“Seems like you need a clearer vision of what you’re doing after college. Try coming up with a five-year plan.” Those were the words of an academic advisor at Auburn University after listening to me propose careers such as reporting the news, researching media effects, writing for the then-popular King of the Hill television show, and of course, touring in a rock band. The guy wasn’t wrong; I was a kid with lots of ideas but no specific plans to turn them into realities. Thus, I became obsessed with answering the following three questions:
1. What’s my vision for the future?
2. What’s next?
3. How do I execute that plan?
Most advisors, career counselors, parents, coaches, managers, etc. have asked the aforementioned questions, which - in isolation - seem fine. These questions force individuals to think about what they want most in the world and whether they’re setting themselves up to achieve it. And apparently plenty of people are coming up with their own five-year plans. A quick Google search retrieved more examples than any one person could examine, with advice from Pinterest users, the LIVESTRONG Foundation, and even the U.S. government’s own Corporation for National and Community Service. Indeed, it’s nice to know where life is headed.
Most of these plans – though effectively articulated - are missing an important question, though: What’s Jesus planning?
Josh Agerton, our pastor at Embrace Church, recently taught from Matthew 16 to demonstrate how our plans sometimes differ from those of the Lord. Specifically, he focused on the famous “Get behind me, Satan” conversation in which Peter pulls Jesus aside and refuses to accept that He will willingly hand himself over to die and be resurrected. Although the words “get behind me, Satan” are well known (even appearing as the title of a White Stripes album), it’s what Jesus says after them that should truly inform our plans:
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’” Matthew 16:23 (NIV)
So, what are our five-year plans made of? Heavenly concerns or human concerns? Making the world a better place or making our own insular world a better place? Addressing the feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and anger that drive so many people into darkness or accumulating more cars, tvs, and smartphones to take us away from that darkness?
January is a month of starting things; look no further than the increase in membership that most gyms will receive by the end of the month. As we listen to people talking about New Year’s resolutions and what they hope to accomplish, it’s hard not to think about our own goals and what we could start or do to achieve them this year. After all most of these goals are great things such as getting in shape or going back to school.
But it’s important to look not only at our concerns but also at the Lord’s. Do the plans for our days in 2016 match up with those of God? How can God use you? How can you join Jesus in what He’s doing? Who are the people around you? What is Jesus doing in their lives? Can you join in? What is Jesus doing at your work or at school? How can you help?
Maybe the first question we ask ourselves about our plans for the year – or for the next five years – shouldn’t be about our plans at all. Because our plans are sometimes like Peter’s: well-intentioned but incapable of achieving the glory of what God has in mind. Instead, maybe our first question should be, “God, what is your plan, and how can I help?”
There is no clearer vision.