we meant to plan at all? Should we just cruise through life looking to God to provide all that He knows we need at the appropriate time? We recall that Jesus instructed his followers not to be anxious about anything. We are more valuable than birds, we are more important to God than the lilies of the field (Luke 12:22-34). We are not to worry but rather we are to seek God’s kingdom as first priority. Does this mean that if we plan an activity we are disobeying or disrespecting God? I think not. Jesus used hyperbole to reinforce his messages. Luke’s Gospel also records (14:28-30) Jesus’ explaining how important it is to count the cost before undertaking a large or expensive venture: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?”
Jesus also taught that a consequence of such planning might be to decline to act (Luke 14:31-33). If a plan reveals one’s resources are inadequate, do not embark on a risky venture (in Jesus’ example, do not go to war). Avoid a course of action that would result in failure.
Luke also records that Jesus wants us to be wise in our stewardship (19:15-26). Thorough planning should prevent us from misusing the resources entrusted to us. We are to be prepared (Luke 12:35-44); this includes gathering those tools and resources we might possibly need for the tasks ahead. We are advised to build on a sure foundation, not taking unnecessary risks (Luke 6:47-49).
Let us look beyond what Jesus taught, to what he practised. An outstanding example of our Lord’s praying before making a significant decision is when he chose his twelve disciples (Luke 6:12-16). “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve…” Luke’s account clearly links Jesus’ prayer with his decision of whom to select. He consulted God – and he spent at least the entire night doing so!
Does this give us adequate guidance on the way we are to apply the injunction to “Pray and Plan”?
In essence, we should obey the advice of the Proverb to “commit to the Lord whatever (we) do, and (our) plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3).
• We need to listen to God – Father, Son and/or Holy Spirit (Acts 3:22b) as we pray, and not do all the talking.
• We need to heed what God tells us (Luke 6:47b) and act on what we hear.
• We need to be prepared to have our plans change, because we do not know what might happen tomorrow (James 4:14).
• We must allow the Holy Spirit to work and to move as God wills, and not be so rigid that we deny Him opportunity (Acts 4:31).
There is much we can learn from the relationship between Jesus and his Heavenly Father.
• Jesus expects us to ask for wisdom (James 1:5).
• We are to be confident that we will receive that for which we ask (Luke 11:9-10, Mark 11:24).
• Even if we do not know what precisely it is we are to ask for, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8:26-27).
As military people, we accept planning to be an essential part of our profession. Comprehending the need to plan in the workplace, we are able to extend that need into our social and sporting activities and into our family environments. “Pray and Plan” gives us a model to apply in all aspects of living. The challenge is to apply it consistently. We should devise means of doing this, even if we must pray privately when planning with people who might not share our faith.
The Military Christian Fellowship of Australia has encouraged us to apply “Pray and Plan”. But have we established it in our thought processes and regularly practised it, both as individuals and in our faith communities?
“Praying then Planning”: Author’s Note
The original concept of “Pray and Plan” is attributed to Major General Sir Robert and Lady Ewbank of the United Kingdom. I am aware of tracts from the Officers’ Christian Fellowship in the United States (for example, “Pray and Plan” by Paul C. Pettijohn) and from the Officer’s Christian Union in the United Kingdom (for example, How to Run a Pray and Plan Team” by Lieutenant Colonel Richard Sandy RE). I am aware too that on a visit to Australia, the then President of the Association of Military Christian Fellowships, Major General Sir Lawrence New, conducted a “Pray and Plan” seminar.