Part 7 of series: Planning and Goals: Is There Room for the Holy Spirit?
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So far I’ve outlined six attitudes and/or actions will help us be open to the Spirit’s guidance in the midst of our strategic planning and goal setting:
1. Acknowledge the sovereignty of God.
2. Listen for the “bass note” of biblical theology.
3. Respect the ways God has led in the past.
4. Recognize that God’s new wine requires new wineskins.
5. Acknowledge that God uses all we are for his purposes.
6. Be open to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit.
7. Recognize that the gifting and discernment of the Holy Spirit happens primarily in Christian community.
Today I’ll finish up this series by adding two final items to the list.
8. Pay close attention to the “kernels.”
There are times when God reveals his will at length and in specific detail. Perhaps one of the best examples of this comes in the Old Testament, when God gave to Israel the design for the Tabernacle (Exod 25-27). But, for the most part, God’s vision for the future doesn’t come with precise blueprints. Rather, we receive visions (literally), images, or words that are more suggestive than descriptive. (Photo: A model of the biblical Tabernacle in the desert near the Dead Sea. Photo from Holy Land Photos.)
Thus, if we’re to be attentive to the Holy Spirit in our planning, we must pay close attention to the “kernels.” What are these? They’re the mustard seeds of a plan, the portholes into God’s future.
Kernels rarely come to us in raw form, however. They’re usually imbedded in something larger. People who are genuine conduits of the Spirit’s guidance usually add to whatever the Spirit has inspired, providing lots of packaging for the divinely-inspired kernel. For example, God may be leading a church to start a new ministry to homeless people in town. And this vision comes from someone who is truly in touch with God’s direction. But in presenting this vision, the person adds lots of inessential details (like what ministries to partner with, what sort of services to offer, etc.). If it turns out that some of these details are unworkable, it might be tempting for a planning team to reject the whole idea, thus discarding the genuine kernel of divine guidance.
Specifically, paying close attention to the kernels means listening carefully, both to what the Spirit is “saying” to us, and to what the Spirit is saying through others. We must listen, not only to the words, but to what lies beneath them. Here we might very well find God’s will in mustard seed form.
9. Seek first the kingdom of God.
Okay, okay. I didn’t make this up. Jesus did. We find it in Matthew 6:33: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” So what does this mean when we’re in a planning process.
First, it means that we underscore the first item on my list: Acknowledge the sovereignty of God. As we plan, we agree that God is Lord over everything we’re talking about, and that our planning effort is really just a way of discovering his will.
Second, seeking first the kingdom of God means that we surrender our own agendas. To God and to each other we say: I would really like to see X happen, but I’m giving this over to God. Of course it might well be that X is in God’s plans. But we won’t know whether or not this is true if we force our own agenda into a planning process.
Third, seeking first the kingdom of God comes from a passion for God and his glory. As human beings, we are easily prone to seek our glory, or that of the institution we serve. But as we grow in our faith, we come to desire God’s glory more and more. Thus we seek his kingdom, not only so that his will might be done, but so that he might be lauded as King of kings and Lord of lords.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Eugene Peterson, author of many books, including his hugely successful translation of the Bible, The Message. I was immediately impressed by his warmth, his openness, and his humility. He was not the least impressed that he was “Eugene Peterson.” His passion in life, clearly, has not been for his own glory, but for God’s glory. In my opinion, this helps to explain why, in fact, he has been so successful as a writer.
So, when we gather together for planning, we need to surrender our agendas and ambitions, and seek God’s kingdom. This commitment, perhaps as much as anything else, will help us discover God’s plans for the future.