Purpose and plans precede progress.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

Proverbs 21:5 ESV

The term “plan” suggests the kind of forethought that produces purposeful action. While it is true that “in all toil there is profit,” (Proverbs 14:23 ESV), there is truth in the old adage “work smarter, not harder.” Those who expend considerable effort without a purpose will waste much of the time and effort spent. Purpose is what defines the desired outcome of work. Without a purpose, there is no way to gauge progress because there is no way to measure how close people are to achieving goals they never defined. Working, even diligently, without a purpose is essentially the same as driving in a random direction and hoping to end up somewhere worthwhile.

Even with a clear purpose, people need a plan. A purpose may define the desired outcome of work, but only a plan clarifies the path toward fulfilling a particular purpose. Clarifying a destination is a necessary part of reaching said destination, but knowing the destination only helps a driver who follows clear directions. Disregarding this truth is the equivalent of driving in a random direction and assuming that any path will lead home.

The term “abundance” connects the idea expressed in this proverb to the one expressed in Proverbs 14:23. The terms “profit” and “abundance” both indicate that only those who work hard receive valuable rewards. Proverbs 21:5 takes this idea a step further, however, by affirming that only people who work hard according to a plan will profit. While it is true that “toil” is better than “mere talk,” it is equally true that working without a plan guarantees only that a worker will waste resources that could have been used to accomplish worthwhile goals.

The truth of this proverb encourages working hard and working purposefully, but it discourages undirected urgency. Sometimes, in an admirable effort to make progress, people rush into the work. They see the need for change, and they hasten to respond. In their haste, however, workers can confuse accomplishing tasks with achieving goals. For a while, accomplishing tasks may give the illusion of making progress. Urgently undertaking tasks may help workers build momentum, but moving quickly in the wrong direction realistically leaves workers further from their goals than when they first began.

The sobering reality for Christians is that working in the Lord’s kingdom is no exception to this proverbial truth. God’s people must work diligently to make progress, but hard work alone is not enough. There is a God-given end to the work that Christians do. If Christians are not clear about their God-given purpose, it is impossible for them to gauge how well they are progressing toward godly goals. Even if Christian workers urgently undertake admirable tasks, working without a plan will leave them with the same amount of work and far fewer resources to get the work done.

This proverb emphasizes that the biblical pattern of progress includes purposeful, planned effort. Consider teaching within the church. There are many different ways Christians can engage in teaching, but not every approach to teaching facilitates genuine spiritual growth. Even if a group of Christians understands the purpose of their teaching, they cannot get from where they are to where they want to be without a plan. How sad it is, then, that so many churches engage in teaching without a clear understanding of its God-given purpose and a clear plan on how to achieve their godly goal. Christians can and should do better.

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