Sobriety is only a virtue if you're not drunk.
If you are drunk, then the very capacity to know you are intoxicated is disabled. You are, as they say, "drunk out of your mind." I do not plan on getting drunk this New Year, but I fear that, even without the aid of alcohol, my normal end-of-the-year celebration leaves me so financially and emotionally hung over that I can't think clearly about the New Year.
I have a tendency to blame this on Christmas. The problem, however, is not so much the Christmas season. The problem is the timing. Since Christmas is right before New Year, we ramp up into the new year with a full gut, an empty wallet, and a profound sense of loss. It's the financial and emotional equivalent of a sugar rush. There is no time to prepare for the New Year, and the New Year - that's where it's at! Think about it. In the sovereign grace of the Creator, we were allowed to open our eyes and receive the possibility of 365 days to please Him, to honor Him, and to live each day to His glory. What a treasure. If we preachers struggle with this, I imagine that those in our pews struggle as well.
I recently heard a wonderful New Year's sermon from my pastor, J. Josh Smith. He was kind enough to send me the manuscript and, with his permission, the abridged version is given below, mostly in his own words. The sermon, a part of a series through Proverbs, is an exposition of Proverbs 16:1-9, entitled "The Wisdom of God and Plans." The premise is that we are encouraged to plan carefully, then hold the plans loosely as we trust God's sovereignty to modify them. So, how do we do that?
Embrace Reality: God is Sovereign over our Plans
First, embrace the reality that God is the sovereign ruler of all things. The very spirit of Proverbs 16 affirms this in no uncertain terms. Listen to vs. 1, 9 and 33: "The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord...The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps...The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD." Those are important conjunctions. Every plan we devise is subject to God's all-loving, sovereign wisdom.
This does not mean that we embrace passivity as a virtue. Rather, the sovereignty of God demands something of us.
Embrace Responsibility: We Must Still Plan
Proverbs 16 makes it very clear that we still have a responsibility to plan, make decisions, and think about the future. God is indeed sovereign. And, in His sovereignty, He commands us to plan. This is our responsibility and joyful work within His sovereign plan. This passage tells us that when it comes to making decisions, making plans, or determining the will of God, we have a responsibility. So, how do we plan in the New Year? There are at least five imperatives, explicit or implied, in Proverbs 16.
STEP 1: Plan
Life demands planning. A productive life demands more planning. A godly life demands even more planning. If we want to do what God expects, we plan. We learn to make plans, organize our lives, make decisions, and move forward. The life to which God has called us demands it. Wise, careful, thoughtful planning is the God-ordained means by which His people are productive. There is absolutely no virtue in a lack of planning. The one who fails to plan is a fool. The one who carefully and thoughtfully plans is called wise.
Proverbs 16:1 does not condemn planning, but calls us to acknowledge our plans as subject to God's sovereignty. The word employed for "plans" can mean to arrange something in an orderly manner: to think something through, reason it through, and then plan a course of action. A failure to plan leads to failure to please God.
Think of these Proverbs:
- Proverbs 15:22—Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.
- Proverbs 6:6-8—Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest.
- Proverbs 6:16-18—There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil.
- Proverbs 14:15—The naïve believes everything, But the sensible man considers his steps.
- Proverbs 20:18—Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance.
- Proverbs 21:5—The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
We plan with wise counsel, with biblical wisdom, purposefully and carefully. It is not presumptuous or sinful to make plans. It is wise.