Know Your Bible

VOL. 8                           November 22, 2009                           NO. 46

Preparing For The Future

    Someone once said, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” Someone also said, “If you don’t make your own decisions, someone will make them for you.” These are not just words you might hear at some motivational seminar, but words that speak truthfully about the need for us to make plans and make decisions — and they are no less true in regard to spiritual matters. To prove that these words are true, let’s consider a few situations where decision-making regarding spiritual matters is important and can have lasting, if not eternal, consequences.

Planning for Eternity. Most people in this country do not plan for tomorrow, much less for eternity! That fact has been demonstrated by surveys of the last couple of decades that show Americans saved, on average, 1-3% of their income for retirement, and surveys where the majority of those interviewed said they were counting on someone else [the government (via Social Security) or commercial experts (investment advisors)] to make sure they had enough — or even anything — when they decided it was time to retire. From my experience, we do not do any better when it comes to planning our spiritual future!

    The problem with our planning for spiritual things is that we think in physical terms too often and not enough in terms of spiritual matters, and even that thinking is not based in reality. We think we’re going to “live forever” or at least long enough to stop all we’re doing now and make those last-minute plans just before we die — as if we knew the exact moment that would come. But none of us knows how long we have on this earth.

    The wise writer reminds us “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them” (Eccl. 9:11,12). The apostle Paul echoes this idea of man’s uncertainty when he spoke of the time when Christ would come, reminding us “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). Since we know neither the day we will die, nor the day Christ will come, we need to plan for the unexpected and prepare as if this was our last day. Just talking about it is not preparation; preparing is preparation!

    We sing a song every so often that solemnly speaks to the soul who is unprepared, admonishing:
             Careless soul, O heed the warning,
             For your life will soon be gone;
             O how sad to face the Judgment,
             Unprepared to meet thy God.

    And, indeed, that will be a sad day when we are face to face with the One who died for our sins, but whom we also had rejected or put off until it was too late. Friends, if you have not prepared for eternity, now is the time. The fact you have been given this day is evidence of God’s mercy and longsuffering — and an opportunity for your salvation (cf. 2nd Pet. 3:15). Don’t miss an opportunity for eternal life! As someone has said, “If you miss heaven, you miss it all.” As Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Planning For Your Children’s Spiritual Service. When I stop and think about it, it is simply unbelievable to me that so many parents who are Christians put so much into planning for their children’s education and career, and yet so little into planning for their spiritual service to God. I’ve seen parents establish college savings accounts, do hours and hours of searching and investigation for years to find the right school, and invest thousands of their own dollars to ensure their children are educated in worldly wisdom, but then turn around and complain that the Bible class teacher is “asking too much of their time” and that their children simply “do not have the time” to do what is required of them in a simple workbook for their Bible class study because of all the other things going on in his or her life — things like a secular education, extracurricular activities, and social activities. I am not surprised when I see my worldly friends say these things, but my own brethren?

    Long ago, God instructed His people, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-9). From these words, can we see that God placed heavy emphasis on parents teaching their children His word and His ways? Friends and brethren, there has never been a better time to teach your children than right now! Can we not see that, if we fail to plan for their spiritual instruction, their spiritual enemy — whom we have been warned “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8) — will soon have them enslaved? If we care at all for their spiritual condition, begin teaching them while they are young (cf. Psa. 71:5, 17; 2nd Tim. 3:14, 15), but teach them even if they aren’t so young anymore. And if the reason you haven’t taught them is because you don’t fee like you know enough, what are you doing to resolve that shortcoming? While you are planning for their spiritual salvation, make sure you don’t overlook yourself!

Planning for the Church to Prosper. It seems many want to liken the church to a “business” today and try to compare “good elders” to successful business leaders, but the Bible has instead given us a picture of shepherds tending to sheep (cf. Acts 20:28). With that in mind, try to imagine a flock whose shepherd had no plans for how the sheep would be fed, how to protect them from dangerous animals that were known to creep about and possibly infiltrate the flock, and who actually spent little time with the flock. Close your eyes and try to get a mental picture of what those sheep would look like — that is, if there would be any sheep who survived such a situation!

    There are some important parallels between the shepherd and the elders who watch over the flock of God, especially when it comes to good planning [or the lack of planning] and the spiritual prosperity of the local church. Spiritual growth, strength, and prosperity do not come by accident or merely by time passing, anymore than sheep “accidentally” get fed, “coincidentally” are protected from wolves, or “just happen” to listen to the shepherd’s instructions and guidance; it takes a great deal of planning, effort, and a constant commitment to the cause for any flock to prosper, and any shepherd worth his name would know that and make it happen.

    Elders in the church should ensure they are planning ahead for the flock of God, as any good shepherd must do (Jer. 23:4) and will make sure they have what they need to accomplish the work that is theirs to do (Eph. 4:11,12). But to plan effectively for the future of the flock, a shepherd must know each one of the members of the flock and the individual needs of each sheep; generic planning might create a bunch of activity, but it doesn’t mean anything will actually be accomplished or that the church will be effective in its work. Plan according to needs!

    And when success comes, the shepherd cannot rest on past accomplishments, but must move on to new goals and encouraging more spiritual growth. Though Paul praised the brethren at Thessalonica for their way of life and their love (1 Thess. 4:1, 9-10), he exhorted them to “excel still more” in those things. Success is but a measure of the moment, and demands constant planning if it is to continue.           

---Steven Harper

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