For many of us, whether in work or church contexts, we need to plan, often months in advance. But we still want to hear what God and the Holy Spirit has to say to us for TODAY. So, how do you work with a plan and stay flexible at the same time? And not go crazy!
We live in a reality where we try to plan a few months ahead but don’t actually know what else will be going on during that time which could impact our plans. As a world, we have all learned this (frequently) during COVID. What we might have been planning to do in 2020 was suddenly thrown out the window. Even today, we may be planning ahead for 2022 but aren’t sure if it will be possible. Could COVID restrictions again impinge or severely limit what we hope / long to do again after all this time?
When I was planning 2020 with God, I was puzzled that much of my travel was going to take place in the first few months of the year and then nothing until later in the year. It was strange. I wondered if I’d missed something—or what else did God know that I couldn’t see yet. But then, when mid-march came around, it suddenly all made sense. There was a global reason I wasn’t going to be travelling or helping with an event/ seminar until late summer. Because, as you know, nothing was happening normally. But I saw how God wasn’t phased by it. He wasn’t thrown into chaos because He is bigger than that.
Should we not plan if we don’t know what’s going to happen?
No, that would be a pendulum swing too far. I know various high planners who don’t like change and thus have really struggled in these past two years. They feel pushed out of their comfort zone and stretched beyond what they like. And don’t like not being in control of what they can do in the way they want it. So at times, they would prefer to throw in the towel, stop planning and pray for things to get back to normal as quickly as possible so they can resume everyday life.
But as time has gone on, that’s not been possible either. Natural planners can’t just stop being themselves for too long. They can’t ignore how they were created to be. So it comes out in different ways. Either in depression, frustration, or perhaps micromanaging their own little world (which might get smaller and smaller as time goes on). Or they accept they have to adapt or involve others to help them think creatively about how they can still do what they want to do, but in a different way.
Many of us who are more unstructured, flexible, creative and struggle with regular routine or plans have been unaffected by not being able to plan ahead too much. (they didn’t like to anyway). But have struggled with the restrictive freedom of not being able to travel, see loads of people in person, jump on a plane today or eat at a restaurant at a moments notice. The idea of booking way ahead (for a haircut, meal, dentist appointment or flight) has pressed their stress buttons in surprising ways. Jumping on a zoom call is just not the same as popping round for a coffee. Getting a take-away delivered at home isn’t the same as enjoying the atmosphere of your favourite restaurant.
Both sides feel the pain from the tension of not being able to do what they want to do in their preferred way.
What’s the positives from these unwanted tensions?
There have been amazing inventions. Massive creative alternatives were birthed, and many new enterprises were created because restrictive times have forced us to think outside of the box. To thrive while being in a type of box.
We have a daily choice. To be thankful for what we do have and can do. How blessed some of us are in where we live, the resources we have—which other places in the world don’t have.
As Christians, we have Jesus. We follow a God who knows what’s going on, who is more creative than we are, bigger than what’s going on globally and isn’t restricted by earthly measures.
We need to see each situation as an opportunity. In order to learn something new, try a regular thing differently, and take this opportunity to change what isn’t or wasn’t working anyway. To see God move in ways that only He can. Or to recognise our weaknesses’ and others strengths. To work together to see a project be completed in an alternative way. Think of all the inventors who didn’t give up after test number 1,000 didn’t work. But they learned a little more to make test number 1,001 have a better chance of succeeding. I appreciate those who’ve gone before me and discovered solutions to problems in multiple spheres (like technology and communication). Which have helped us all connect with loved ones outside our homes—whether across the city or a continent. Some people have discovered the joy of working from home. Others have found a hybrid is working in a way they wouldn’t have tried or found they liked until they were forced to change their usual patterns.
Being forced to have to change from what we’ve personally liked can be very hard. But if we can be open to the possibilities this change can bring, we will grow and adapt and be better versions of ourselves. Thus thrive.
But how do we do this in our everyday life?
How about when you’re trying to plan teaching content for a quarter?
I like to plan ahead with God. I also listen to my student’s needs and what God is doing in their lives… So before every new quarter, I sit down with God and my staff and brainstorm what subjects/themes we want to look at with our students for the next quarter.
There are a few different types of teaching we want to do. From character studies, practical theory (learning how to do something then having opportunities to do it). Specific leadership teaching points, topics our students have said they’d like to learn and whatever else God brings to mind. We also look at what else is going on in our training centre, in our students’ lives and in opportunities outside that are planned. So we can work with others or combine times together.
We prayerfully put a topic in each week, working out who we need to invite to teach on it and what each of us will teach… We also try to consider who’s not going to be there—like a student has a week away, or I’m busy with a seminar I’m staffing/hosting… What is practically possible, or not. Some weeks we leave blank because we don’t feel at peace to put something in there, or I recognise what I call a spiritual fuzziness. I know that the Holy Spirit has something in mind, but it’s not time for me to know it yet, so it’s unclear. I just know I need to leave space for what will make sense nearer the time. And I’m usually excited and intrigued by what that could be. Plus, it’s good to have a few surprises.
Then as time goes on, we meet regularly to assess how things and people are doing. Regularly asking God what else He wants to say, do, what needs moved or adjusted to fit in with what He has in mind. And what other ideas we have for topics that we could use either in the spaces or for a future quarter. Kind of like a backup plan, options list. This current quarter has been particularly flexible as two of our students are planning their wedding. But the date is dependent on the Civil application process with the Swiss government –which s taking longer than expected). And the health of another student as to whether they can do their 3-week army service or not. While others are staffing our DTS school, so they are out of the regular BLP schedule for 3-6months. Also whether some outside seminars would take place or not and how much help I need to give them, so less available for some weeks…
Therefore, depending on where these variables have landed, our teaching/input sessions have changed content and even speakers regularly. In addition, some teaching content takes longer to prepare, so not as easy to move at short notice. Or, depending on which students will be there that week, we could repeat an older topic some students have received yet.
Where I position myself is key.
If I had stayed in the position of – this is the plan we’ve had from the beginning. We want to stick to it—then I would have been very frustrated, and our students wouldn’t have got the best for what they need at that time. So I’ve tried to stay in a position of flexibility, be ready to change, and be prepared to keep as is. How? Because the goal and focus are to help our students grow. To bring what they need at that time. To partner with the Holy Spirit and serve God—not the plan. But having a plan, whether in pencil or electronic format, has been a comfort. To have options and ideas to work with God in. To have a plan to fall back on as well as a draft to adapt not always have to start from scratch. It’s a lot easier to edit something than to start with a blank page.
The finer details will always need adjusting and fine-tuning very close to the required time. But the big picture/overview will be the same. If our stance is one ready for action, happy to move in flow with the Holy Spirit, then it’s easy to make a last-minute change or be open to a new idea. As long as the foundation and general direction are moving in the same way, it’s all good.
I trust God knows what He’s doing. I want to walk in step with Him. Just like Moses didn’t want to go if God’s presence didn’t go with them. (Exodus 33:15). I, too, don’t want to do anything that isn’t with God. I fully recognise that it’s not me who causes anything to grow, but God in each one of us. We want to help facilitate what God wants to do but not stand in the way of His plan. But He also wants to partner with us, so he doesn’t do it unless we are willing.
Yes, it changes regularly, but at the same time, our Heavenly Father doesn’t. He remains who He is. He is our solid foundation, our constant. But if we are to become more like Christ—then we need to change to become more like Jesus. God is creative, so He’s not going to do the same thing in the same way with any of us. So to become more like Jesus, then we need to embrace the flexible and sometimes radical way of doing things. Just like Jesus did in the New Testament.
The question is, are we ready to be as prepared as possible and yet as flexible as needed too? Then we can work with a plan and stay flexible at the same time.