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Planning with Mind & Heart

This is chapter one from the second edition of my book Strategic Planning for Christian Organizations. You can find the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/Strategic-Planning-Christian-Organizations-Direction/dp/B08C94SL7J/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=saffold+planning&qid=1596930738&s=books&sr=1-1.

“All this is in writing,” David said, “because the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.

 — I Chronicles 28:19

King David had a plan. God had given him understanding in all the details. The entire process was guided by the hand of the Lord. The plan was eventually executed and strategically influenced the course of David’s kingdom for the next one thousand years. Could be no better model for how Christian leaders should tackle the process of strategic planning?

Envisioned and planned by David, constructed by his son Solomon, the temple and its successors became the focal point of Jewish faith and worship until Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection fulfilled all the purposes of which it had been only a foreshadowing. It was a transformative vision with powerful and enduring impact. If that isn’t strategic development, nothing is.

We begin our study of strategic planning by learning from this remarkable biblical example. There is a great deal we can learn from it about how we should do our planning.

The Ark of the Covenant and God’s Presence

The Ark of the Covenant was small, no more than four feet long, two feet wide and two feet tall, but enormous in importance. Constructed during Israel’s wilderness journey by the artisan Bezalel under the direction of Moses, the ark was significant for both its contents and its surface.

Inside the ark were three objects of immense significance to the faith of Israel.

Inside the Ark were a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s staff that sprouted leaves, and the stone tablets of the covenant. – Hebrews 9:4

The jar of manna was a symbol of God’s loving care. The rod a reminder of the authority invested in Moses and Aaron. The stone tablets with the law of God defined the terms of his covenant with the people.

Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. –Hebrews 9:5

The top cover of the ark, a golden cover adorned with two cherubim facing one another, was called the “mercy seat” the glory of God was said to be “enthroned” between the cherubim. The mercy seat was a sign of God’s presence and grace among his people.

Together these items pointed to the authority, holiness and law of God combined with his loving care and gracious presence. One day in the future the apostle John would write:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14

In David’s time, however, it was the ark that most fully pictured the character of God for his people.

For this reason, it had been considered a national disaster when the during a losing battle with the Philistines, the ark was captured and carried away. The details of the account are too many to mention here, but it was a day of great celebration when David and his army finally brought the ark into Jerusalem, the new capital city of Israel.

David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. – 2 Samuel 6:14-15

David, his men, and all the people had great reason to celebrate. The symbols of God’s covenant with Israel, and more important still the glory of his gracious presence had been restored to his people.

With the ark again in his possession, after a short time of waiting, David made an important decision, perhaps the most profound of his kingship. He decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem, his recently conquered capital city.

And they brought in the ark of the Lord and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. – 2 Samuel 6:17

This was a very significant step in David’s efforts to consolidate his rule and kingdom. The ark and all it meant to the people was now at rest and secure in the capital city. Now it would be to Jerusalem that people came on pilgrimages, to Jerusalem they would bring their gifts in worship. Jerusalem would be the center of their religious life.

God began to pour out his blessing on David and Israel. Jerusalem also became the center for Israel’s commerce and military strength.

And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies was with him. – 2 Samuel 5:10

The resulting prosperity made it possible for David to embark on a series of massive building programs.

So David made the fortress his home, and he called it the City of David. He extended the city, starting at the supporting terraces and working inward. – 2 Samuel 5:9

Pre-eminent among all of David’s major projects was a palatial residence for himself.

Then King Hiram of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar timber and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built David a palace. – 2 Samuel 5:11-12

After many years of war, David at last settled into his palace and found himself at peace.

The king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies. – 2 Samuel 7:1

This, then, was the situation David enjoyed, a status summary we might call it, at the point where David begins to think about constructing a house for God. Let’s turn now to what was going through David’s mind.

David Evaluates His Circumstances

Jerusalem had become the national, commercial, and religious center of the kingdom. People from all directions, from Israel and from other nations were flowing into the city.  Imagine the streets filled with life, vendors and people going to market, farmers with produce, soldiers in armor, pilgrims coming to worship and priests preparing sacrifices.

With this picture of Jerusalem in mind imagine also King David standing on the roof of his palace to survey all he had done. As he looked over the city, he realized that there was a glaring problem right before his eyes, evident, in fact, to every person who entered the city’s gates and walked its streets. David called for his close friend and counselor, Nathan the prophet, to join on the roof.

The king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.”  – 2 Samuel 7:2

Notice how David directs Nathan to “see.” The problem was not hidden but incredibly visible. The king was living in a palace, the ark was in a tent. David is troubled because it looks like the king is more important than God, and that simply will not do. It must be indisputably clear to one and all, to every resident and every visitor, that God is more important than anything else, even the king.

More than anything else, David longed to honor God.  The ark needed a new home more glorious than the king’s own palace. A new vision grew in David’s mind and soul: a plan for a great house for the Lord.

David Develops a “Holy Discontent”

It is important to note that the origin of David’s vision for the temple was not a revelation from God but something that grew from his own thoughts and reflections. He put his active mind and sensitive spirit to work analyzing his situation, considering what was still to be done, planning next steps. We must not rule out that God may have been silently prompting his thoughts, but the text makes clear that the vision did not begin with a word from God but rather with David’s consideration of the status of his kingdom and city. When he looked about, he found that he was not satisfied with things as they were. And because he was a leader, he resolved to do something about it.

The root of godly strategic plans is very often found in exactly this kind of “holy discontent.” This kind of discontent does not flow from cynicism, discouragement or unhappiness. Rather it arises from a restless desire to achieve some greater good, increased achievement of goals, a wider ministry. Holy discontent can take many forms, but when it is genuine all its forms are directed solely to the glory of God.

At its best, strategic planning flows from a
“holy discontent” with present circumstances,
a sense that God has in mind greater
things for us to do.

We can also observe that David did not rush ahead without considering what God’s will might be. A concern to consult God’s mind was the very reason that David had called Nathan the prophet into the planning process. Nathan saw the same problem with the ark’s location in a tent. He quickly agreed with David’s plan.

“Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.” –2 Samuel 7:3

David Receives God’s Direction

God now spoke more directly into the process with some critical directions. Many years later David explained to the people what happened next.

King David rose to his feet and said: “Listen to me, my fellow Israelites, my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood. . . . ’  He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts. –1 Chronicles 28:2-3,6

God affirmed the plan to build a temple, but he directed that Solomon not David was the one who would build it.

We do well to have in mind great
achievements for God.

We must now ask whether David had made a presumptuous mistake by envisioning this plan for a temple? Is it possible that he had sinfully taken matters into his own hands? Was he wrong to begin thinking about a great plan like this?

No, not at all! David’s son Solomon explains.  

“My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel. But the Lord said to my father David, ‘You did well to have it in your heart to build a temple for my Name. – 2 Chronicles 6:7-8

David had “done well” to reflect, analyze and envision a great plan to glorify God’s name. God commended the “holy discontent” of his heart that gave birth to the vision. But David had also done the right thing by seeking God’s guidance through Nathan the prophet. God had responded by directing some adjustments to the original vision, but he also makes clear to David, “You did well!”

David Submits to God’s Will

David was now at risk of acting presumptuously by rushing ahead with his vision regardless of God’s instructions. Many leaders make this mistake not because they do not care about God but because they do. Their passion to move ahead and their enthusiasm for the vision puts them at risk of acting too quickly, without God’s guidance or even against indications that their project may not be entirely consistent with God’s will or timing. The results are almost always disastrous for the leader and often for others, too.

David immediately submits to God’s will with an eager heart. In telling David that he is not the one to build a house for God, God also promises to build a house for David. David is overwhelmed, and he responds in prayers of remarkable humility.

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? . . . .And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human! What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord.For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. –  2 Samuel :18-21

Three times in this prayer he speaks to the “Sovereign Lord” who has made known him will.

At its core, biblical vision is synonymous with faith in God and his promises. God loves to manifest his presence and pour out his spirit with power on those who will dare to align their purposes radically with him.[i]

Aligning his purposes to God’s will and promises is exactly what David is doing in this prayer.

David Develops a Written Plan

Smaller things can be done spontaneously. In truth, there is great benefit in being flexible and immediately responsive to the Spirit’s direction in our day-to-day lives. Large projects, however, require careful planning, and there is no necessary tension between laying careful plans and following the Spirit’s direction. The Holy Spirit who can guide us moment by moment can also guide us as we develop detailed, even written plans.

So, David set about developing the plans for the temple. Praying and planning merged into a single process that he carried out under direction of the Spirit of God.

“All this is in writing,” David said, “because the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan. – 1 Chronicles 28:1

Notice David’s comment that the Lord gave him “understanding.” This was not a case of falling into a trance-like state and merely recording what God was saying. As it had been from the beginning, David’s mind was engaged, analyzing, evaluating, thinking carefully about every detail.

David Gathers Resources for the Plan

The last step for David was to gather resources for the great project. 1 Chronicles 29 describes how David first pledged his own resources for construction of the temple.

The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God. . . . in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God. – 1 Chronicles 29:1-2

Then, having set a personal example of commitment to the work, David called on others to give generously as well.

Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. – 1 Chronicles 29:6

In reality, David was still engaged in the planning process even at this stage. He was fulfilling the part of his plan that called for providing resources for Solomon to carry out the work.

David’s Planning Leads to Execution and Results

This part of the account illustrates powerfully that planning and execution are not entirely separate process. Planning, if it is to be worthwhile, must lead to work. Solomon upon becoming king, began the work and carried it to completion.

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. . . .He began building on the second day of the second month in the fourth year of his reign. – 2 Chronicles 3:1-2

A Pattern for Biblical Planning

I hope you have seen that although the term “strategic planning” is recent, the process is old. Sometimes Christian people object to the idea of strategic planning because they feel it is “corporate” or a modern management “technique.” Neither of these are accurate evaluations.

Strategic planning is a pattern of activity that is as old as human activity. As we have seen in this example from the greatest project of King David’s career, the process of planning not only can be consistent with God’s will, it is in fact the way godly leaders go about the process of fulfilling God’s will.

Let’s summarize quickly what we can learn from David’s vision to build a house for God.

  • Scan. Have an active mind that is constantly assessing the situation around you.
  • Evaluate. As you reflect, look for needs and opportunities for ministry that can lead to success.
  • Envision. Use opportunities for ministry as seeds to develop vision.
  • Inquire. Do not rush ahead on your own. Take time to seek God’s direction.
  • Submit. Humbly submit yourself to his purposes, focusing your plans on his glory and not your own exaltation.
  • Plan. Draw on God’s guidance as you develop careful, often detailed plans.
  • Resource. Carefully count the cost of your plans and provide resources to accomplish them, setting an example by their own commitment.
  • Execute. Take action to turn your plans into valued results.

The pattern may vary in sequence. Some steps take longer than others. The process of understanding and formulating the root vision can sometimes be the most difficult step of all. However, this general pattern can be seen in every example of good planning I have studied.

[i]. Steve Childers, Presentation at Church Planting Institute, Japan, 2002.

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Guy Saffold

I’ve observed leaders for many years, always asking the question, “What should a person do to lead in more Christian ways?” It’s often not an easy question to answer in the midst of the day-to-day events that whirl around a leader. Here I explore some of the dilemmas and answers. I also post some devotional thoughts about the application of biblical teaching.