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 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, 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 manfiest itself in our lives. This story not only illustrates the need to prepare and plan ahead, but to do so with a certain amount of 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.
This is an often overlooked yet key part of planning ahead.
Living By Deadlines
Preparation involves a lot of advance thinking—not simply doing things early, but mentally processing various scenarios. As we’ll see, both the advance thoughts and actions occur at a time when conditions are opposite to what we’re preparing for (as in, building shelter during sunshine).
God and Jesus Christ are proponents of this mindset and are the most successful beings at it. In working with man, He’s 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 (request our free reprint “7,000 years of preparation”).
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. No, they’re not there to give you insomnia or an ulcer. They are fail safes for forward-thinking—to ensure that some of the fundamental steps are being taken enough in advance. Deadlines are vital to any multi-faceted larger project or plan.
We get a deadline every Friday at sunset, which requires us to think about that deadline long before it arrives. If we don’t, we aren’t prepared to keep the Sabbath properly. Sometimes issues can arise, and we give ourselves a pass on breaking the Sabbath, claiming an “ox in the ditch,” when the issue was poor planning and preparation. (Anciently, your ox going in the ditch was quite rare, and it certainly wouldn’t have been because you failed to plan.)
One Day at a Time?
The Bible is full of information that God wants this mindset of His to be ours as well. Maybe it could be hard to reconcile that with passages like James 4:13-15. “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.”
The admonition here is about remembering 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. All 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. 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! The admonition, therefore is not: Don’t think about tomorrow. It is: You have to think beyond tomorrow.
Verse 11 also seems to advocate more “daily” thinking, where we are told to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This verse is mainly about asking for spiritual help—“the bread of life,” which we cannot otherwise provide ourselves (see John 6:48-51). Otherwise man is told to work for his own bread (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Though we should pray about our physical needs, we don’t lie around and then just ask God to give us bread despite our laziness.
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 the ground.
Even 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—because it wasn’t the Sabbath. And for some that was just ridiculous (verses 27-28).
Even these verses that talk about the shortness of life, asking for bread each day, not being anxious about tomorrow—none of these 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 spirituallessons.
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 no where does He indicate we only plan our lives one day at a time.
Farming teaches us that. It taught this lesson to 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 would teach any landowner to plan ahead—or, let’s say, plant ahead.
The only reason you had food come up during the harvest season was because you planted before the harvest season. If you wanted firstfruits in the spring, you were planting 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 taught you to think years in advance. Obeying God’s commands to diversify your crops, and cultivating your trees as He directed, ensured you had 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 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, in fact).
Think of all the time you spend in school—something preparing you for various aspects of adulthood well before you’re an adult. School is an institutionalized method of preparing you for life: giving the basics you’ll need to know about math, science, history, language, fitness, the arts, etc. 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 would be the equivalent of 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. This proverb is actually repeated in Proverbs 28:19. The next verse—Proverbs 12:12—shows that humanly we tend to want results quickly without any preparation or investment, 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; 20:11).
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. Another proverb says he’s even content to sleep through the harvest (Proverb 10:5).
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 the roof.
This isn’t unlike what Joseph had Egypt do during the seven years of plenty (Genesis 41:29-57). It is a unique example, of course, since God revealed a great deal about Egypt’s immediate future to Joseph—that there would be seven years of dire famine after the plenteous years. 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—it even ended up saving surrounding nations.
Consider: The wisdom needed to manage the famine had more to do with the wisdom to manage the times of abundance—a time when they would seem to be no need to store up anything. To some it might have seemed counterintuitive.
Humanly, we only thinking about saving when we don’t have anything. rather than when there’s abundance. Humanly, we only think about eating food when it comes out of the ground, rather than storing it, ahead of a time when no food comes out of the ground. 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, that means 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 times when things are more meager, but in having several options based on certain what-ifs.
This is clear in God’s directives for how land would be passed through firstborn sons in ancient Israel. In Numbers 27:7-11, He gives instructions on what to do if someone had only daughters. In Deuteronomy 25:5-10, He address the what-if for a firstborn son who married, but died before he could have children.
God’s advance thinking is what allows for 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 really 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 there’s a preparation and readiness that 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). The “first” thing you do after you “intend” to “build”? Sit down and calculate. Note that He didn’t phrase it as a command, but more as common knowledge among His disciples.
We’ve all launched into something where we really didn’t know the “cost”—we hadn’t really calculated it, and we had to abandon whatever it was.
In verse 33, Christ tells His disciples what this metaphor is about: He gives the “cost” of being His disciple. But, again, what is being used as the vehicle for this amazing spiritual metaphor? The measuring—the mental planning—the “counting.” It is making sure there is enough to finish something.
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).
Building requires some mental planning and foresight. 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. It’s easy to just talk about things, which Proverbs 14:23 says leads to poverty; conversely, doing leads to profit. It’s not all planning, all discussion, all calculating. The plan has to be executed. But remember that sometimes even the action has to happen far in advance of them time when it seems necessary.
Storing Spiritual Stuff
In 1 Timothy 6, the Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to give the wealthier members of his congregation some exhortation: That they not “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—storing up the right things.
For instance, even as youth, God’s Church is constantly teaching you habits of meaningful communication with God. That’s like storing up for something spiritually. Yes, it has immediate benefits in this life. But when you do those things, you’re working in advance of things barely yet conceivable.
Looking at things carnally, there might be no physical evidence that anything should be stored up spiritually. Everything would indicate that now is the time to focus on what we can see with our human eyes. It could be easy to skip out on contact with God—not just because something else seems more pressing, but because that other “more pressing” thing seems 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 plant seeds for an indescribable future!
Whereas most people want to call on God only when they’re in trouble—only when it’s raining, so to speak, 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’ve invested spiritually will pay off.
God wants us building spiritual habits for thinking and planning ahead in everything we do. Maybe that’s a bit deep for a young mind to grasp, but youth is the perfect time in your life when you can be laying up, storing, preparing—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. That is, as long as we’re not putting them above the spiritual—that we are simply seeking first the Kingdom, and then these other things second, third, fourth and so on.
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!
As with the ant—preparation is a form of strength. How much more for human beings who possess such magnificent spiritual potential?
Plant ahead, and you’re learning eternal lessons and storing up for great eternal rewards!