This morning I want to look at two themes in Proverbs 16: Where do you want to go and who do you want to become on your way there?
First, planning where you want to go. If you are a serious Calvinist or a devout Muslim you might say, “God willing or Inshallah” as you make plans because you believe whatever plans we make are completely dependent on whatever God wills so we don’t really make plans as much as we make informed guesses.
If you are a New Age thinker then you might say, “I can be whatever I will myself to be and go to any destination I can imagine.”
If you are a Deist you might say, “God created the world and then stepped away so I am free to determine my own destination within the bounds of natural laws.”
If you are like me then you are somewhere in between all of those. Yes, I believe in God’s sovereignty but not his desiring to totally control every single aspect of my life. Yes, I believe in freedom of choice but not absolute freedom to determine my own destiny. Some things I control and some things only God can control. Life is all about finding out which is which, isn’t it?
God doesn’t say, “Don’t bother planning.” My father always told me (with not much effect sadly), “The one who fails to plan has planned to fail.” I’ve always been a practitioner of the manna school of planning. Wake up every day to something new being there. God does say plan but allow room for changes. Remember Paul making plans to visit Asia and being forbidden by the Holy Spirit. Instead, he received the Macedonian call which resulted in the conversion of Lydia and the establishment of the church at Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens and then Corinth. Our church history would be much different today had he not changed his plans. His plan was not bad and he was not out of God’s will to make his plans. God just had other things in mind. Paul planned to go to Rome but he went in a way he could not have predicted. Paul planned to go on to Spain and we don’t know if he did before he died. Paul was full of plans but always open to changes and interruptions.
We can read in James where he says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Proverbs is saying the same thing as both James and Paul. It is one thing to make plans but make sure that you are guided by the right intentions and motives and, just as importantly, you are aware that God has the right to change those plans at any time. For after all, it is only God who can see in the distance. He is spinning lots of plates and connecting dots in ways that are far more complicated than three-dimensional chess. We are a vapor that appears for a little while but God is eternal.
Not only God has the ability to change the best plans but so do circumstances. Do we need better examples of that than the current pandemic? How many of our plans for this year have changed? I don’t know anyone whose plans for retirement, travel, health, work, and day to day living have not been changed.
But, staying flexible to God’s changes also allows us to be flexible to the changes caused by circumstances. The key is to remain resilient. I am a fan of the podcast “How I built this” with Guy Raz. The current series of interviews is with people who have had to be resilient and flexible instead of rigid. It’s not been easy but the word “pivot” is what they use time and again. No one saw this coming but they have had to adapt. We could say, “Why me and why now?” As well, we can say, is there an opportunity here? I read a list of companies and industries who have seen their businesses explode as a result of COVID. As well, I have read about businesses who have retired products that no longer are profitable to create new products and ways of doing business.
Here are a few:
The cloud computing segment has been on the rise for years, though as more employees find themselves restricted to their homes more workloads will have to be migrated to the cloud to ensure the business can function as usual.
Video conferencing and collaboration
Although there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting to progress and complete complicated projects, alternatives have to be sought today. Many businesses are encouraging more meetings to be conducted via video links rather than email to not only ensure effective communication but ensure well-being of employees. Contact with colleagues via video link is not perfect by any stretch, but it might assist some who are feeling the loneliness of remote working.
The likes of Visa, Mastercard and AMEX are already benefitting from long-standing trends where physical cash is quickly becoming a thing of the past, though the COVID-19 outbreak could accelerate this.
In the short-term, some shops are now only accepting digital payments, though as the total number of transactions are decreasing, so will revenues. That said, in the long-term it could force customers into adopting digital payments.
The more people are at home bored, the more likely fingers are going to venture towards the eCommerce apps to spend the money which has been saved from not going to the pub. Your correspondent’s household has turned into a satellite Amazon storeroom thanks to certain individuals in the flat.
Streaming, gaming and video content platforms
From a gaming perspective, this is back to the boredom conundrum. With the usual entertainment venues shut down, consumers will need to be entertained. The likes of Microsoft Xbox, Google Stadia and PlayStation are likely securing additional subscriptions as well as in-game purchases.
Online grocery delivery
With the rush on supermarkets persisting as the days turn into weeks, online grocery delivery companies are seeing a surge in popularity.
The telecommunications industry
Thanks to the number of people attempting to entertain themselves, work from home or access educational resources the telco industry has been thrust into the limelight. Authorities are putting in measures to protect these valuable assets, not only to ensure consumers are able to continue their daily lives but so emergency services can continue to function, or research labs can collaborate to create a vaccine.
I was on a zoom call this week with a public health official and he said the pandemic could eventually make enormous changes in the drug development pipeline as we see how quickly we can get things done when we need to.
In time we will look back and see many more good things that will come out of this interruption in our plans. Think about the changes in education, church, non-profits, and finance. We cannot predict what kinds of forced innovations will come out of this disaster.
A good plan gives you direction but also flexibility to adapt and even take advantage of the interruption.
And then the second part is who do you want to become on your way there? Proverbs has much to say about this, doesn’t it?
I use Waze when I travel because I want to know ahead of time what the dangers and delays are. I want to know if there is a faster route due to changes. I want to know where the toll free roads are that will still get me there quickly. Proverbs is something of a Waze for our lives – not just our vacations. Waze is what we call crowd sourced by people who are ahead of us in the journey. It’s the same with Proverbs. If we listen and pay attention we can find out where the potholes, objects in the road, accidents and dangers are from them. That is why Proverbs has such value for people who have become gray and wise – not old and foolish. We need to pay attention to the notifications of those ahead of us.
“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”
“The highway of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his heart.”
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
“Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools.”
“There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to death.”
These are all images for how we get to where we want to go in life and who we are becoming in getting there. They are notes about how the journey shapes our lives. There are dangers – pride, anger, wickedness, dishonesty, foolishness, an unrighteous mouth, dissension, and unjust gain – if we do not listen to those ahead of us. There are also rewards – love, faithfulness, righteousness, wisdom, discernment, peace, understanding, instruction, and patience for those who get there in the right way. I don’t know anyone who plans to end up in destruction but they do because they lose their way – and their souls. They end up in a place determined by who they became on the way.
So, even at our age, we can ask ourselves where we want to go in the next phase of our lives or do we want to sit in the garage with the engine turned off? Just as important we need to always be asking what kind of person do I want to become on my way there?