“A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
It might be safe to say everyone reading this blog has heard this before. Yes?
The idea is practically enshrined in the collective framework of leadership principles. Even in our personal lives, this idea is what prompts us to save for the future or have an emergency fund.
But are there limits to how far we can plan for the future? Is there room in our lives for living today?
How do we balance the tension between the conventional wisdom of “a failure to plan is a plan to fail” and Proverbs 27:1?
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.Proverbs 27:1
New International Version
I’ve been asked this question on more than one occasion. I’ve never felt like I’ve given satisfactory answers—at least, not for me.
Is Scripture telling us to not plan? Is planning at all a sin? Is planning for the future making a boast about tomorrow?
The answer may be “it depends.”
In Proverbs 27:1, we read the word “boast.” Let’s point out the often-overlooked issue: “boast” does not mean “plan.” The proverb is not saying, “Do not plan about tomorrow…”. It states “do not boast…”.
The Hebrew word (the original language of most of the Old Testament in the Bible) translated as “boast” means to “admire, praise, worship, make a show of, or to show off verbally.” It’s the same root wood from which we get the word “Hallelujah.”
This helps us see what the Proverb is telling us. The issue is not planning for the future. There are many places in the Scripture that encourage planning for the future. The issue, then, is boasting about our plans for the future.
When we make a show of or show off our plans about the future, we are crossing a line into worshipping our plans for the future. In our overconfidence of the future, we can begin to pride ourselves in the ability to control the future. And that’s something we cannot do.
As Scripture informs us many, many times: pride is the issue. Pride in ourselves and our ability to make our preferred future come to fruition. But can we really make anything happen? Perhaps in some small sense, we can, but our “power” is so limited, it must be comical to the Lord when we try.
The half-brother of our Lord Jesus, named James, wrote about this too in James 4:13-17.
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.James 4:13–17
New International Version
We should plan for tomorrow. On a small scale, it means washing the clothes today we will need to wear tomorrow.
We should plan for next week. and go buy groceries for the meals we’ll prepare.
Planning for the possible or inevitable day we are unable to physically work is wise.
We must be cautious, however, that those plans are laid at the feet of our Master, Jesus.
So I still say, “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
But I also say, “All of my plans are subject to the will of Jesus.”