Some of my German ancestors arrived in east-central Missouri in the mid-1800s—into a lush region that reminded them of home: They dubbed it “the Missouri Rhineland.” These well-educated immigrants made quite a life for themselves. One of these earlier settlers (though not one of my direct ancestors) was Gert Goebel, who eventually published his journal: The Development of Missouri: A German Immigrant’s First-Hand Account of Life in the Missouri Backwoods.
In this volume, he occasionally comments on the Americans already settled in those areas of the state. As with any demographic, there were wise and admirable people among them, as well as foolish and lazy people. This is evident in his chapter where he describes the kinds of homes they built. It was clear that the manner of shelter correlated to the character of the owner.
Goebel wrote that even “the most modest cabin” could be built to sufficiently shelter a family from the elements. “The large majority of these new settlers thought enough of their wives and children to effect at least this protection for them, but still there were some individuals who were endowed with such an immeasurable dose of dull indolence that they could not arouse themselves to what little exertion was required to alleviate the unavoidable suffering of their families by being compelled to live in a perfectly open cabin all around and above; these were fellows who would crawl from one corner to another to keep from getting too wet when it rained rather than patch up their defective roof, they would wrap themselves up in their blankets rather than daub their walls and they would not think of chopping wood until the last chip was smoking on the fire.”
To illustrate this, he tells a story of a traveler who was caught in a rain shower and spotted an old cabin where he might take shelter. The cabin was so run down, he believed it to be vacant, “but as he was about to pass by, a voice called to him: ‘Light, light, you had better come from out of the rain into the house.’”
Goebel continues: “Surprised by this invitation, he reined up his horse and his curiosity induced him to come into that den which had just been called a house and there a man, a woman and some children were squatted under the fragment of a roof on the floor. With genuine backwoods courtesy he was greeted and invited to take a seat and this stranger did take a seat by the side of his host on the floor also.
“After a while the stranger could not suppress the question, ‘But, my friend, why don’t you put a roof on your house?’
“‘Because it is raining now,’ was the laconic reply.
“After a long pause the stranger remarked inquiringly, ‘But it does not rain always?’
“’When it does not rain, I have no use for a roof,’ and with this reply of our contented philosopher, the conversation was exhausted.”
“‘The fellow might have passed for a modern Diogenes [a Greek philosopher], if his cogent answers had been based upon a principle of extreme contentedness, but his arguments only evolved from excessive laziness.”
Proverbs 26:16 rings remarkably true there: “The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.”
From time to time, that backwoodsman’s mindset can manifest itself in our lives. This story illustrates the need to prepare and plan ahead, and to do so with forward thinking, to consider various scenarios: What opportunities, setbacks or emergencies may arise? It also teaches that we need to prepare for all those under the opposite conditions as to when we might need them.
Living By Deadlines
Preparation involves a lot of advance thinking—not simply doing things early, but mentally processing various scenarios. Like building shelter during sunshine, advance thoughts and actions occur when conditions are opposite to what we’re preparing for.
God and Jesus Christ advocate this mindset and successfully use it. In working with man, God has allotted 6,000 years until He takes the reins of world rule. After that, He allots another 1,000 to prepare for the resurrection of the majority of humanity. That’s 7,000 years to prepare to bring all mankind into His Family.
His holy day plan conditions us to think like this. We don’t get to the Passover and just then start thinking and acting on the command to deleaven our properties. Nor do we get to the Day of Atonement and think, Which Feast site should I go to? The latter is not even possible because of the deadlines set by the Church’s festival department.
Consider what deadlines are. They’re not there to give you insomnia or an ulcer: They are fail safes for forward-thinking—to ensure that fundamental steps are being taken enough in advance. Deadlines are vital to any multifaceted project or plan.
We get a deadline every Friday at sunset. If we don’t think about that deadline long before it arrives, we aren’t prepared to keep the Sabbath properly. Sometimes issues can arise, and we justify doing something on the Sabbath we shouldn’t when the issue was actually poor planning and preparation.
One Day at a Time?
The Bible shows repeatedly that God wants this mindset of His to be ours as well. Let’s look first, though, at a couple of passages that, at first glance, might suggest the opposite.
James 4:13-15 read, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” Remember that life is short and fleeting. It is a vapor. The lesson is not, why bother to plan for anything? It is: Plan for tomorrow, but realize you may not be here either. The passage also exhorts us to align our plans with God’s will. This takes advance, forward thinking.
A similar verse is found in Matthew 6: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (verse 34). Any other translation will clarify that the first phrase of that verse means, don’t be ANXIOUS about tomorrow. Plan and prepare for the future—but don’t stress out about it. Keep God in the picture and trust Him to lead your life. This is also right after the famous admonition in verse 33: “… seek ye first the kingdom of God ….” That’s as forward thinking as you can get!
Verse 11 also seems to advocate more “daily” thinking, where we are told to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This part of the model prayer is hearkening back to the time Israel was miraculously given manna on a daily basis (Exodus 16). They were unable to fend for themselves for food, and they were traveling through the wilderness—unable to lay down roots and wait for food to grow out of the ground.
In this case, even manna taught them forward thinking: There was one day a week when they had to think about two days’ worth of food because of the Sabbath. Consider! They had to think about the Sabbath when it wasn’t the Sabbath. And for some that was just ridiculous (verses 27-28).
These verses that talk about the shortness of life, asking for bread each day, not being anxious about tomorrow—do not advocate not thinking ahead. Rather they exhort us to make the most of our time, to evaluate our plans in the greater context of God’s Kingdom and God’s will.
In the same area of Scripture as the model prayer, Christ said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Christ says to make sure we lay up—store or save—with the right things. And there are ways to do this with the physical that teaches us irreplaceable spiritual lessons.
Planting, Plans and Ants
Yes, God wants us to rely on Him each day. Even that is storing up for something spiritual that’s down the road. But nowhere does He indicate that we only plan our lives one day at a time.
Farming teaches us that lesson, as it did ancient Israel. Once they were in the Promised Land, the manna was no longer available. The fact that food doesn’t come out of the ground at all times of the year teaches that there are times to gather, times to store items that will keep, and times to plant. That teaches any landowner to plan ahead—or, let’s say, plant ahead.
The only reason food comes up during the harvest season is that it was planted before the harvest season. If you want firstfruits in the spring, you plant in the early winter—shortly after the Feast of Tabernacles, corresponding to the month of November on our calendar.
The land sabbaths every seven years teach you to think years in advance. Obeying God’s commands to diversify your crops, and cultivating your trees as He directed, ensure you have a variety of fruits and vegetables automatically coming out of the ground during that rest year.
Another practical example from nature is found in Proverbs 6. In verses 6-7, God tells us to consider the example of the ant. Verse 8 explains this is because she “Provideth her meat [bread] in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
The word for “provideth” is the Hebrew that is usually translated as prepare or make ready. The actual definition is to be firm, established, to stand upright. In Hebrew, the idea of preparing is a way of making things stable. We have a similar concept when we say we “set up” for something—that implies preparation and stability. God used this word to describe how He “established” David’s kingdom. It also illustrates how David himself prepared a tent for the Ark (before bringing it back to Jerusalem) and how David prepared materials for the temple (a temple he would never build).
Think of all the time you spend in school—something preparing you for various aspects of adulthood well before you’re an adult. School prepares you for life, giving the basics you’ll need to know about how to learn, think, study, take instruction and manage your time, as well as a lot of specific academic knowledge. In The Seven Laws of Success, Mr. Armstrong equated education with preparation. It may seem like there’s plenty of time for that later in life, but that is like trying to build the roof when it’s raining, or chopping the wood after all has burned up in the fireplace.
In this proverb, the ant is preparing bread ahead of the cold winter, when no food will be coming out of the ground. Proverbs 30:25 reinforces this lesson, stating that this little creature is not strong, but since it does this, it implies there is strength in preparation.
There are a number of proverbs along these lines. Proverbs 12:11-12 contain two powerful lessons that are related. Verse 11 says, if you till your land, you’ll have plenty of bread. Verse 12 shows that humanly we tend to want results quickly without any preparation rather than putting down roots, growing and bearing fruit. The reason is that the latter takes time and forward thinking. This concept shows up in two other proverbs as well (Proverbs 13:11; 20:21).
Proverbs 20:4 reads: “The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold [or, the planting season]; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.” The sluggard just wants the harvest, but has to beg then. Proverbs 10:5 says he’s content to sleep through the harvest.
The point is, you have to think beyond the current season. Think about when times are different than they are right now, and plan accordingly: just as we plant ahead of the warm weather, and just as we gather when the weather is conducive to it so we can survive the winter. We must build the roof on the cabin when we don’t actually need it.
This isn’t unlike what Joseph had Egypt do during the seven years of plenty (Genesis 41:29-57). God had revealed Egypt’s immediate future to Joseph—that seven plenteous years would be followed by seven years of dire famine. Joseph told Pharaoh that Egypt should reserve one fifth of its abundance through the years of plenty, and Pharaoh recognized that this was an unusually wise suggestion—in fact, it ended up saving surrounding nations.
Consider: The wisdom to manage the famine changed the actions during the times of abundance—when there would seem to be no need to store up anything. To some it might have seemed counterintuitive.
Humanly, we only think about saving when we don’t have anything rather than when there’s abundance. Humanly, we only think about educating ourselves for the future when the future is upon us, rather than using our childhood to lay the necessary groundwork. Humanly, we only think about needing a roof when it’s raining, rather than building it under conditions when we don’t really need it.
Working in advance does not mean we decide one way of doing things and make no adjustments along the way. If we are thinking it through, we are considering multiple scenarios and building in flexibility to our plans.
God has contingencies for various scenarios, setbacks and emergencies. His approach to planning and foresight includes not only accounting for lean times, but also having several options based on certain what-ifs. God’s advance thinking allows Him to be flexible. Even the flexibility has been planned for and built in: That’s a forward thinker and great manager!
“The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want” (Proverbs 21:5). The word for thoughts in the Hebrew actually means devising, planning, meditating, purposing. The planning and purposing of those who are on top of their game leads to “plenteousness.” It’s where greatness comes from! The New Living Translation renders it: “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”
How to Build—Step One
Proverbs 24:27 reads: “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house” (Revised Standard Version). Some people would consider just jumping in and starting to build, but preparation must precede it.
Christ gave a similar principle in Luke 14. The comparison here is about planning—specifically, knowing you have enough to finish what you start.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (verse 28). What is the first thing you do after you intend to build? Sit down and calculate. Christ didn’t phrase this as a command, but more as common knowledge among His disciples.
We have all launched into something where we really didn’t know the “cost”—we hadn’t calculated it, and we had to abandon the project.
In verse 33, Christ tells His disciples He is talking about the “cost” of being His disciple. But the principle of measuring, mental planning, counting, making sure there is enough to finish, applies to many things in life.
Keep reading: “Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (verses 29-30). The man who “began to build” may have appeared to be a man of “action,” but if he didn’t think it through, so what?
Of course, there must be action too. Mere talk leads to poverty; doing leads to profit (Proverbs 14:23). Planning, discussion, calculating are just the start—then the plan has to be executed. But sometimes, even the action has to happen far in advance of the time when it seems necessary.
Storing Spiritual Stuff
In 1 Timothy 6, the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to exhort the wealthier members of his congregation not to “trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God” (verse 17) and that they “do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate” (verse 18).
What benefit does this bring them? “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (verse 19).
Typically someone rich in this world is used to saving up and managing their resources wisely. Paul says to them: Make sure you’re doing that spiritually. This is similar to the principle we read in Matthew 6: Store up the right things.
God’s Church is constantly teaching you habits of meaningful communication with God. That’s storing up for something spiritually. Yes, it has immediate benefits. But when you do those things, you’re working in advance of things barely conceivable.
There might be no physical evidence that anything should be stored up spiritually. It could be easy to skip out on contact with God—something else seems more pressing, more immediate. And before long, spiritually speaking, we find ourselves huddling in the corner of a dilapidated, nearly-roofless house.
God is teaching us to see beyond the moment, and to plant seeds for an indescribable future!
Most people want to call on God only when they’re in trouble—only when it’s raining, or only at the last minute. God is teaching us how to lay in store spiritually for incredible things ahead. Those are the moments where all that you have invested spiritually will pay off.
God wants us building spiritual habits for thinking and planning ahead in everything we do. Youth is the perfect time in your life to lay up, store and prepare—not just general education, but even “spiritual” things. These are the “sunny days”—when it may not seem like you need a roof. But this is the time to be building those things—your relationship with God, your absorption of His Word.
Building these habits even in our physical endeavors teaches us these lasting spiritual lessons. Then we learn that as we plan, we plant seeds for the future. That as we set up, we get established. That the more we calculate, the more we’re likely to finish. That the more we think ahead of the present—ahead of whatever “season” we’re in—the more we yield in the next season!
Plant ahead, and you are learning eternal lessons and storing up for great eternal rewards!