31 December 2009

Proverbial perspectives at the year's turn

by Dan Phillips

The stroke of midnight, as 12/31 turns to 1/1, is an artificial divider, but it is as good as any. Our birthdays cast the eye backwards, in retrospection. The grim realities of math and statistics may tap some of us on the shoulder with the reminder that the number of such dates before us is likely greater than that of those remaining.

But the prospect of New Year's day naturally casts the eye ahead. We make resolutions, we make plans. Some pious souls, however, shrink back from the whole notion of planning. Is it Biblical to plan and set goals?

It certainly is... if approached rightly.

In fact, God quite emphatically insists that it is our proper duty to plan. Hear Solomon:
Man's are the heart's arrangements,
but from Yahweh is the tongue's answer
(Proverbs 16:1, literally)
It is actually a verbless verse; we must supply "are" and "is" to get anything like understandable English. Both actors are thrust up front syntactically: man in line A, God in line B. It is, emphatically, the God-ordained part of man to apply his heart, his mind, to making arrangements, to setting plans in order. But with equal emphasis, B reminds us that God has the final answer. The old saying is quite apposite: "Man proposes, but God disposes."

Consider one more of many proverbs along these lines:
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps
(Proverbs 16:9 ESV)
Again, God intends that man use his mind to make plans, to do calculations and risk-assessments and cast up scenarios. There is no hint, here nor elsewhere, that God imposes Blackabbean slavery to mystic mumbles in non-moral areas. Adam could have eaten any fruit but one; to refuse to eat until God selected one for him would have been as sinful as eating from the prohibited tree. It is man's designed, God-ordained responsibility to make intelligent plans.

But it is God's to determine both the course and the outcome — and He discharges His responsibility quite adequately (Proverbs 16:33; 20:24; Romans 11:36; Ephesians 1:11). None need concern himself that a man doing what a man should do will prevent God from what God infallibly does. In fact, it is quite literally impossible for a man to frustrate God's eternal purpose (Proverbs 19:21; 21:30; Daniel 4:35).

So: it is right and proper for me to look to the future and make plans. Plan! Plan to do something. To fail to plan to do something is to plan to do nothing. Just do something!

However, at the same time, all our plans must be made in pencil, for we are warned:
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.
(Proverbs 27:1)
While it is true that our plans cannot frustrate God's counsel, it is equally true that His counsel can frustrate our plans. It is lazy, insolent unbelief to refuse to plan; but it is just as foolish to plan and assume, to plan without allowing for the ever-imperative "D.V." — Deo volente, "God willing" (cf. James 3:13-17).

So feel free to make plans and resolutions. Find a way that suits you, if not today, then some day soon.

Seek God's Biblical wisdom to plan and do, to the greater glory of Him who saved us.

Dan Phillips's signature


John said...

Thanks Dan...good stuff. I liked Don Whitney's thing on New Years and birthdays. Looking forward to your book on Proverbs. Do you have "Practicing Proverbs" by Mayhue. Thanks for your ministry...here and there. (The check is in the mail.) Have a blessed New Year.

Your obedient servant.

Anonymous said...

Blackabbean slavery?

Is that when people stumble around staring at their Blackberry?

Bobby Grow said...


Nice post! I like Friesen much better too. Although I think his approach could be tightened up a little too. Like I think we need to ground "will of God" thinking in Christ . . . so that there is a Trinitarian shape to it (instead of one devoid of the Spirit and rather pelagian). Taking the Garden of Gethsemene as a good case study of what this looks like (or before that the Incarnation itself).

Even though Jesus knew the plan, even as the God-Man; He desired as the "God-MAN" to avoid it. Nevertheless, His love (commitment to His Father by the Spirit, shaped by His own divine life) overshadowed the is (the pain and suffering confronting Him) . . . and thus the 'will' of the Father was done. Not because it was desirable, not because it wasn't the plan all along; but because the love of the Father overshadowed and shaped all of it --- it shaped the plan (the 'will').

Just some thoughts . . .

DJP said...

Stan - much, much worse.

DJP said...

Bobby, I'm not sure I'm getting you. I'll probably make it harder, then ask you to re-phrase for me,if you don't mind doing so.

I think a lot gets swept under the "Spirit" category without much Biblical warrant, and some that should be there gets left out. Like opposing being led by the Spirit to being led according to the Word. Plus, while theology ascribes illumination to the Spirit, the Word seems to ascribe it to Christ (i.e. 2 Timothy 2:7).

So, hit me again, if you don't mind.

Bobby Grow said...


Yeah, I see what you mean; the false dichotomy between Spirit and Word (with subjective vs. the objective), and that's certainly not what I'm getting at.

And I agree that there is this false competition between the Spirit and Christ with illumination --- I would agree with you, and say it's both/and, since the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and Son --- and magnifies the "work" (illumination) of Jesus.

I think my only point was to make sure when we talk about the will of God for us; we make sure we are grounding are thinking more in terms of "who is the will of God for us" --- then ask "what is the will of God for us" (since Jesus embodies both the objective and subjective within Himself). So while this doesn't get into specific application, what I was getting at was more of the principilization stage of understanding the will of God in terms of how it was/is played out in Christ's life (as far as response).

We certainly make our plans prayerfully, but per James, we do it with the realization that our lives are but a vapor; and we live in a constant state of response and submission, as Christ, "if the Lord wills" (or "not my will, but thine . . .").

So maybe all I was getting at is the order of how we go about this discussion. Is discerning the LORD's will about us, or is it about Him? And I would say if we are going to say the latter, then our method for talking about this must start with Christ; and realize that His humanity for us is the archetype of what it means for us to be human in Him (union with Christ) --- if we take His humanity as real humanity. Which means that our Spirit-filled response to the Father's will, flows out of Christ's Spirit-filled response for us as our Priest and Mediator (Heb 7:25).

I probably didn't explain much better; probably being a little nebulous. But I'll try to rephrase with more clarity if you want me to.

donsands said...

"However, at the same time, all our plans must be made in pencil, for we are warned:

Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring."

That's an important truth. Have been embarrassed more than a few times writing things in ink.

But, in the next life we will be free of all this awkwardly frustrating living by faith, but I shall "Endeavor to persevere". A quote from one of my favorite Westerns.

Thanks for the good word. Have a Happy New Year!

Bobby Grow said...


If you don't mind, let me share a great quote from TF Torrance (actually Robert Walker summarizing TF's thought) on Christ and the Spirit (and the Father) which has directly to do with illumination and more:

The role of the Spirit is to witness to Christ, to remind the disciples and through them the church of all that Jesus had told them, to declare him to them and to guide them into all his truth. The Spirit does not speak of himself but of Christ and opens the minds and hearts of humanity to receive him. The Spirit of God is God in his ability to be present to the creature and to open up the creaturely mind and heart to know God Himself in his revelation in Christ. The Spirit reveals Christ and opens up the creature to know and receive him.

This does not mean however that Christ is not equally present in all that the Spirit does. Just as 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself' so Jesus Christ is himself present in the work of the Spirit. In revelation, as in creation, atonement and redemption, Father, Son and Spirit are all inseparably involved. (Thomas F. Torrance, ed. Robert T. Walker, "Atonement," lvi)

This is what I was getting at with my illumination point --- that is to point out the inseparability of Christ from the Spirit (and vice versa) in that work. I think that, analogically, this also implies upon "doing the will of God." It is the Spirit who creates the space for us to "live out" of the will of God in Christ; for it is the same Spirit who "filled the Son" to submit to the will of the Father first. There is an intimacy amongst the Father, Son, and Spirit that we are now apart of; which then means that how "our" plans work out are always being reorientated by this relationship we truly share with the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit. We have the parameters of God's will laid out in the scriptures and lived out through the Son; how that looks in our lives depends on sensitivity to the Spirit and then living out of Christ's spirit-filled response for us. I suppose marriage is the best analogy here. Doing the will of our spouse is often a moment by moment experience. "Our plans" morphe to theirs, and vice versa (when we are being sensitive and loving). So as the dynamics of life unfold, often our plans unfold in a way that end up looking different than "we had planned" (because there is another person involved, and love puts the "other" first). I think this analogy breaks down, but maybe it helps clarify what I'm "trying" to say about grounding "will of God" thinking in Christ (it must be in terms of relationship and love [biblically understood]).

Hope this makes sense . . .

Scot said...

You know Dan, if you don't stop writing these posts, I'll have no more excuses to think that I have red phone to the Almighty. Why do you cause me such pain?

But seriously another solid post on planning and discernment. Your posts were one of many things that convinced me of the futility and foolishness of the Blackabbean slavery.

Quick question though: Why did you cite Proverbs 16:31 when you talked about God's responsibility to plot the course and outcome of our (man's) plans? I'm not seeing how it fits.

wv: disessev - what the will of God sounds like through his still, small voice

DJP said...

Scott - Why did you cite Proverbs 16:31 when you talked about God's responsibility to plot the course and outcome of our (man's) plans?

Because sometimes I'm an idiot. I meant v. 33, and will fix it. Sorry, and thanks!

Craig and Heather said...

Is that when people stumble around staring at their Blackberry?

LOL! Maybe. Can they be programmed as day planners?

So Dan, is Blackabbean slavery that disorder that causes sufferers to agonize in the supermarket aisle over which can of beans to buy?

I think I might occasionally experience that sort of thing.

Happy New Year, guys.


Gordon Cheng said...

Do either Proverbs 16:1 or 16:9 place an imperative on us to make plans I wouldn't have thought so. They both observe that we make plans, but whether this is a good, bad or indifferent thing is not stated—only (in the second half of each verse) that God causes to happen whatever he wants to happen anyway.

So I would rather see both verses as discouraging us from trusting in our plans, and looking to God's sovereignty instead.

I think that's a more Calvinist understanding, too, Dan, you crypto-Arminian. ;-)

SandMan said...

Some very liberating truths. Thanks.

When I was in college, and very inexperienced as a Christian, my favorite dear christian aunt put me onto a Blackaby Bible study workbook thing. I dove in for all I was worth and emerged more confused than ever. I was looking for cosmic signs, leaves blowing on trees, fleeces... you name it.

It was downright paralyzing. I felt like any decision I made was going to be the wrong one and that I would "miss God's perfect plan for my life." It sounds a little funny to me now, but at the time it really hurt. I was scared and miserable.

God set me free from fear when He providentially brought circumstances that moved me to a new church; one which explained the doctrines of grace, and God's sovereignty in all things. What a relief!

How great is our God that He offers us liberty to make choices, but holds all power to Himself to overrule and intervene when He sees fit.

Happy New Year, Ya'll!

Craig and Heather said...

SandMan said:
It was downright paralyzing. I felt like any decision I made was going to be the wrong one and that I would "miss God's perfect plan for my life." It sounds a little funny to me now, but at the time it really hurt. I was scared and miserable.

That sounds like my experience. Only I didn't learn it from a study Bible. I just had the idea that God accepts believers on "trial" and carefully measures our level of obedience in order to determine whether we get to stay.

I just thought that's the way it's supposed to be. And I was terrified that God was angrily watching, just waiting to stomp on me for misunderstanding something.

It may well be connected with the fact that I often neglected to extend an attitude of mercy toward other professing believers who I was pretty sure were wrong about something. Pharasaical judgmentalism has a nasty way of coming back to bite. :oS Being willing to overlook human imperfection (as opposed to blatant sin) in others is quite freeing to the soul.

Anyway, I'm glad for you that the Lord placed you in a position to better grasp the truth.


DJP said...

No Gordon, you're undervaluing the verses' teaching.

Proverbs 16:1 expressly says that the arrangements made by the heart belong to man. They are his, his proper domain and God-given responsibility. It's common, plain, not ambiguous. To take an opposite, the Hebrew's similar to 31:4, where Lemuel's mom says "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink...." She is saying that getting drunk is not proper to kings, as 16:1 says intelligent planning is proper and God-ordained for mankind.

As to 16:9, if you want to insist that Solomon isn't saying that it is a good thing that man intelligently plans his way (A), you must also say that he isn't saying that it is a good thing that Yahweh establishes his steps (B).

DJP said...

Sandman, that's a moving testimony. I received several others similarly when I wrote those articles about the Blackabys' false teaching. It's alarming that such harmful, enslaving doctrine has been tolerated, let alone encouraged.

Mark B. Hanson said...

Before Blackaby was Watchman Nee, who taught a similar "holy passivity". I once had a friend who studied Nee. For awhile he believed he needed be moved to individually put on each sock and shoe in the morning. Walking with him some days was interesting...

DJP said...

Andrew Murray wasn't much different, if you take him seriously. Didn't he antedate Nee?

Solameanie said...

Kind of reminds me of a line that used to sit on my insurance agent's desk many years ago. "Do something. Lead, follow, or get out of the way."

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
DJP said...

Reverse psychology doesn't work on me, Ernest.

Anonymous said...

After much contemplative prayer and emptying of my mind of all rationality in order to focus on the indwelling presence of God, I was inerrantly able to read DJP and to prophetically see that he was right! ;)

I now know that I clicked on the right link, at the right time, so that I now know the Mind of Chist in choosing the only post that I could read right now!

How wonderful and awe inspiring it is to be sooo right! Wait...Was that a train whistle I just heard???

donsands said...

Hey Zee,

Where are you coming from, if you don't mind me asking? Are you being sarcastic?

Bobby Grow said...

He's LDS, he must be.

Mike Riccardi said...

Dan, I recently had someone give me a copy of Andrew Murray's "Absolute Surrender." Haven't read it yet. Should I be expecting weird things?

DJP said...



DJP said...

Everyone is expected to read and abide by the rules posted in the home page. Anyone who finds himself unable or unwilling (for instance) to read and interact with the actual contents of the actual posts on this actual site should ask himself whether it's a good stewardship of his time to come, ignore content, and attempt to derail. Persist, and (as the rules say), one will find that decision made for him permanently.

healtheland said...

First, I would have liked to see your analysis attempt to deal with Matthew 6:24-34. Also, there is an ethnocentric issue here, as the preoccupation with planning is far greater in modern western cultures than they are in other times and places, where people are much less likely to have the idea that they have very much control over their lives or circumstances, where lives do not move according to schedules (except for very rudimentary agricultural ones), and even their very concept of time is different. And yes, the culture that produced the Bible - one where wars, plagues, droughts, famines, etc. were very capable of altering best laid plans - is a lot closer to those than it is to our modern, technologically driven American culture. (Keep in mind: the very reason why paganism, animism and spiritism were such a snare to those in Biblical times was the FALSE promise of being able to impose a spiritual system of control over uncertain and chaotic lives. But where those cultures relied on the false gods of heathen religions, our culture has its own idols: our economic, political, military and technological systems. And yes, Christians are very much wedded to those. Witness the ferocious anger of so many Christians at Obama's threats to change our economic, military and cultural traditions. And yes, there was similar anger directed at George W. Bush.

A classic example is the "conspiracy theory" stuff. Rather than admitting the temporary, precarious nature of things, it is far more easier for one group of Christians with a foot in this world to believe that Obama is weakening our economy and throwing open the door to terrorists on purpose. And on the other hand, Christians of a different political stripe would rather believe that George Bush allowed black people to die in New Orleans because of some alleged racial animus rather than admit that there is only so much a government can do when a historic hurricane like Katrina strikes such a vulnerable area. While people may have legitimate grievances with the ideology and competence of Bush and Obama, the main point is how "the American way of life" is idolatry and how so many American Christians are heavily steeped in it.

Well, most of the Christians in the world cannot afford such delusions, because most Christians now live in the third world, with daily lives not much different from those who lived in Israel at the time of Jesus Christ. And while those Christians still have to deal with the very strong temptations of their traditional local primitive religions - especially when they are syncretized with Christianity - they do not have to deal with the temptations associated with Blackberries and daily planners and our own Tower of Babel-esque myths that we have so much power, influence and control within our own borders and exert it throughout the world.

Worldliness is a huge enemy, and in order to prevent being esnared by it, Matthew 6:24-34 and Romans 12:1-2 are vital. So many of us Christians view "worldliness" as listening to rock music or watching R-rated movies (or, as it were, patronizing "Christianized" versions of those forms of entertainment), but it really goes much further and deeper than that into a person's entire values and worldview.

trogdor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

Here's my attempt to deal with Matthew 6:24-34. Jesus is right. So is Solomon, and all of God's Word.

Did you have another question about the post?

DJP said...

If one lacked for reasons to be discouraged about the current church scene, this would do it: the hidebound, traditionalistic nonsense that burbles up when one affirms the Bible's insistence on its own sufficiency.