Yesterday I wrote about the two ways of living that David Brooks outlined in the New York Times: “The Well-Planned Life” (WPL) or “The Summoned Life” (SL). And I asked which of the two was most biblical.

Just to recap, the person who lives a WPL takes time to find a clear life-purpose, then makes appropriate decisions about how to spend their time and use their talents. The person who lives the SL rejects the possibility of long-term life-planning, but as situations and circumstances arise, they ask, “What are these circumstances summoning me to do?” In fact, I think it would be more accurate to call this “The Reactive Life” (RL).

I believe that every Christian should live a WPL. No Christian should be just a victim of events, a helpless cork tossed to and fro on the ever-changing ocean of circumstances and other people’s expectations. We must take the time to prayerfully seek a life-purpose. God put each of us here for a specific reason, and we shouldn’t just drift from day to day, from week to week, from year to year, frittering away precious time without any sense of direction. We must take our time and our talents to God and ask Him what He will have us to do…and wait for His guidance. That simple act would save many Christians from many years of pointless ping-ponging around from job to job, from passion to passion, from person to person, and from place to place.

If you read the original article you will know that Clayton Christensen advocates the combination of “a Christian spirit with a business methodology” in order to live a WPL. I’d like to deal with that idea at greater length in a future post, but I agree with the principle, and with the priority of putting Christian spirit before business methodology.

HOWEVER, there are dangers in the WPL, especially in the selfish neglect of important relationships, as Brooks also hinted at. The person living the WPL can become insensitive to circumstances, events, and people around him. “I don’t care if my neighbor is sick…I have a plan and I’m sticking to it.” He can become frustrated with anyone and anything which interrupts his plan or renders his day “inefficient.” He can become deaf to God’s voice speaking to him through His Word, and through providence as his life unfolds. While he may have got his life-plan from God, he may neglect to get his everyday-plan from God. Everybody needs to allow an element of RL in their life.

So, I suppose I’m joining David Brooks on the fence. However, I’m definitely falling over on the WPL side, as I believe it is more biblical than the RL. Consider Christ’s life. He did not get up every day and wonder, “What am I doing here?” or “Where am I going?” No, He had a very definite life-plan (maybe we should say death-plan), which He received from His Father. However, He also had the right balance between the WPL and the RL. While there were times when he would not be deflected by people’s demands and the pressure of unpredicted events, there were other times when he did respond to pressing need and urgent circumstances.

If I can apply this especially to pastors, I would say that too many pastors live a Reactive Life. We often go from day-to-day just responding to events, phone calls, emails and others’ agendas. We may have a weekly plan which involves preparing two or three sermons. However, we don’t usually think much further ahead than that.

I would encourage pastors to think more long-term, not just about their congregation but about their own lives. Take your time, your talents, your interests and your schedule to the Lord and ask Him to help you plan a long-term project. It might be to master Greek or Hebrew, to research a favorite subject, to do a Th.M. or D.Min., to write a book, to evangelize a particular place or group of people, to mentor a young man, etc. Prayerfully pick a project and allocate fixed and non-negotiable time to it every week. Let your family and elders know your plan and seek their cooperation.

The person who lives the well-planned life is better-equipped to react to the unplanned events of life.

  • Mike D

    David, in terms of viewing this as a fence, I would agree with you that it is our duty to be on the WPL side of the fence. However, God’s providence sometimes places us on the RL side of the fence. Prov. 16:9 – A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Prov. 19:21 – There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand. In those instances, when we find that our well-thought out plans have been trumped by the sovereign hand of God, we need to (figuratively) pull the posts of the fence out of the ground, and re-lay the fence such that we are back on the WPL side. In other words, the fence should not remain in the same place all of our lives.When we are younger, the confines of our fence (area of WPL) are small. As we progress in years, that fenced-in area should increase. In a spiritual sense, we should be like Jabez who pleaded with God, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” That should be our prayer – that as God’s providence overrules our planning, we should ask God to enlarge the area of our WPL, in order that we might be kept from evil and that our rash, reactionary decisions will not cause pain.I think of Daniel – a godly young man who was snatched from his heritage and placed in a pressure-cooker of the world’s making. Daniel’s WPL was most likely thrown right out the window. He found himself on the RL side of the fence. But he enlarged the border of his fence – when he found himself on that side of the fence, he claimed the new turf as WPL area. We read that he then purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself. New circumstances – new planning – new resolutions. He did not sit on the fence…he MOVED the fence.Those were my thoughts as I read yesterday’s entry…Thanks for sharing, David…

  • David Murray

    Mike, thank you for your helpful and thought-provoking response. Wish I’d written it myself! May In incorporate some of your ideas in a larger article I’m writing on this subject?

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely, sir. I would love to see how you could flesh out these thoughts even more than what I have feebly done. Would it be an article that you would share on this blog? If not, please let me know how I could obtain a copy of your article. I think it is an important subject to set before the eyes of youth. Having four kids myself, I have a great burden for them – to incorporate a biblical worldview – and this topic is very close to the core (the core being the innerancey and sufficiency of Scripture – but this second to it as, “how should we then live”). If we don’t hold to the Scriptures, we won’t fare well in our WPL. I guess you could say the Scriptures put the WELL into the Well Planned Life.

  • Fred Jonkman

    Hi David. That what you shared on the WPL and the SL are very thought provoking. Even to respond to the article and your follow-up the next day requires well planned thought. Being Canadian and now serving for over 12 years in missions in South America, I have seen first hand two cultures which represents both side of the fence, as it was put. I would put it in this general way: the northern culture is very time oriented (everything has to go as planned and has to finish as planned) and the southern culture is very event oriented (things do not have to go as planned [often there is no definite plan] and may finish differently than planned). I guess after my years of immersion in the latter, I have learned somewhat that the “WPL” of the American/Canadian culture is not always nor necessarily the right way, but do admit that the “SL” has caused many frustrations also. Now this subject can be discussed for hours and hours, and debated, but it does interest me what you have written and that also of Mike. How can we find the correct balance? I think scripturally we would say that the WPL is correct because eternity is at stake. Our spiritual growth and discipline must be well planned (earnestly sought after) however, the daily aspects of our life can be so caught up with the “WPL” (pension, materialism, vacations) that our relationships with people suffer. Eg., “we only have so much time for you because I have so much more to do.”Anyways, enough for now. My thoughts are running on and on, and I have so much to do. Sound familiar?

  • Charlie Elberson

    Why is this either/or? And where does this fall in light of the teachings of Jesus? I believe this may be an artificial framework that presumes a more intense God-interest in our behavior than in the state of our hearts. Concentrating our energies trying very hard to capture and imprint God’s plan for our lives could become disguised encouragement of our own egos to pretend we are in control. I don’t recall any instance where Jesus depicted a personal, God-given life plan for each person. “Thy will be done on earth (including me) as in heaven” as a powerful entreaty for God’s will to supplant our own.Jesus did not advocate a planned life but encouraged His followers to search their hearts and make their life’s work to become perfect of heart, not through act. He didn’t cancel the power of good works but put them in perspective. Recall that our Lord explained to Martha that Mary had chosen the better way.A Christ-follower can serve God through either the WPL or SL depiction, but for my own life my first focus is to grow ever closer to God by (trying) to conduct every act and thought prayerfully. Can not Prayerful Life be an option?

  • David Murray

    Michael: I’ll let you know where and when a larger version will be posted.Fred: I really appreciate your thoughts. I think I’m about the same point of balance as you are at. But it’s a daily battle isn’t it!Charlie: Liked your comment about a Prayerful Life. I suppose whatever way we live it has to be prayerful. I believe we do need to take time out to ask what God would have us to do, not just for today but for the longer-term. Maybe the equation should be something like 70% WPL + 30 % RL + 100% PL (Prayerful life). Doesn’t make logical sense, but I think it does make spiritual sense.