We all tend to go through life with a vague awareness of things that need our attention. We think I need to get organized; our marriage needs attention; we have to get our budget together; I need to exercise; I must spend time with the kids; etc. These things never get done because we fail to plan strategically. Most couples spend more time planning a remodel or a vacation or even a family meal than they spend on planning spiritual changes.
Biblical Theology of Planning
When the book of Proverbs teaches us how to go about making our plans succeed, the implication is that it is wise to make plans.
Pr 20:18 Make plans by seeking advice
Pr 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
God requires us to be good stewards of our lives and to live wisely. And part of living wisely is making plans. In Proverbs we find that wise people make plans, and generally speaking it’s a good thing when they are realized.
Pr 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.
It is not wise to fly through life by the seat of your pants making all your decisions on the fly. God has given you a life. That is a gift of immeasurable value. Our lives are in our control but only as stewards.
Your life doesn’t really belong to you, it has just been entrusted to your care.
So as Christians, our duty is to live in the most excellent way possible. Just as you should brush your hair and not be a slob so you glorify God in your appearance, in the same way your life should not be disheveled.
Pr 16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
lit: “be established” or “made firm” One way God blesses us is by causing our plans to be realized.
Amazingly, even God makes plans. I’m still trying to understand why. I’m not sure what the difference is between God pre-planning something and doing something off the cuff that He knew He would do for all eternity past. But nevertheless Scripture is full of references to God having made plans.
2Ki 19:25 Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass.
Schedule a Planning Retreat
Make Your Spouse’s Job Easier
1 Corinthians 7:5 teaches that you are responsible to satisfy the sexual desires of your spouse enough so that your spouse won’t be unnecessarily vulnerable to temptation. That principle applies to every aspect of marital love. If you don’t show affection, hold hands, give compliments, show respect, show interest in what your spouse is saying, listen, trust your spouse, try to be attractive for your spouse – if any of those kinds of things are lacking, and someone else comes along who does do one of those things for your spouse, then you’ve placed your spouse at risk of being vulnerable to unnecessary levels of temptation if someone else comes along and does provide those things.
But how do you know which of those things your spouse needs in order to be protected from temptation? Everyone is different. The things you need to avoid temptation aren’t the same things your spouse needs. There are things you could go without for years that your spouse needs every other day. And when you do finally figure out all those things your spouse needs to have fulfilled in order to be protected from temptation, about the time you finally get that figured out, your spouse changes. All through your life your desires and cravings change.
So how can you stay on top of this? There is an expert in this field that I would like to recommend to you. This particular resource will be extremely helpful for you, and I highly recommend that you consult this particular expert on a regular basis. The expert is … your spouse. Ask your spouse, “What could I do to make our marriage more of a delight to you?”
Pick a weekend for this retreat. Put it on your calendar, set that time aside, be very intentional.
If possible, go to a hotel for a couple days and focus only on this. Don’t think of it as a vacation. It will be hard work. But we put a lot more effort than this into much less important things. It will require effort, but it will be worth it!
I recommend you only work on this during meals. In between meals, just relax, go for a walk, play some games, enjoy each other.
Find a restaurant that is quiet and comfortable. You should each bring a notebook.
The goal for this meal is to discover which areas need the most attention at this time. Resist the urge to discuss the issues in depth at this point. Don’t argue, don’t get offended. If you don’t agree with something, this isn’t the time to mention that. At this point you are simply brainstorming.
Both of you ask the other, “What could I do to make this marriage easier for you to delight in?”
Husband, God gave your wife a very difficult job—to honor you as the church honors Christ. The least you could do would be to do what you can to make it easier. If you love her, you’re going to want to know how you could make it easier. So you ask her, “What could I do that would make it easier for you to respect me and submit to me?”
Now again – watch your motives. The goal here is not for you to be respected and honored so that you’ll be happy. The goal is to help your wife obey God so that she will be happy.
Wife, think about the command your husband has received. God requires him to love you like Christ loved the Church. As lovely as you are, that’s very difficult, because his heart is shot through with sin and selfishness and so is yours. Loving you like Christ loves the church requires a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice, giving up his very life for you. If you love him you’re going to want to make that easier for him. So you ask your husband, “What could I do to make it easier for you to love me? What could I do to make it easier for you to be attracted to me? What could I do to make it easier for you to live with me in an understanding way and to function as the spiritual leader in the home?”
And again – you do not ask those questions so that you can get your husband to love you more so that you will be happy. You ask them so that your husband can obey God and he can be happy.
If your marriage were the ideal biblical marriage – you spouse were the ideal spouse, and you were the ideal husband or wife, what would your contribution to that ideal marriage look like? What would have to change in you before you could be that person?
Take turns asking these questions, and write down as many things as possible. And don’t worry about how many things your spouse says. You’ll be whittling the list down to the most important things. So if your spouse has 75 things, go ahead and write them down.
Put the notebooks away and order dessert.
Now you have a long list of things you need to change. But no one can make 3 dozen major life changes all at once. Even one major life change is hard, and so 2 or 3 would be the maximum that you would want to attempt. The goal at this meal is for each of you to select 2 or 3 items from your list that are the most urgent.
In my experience, if you pick the right 2 or 3, which people generally do, then dealing with those 2 or 3 will eliminate a whole host of other problems.
You and your spouse each have 10 points to spend on your list and 10 points for your spouse’s list. Begin with the husband’s list. Both of you assign points to the items according to how important you feel that item is. If you really want to make sure an issue gets resolved soon, you can spend all 10 of your points on that one item. Or one point on 10 different items. When you’re done, a total of 20 points should be assigned for the various items on the husband’s list.
Now add up the points for each item. For example, if the wife gives 4 points to the “be more romantic” item, and the husband only gives that 1 point, then that item has a total of 5 points.
Once the points are all added up, find the items with the 2 or 3 highest combined scores. Those are issues you are going to work on.
Now both of you follow that same process for the wife’s list.
At the end, you both have 2 or 3 items you will be working on over the next six months.
And don’t worry—all those other important things will be addressed. But not until the next planning retreat. It’s important that both of you agree that ALL the other items are tabled until the next retreat. If you want real change, you won’t try to bite off too many items. In fact, on your first retreat it may be wise to choose only one item each.
Agreeing to table those other items means no nagging about them and no resenting your spouse about them. You simply agree they are set aside for now.
When you select your top items, put your books away and order dessert.
The goal now is to take an organized approach to addressing the 5 issues. We all tend to go through life is a vague awareness of things that need attention and we mumble things like, “I need to get organized, our marriage needs attention, we have to get our budget together, I need to exercise, spend time with the kids” etc. Those things never get done, because we never make specific goals. The purpose of this session is to set the goals.
BE SPECIFIC. The more specific the goals the better. Try to avoid vague words like “improve, cut back, give more energy to,” etc. The goals should also be measurable. Don’t set goals that are so vague that you never know for sure if you’ve reached them.
Poor goal: Get in shape.
Good goal: Begin working out 20 minutes 5 days a week.
Poor goal: Spend more time with the kids.
Good goal: Devote a full hour beginning as soon as supper is over just to the kids.
Poor goal: I need to be more romantic.
Good goal: If we haven’t gone on a date by the last Friday of the month, we will do it on that day.
BE REALISTIC. Don’t set yourself up for failure. If your ultimate goal would be unrealistic at this time, take it in steps. For this six months, take the first step. Then next time you can take it further.
For each item on your list, you might set 2 or 3 goals. Other items may only call for one goal.
Plan the action steps to reaching your goals.
In this step, do your best to think through your strengths and weaknesses. Is one of you more creative? Someone better at record keeping? Someone more organized? Better at research? Better at shopping? More biblical knowledge? God made you a team. Don’t be a like a basketball coach who has the short guy playing center. God gave you each unique gifts to make your contribution to this marriage. Don’t ignore that when you think through who will be doing what. In fact, if you have time for another meal, it might be worth devoting a whole session just to thinking through your strengthens and weaknesses, gifts and skills, things you enjoy and things you hate, etc.
If your goal entails a significant life change, it’s very unlikely you’ll reach it in one step just by deciding to do it. If it were that easy, you would have done it a long time ago. So plan very specific action steps.
For example, if your goal is to have a family devotions every night, decide:
- Who will plan it and lead it?
- Where will it take place?
- How are you going to find good material to use?
- By what date will this material be purchased?
- Who will be in charge of getting the family together?
- What will you do when the phone rings during devotions?
- What about nights when you are out or have guests over?
If your goal is to go on a date once a month, you will need to determine:
- Who will plan the date?
- How will you make sure that money is set aside?
- What has to take place on the date for it to be successful? How will that be achieved?
- If the date will be on the last Friday of the month, on what day will you plan it?
Even if your goal is to study the Bible for thirty minutes each morning, several decisions need to be made:
- What will you study?
- What materials will you use?
- What about days you oversleep?
Writing down your plan of action will help clarify your thinking and enable you to modify or eliminate unrealistic goals.
Very Important Final Step
When my wife and I did this the first time, we had all kinds of great goals and actions steps all written down. When we got home from our weekend, we put our notebooks away thinking we would remember everything. Soon we forgot all about them and nothing happened for several weeks.
The last step is to decide how you’ll get this all started. When you walk in the house when you get home, where will you put these notebooks? And on what date will go back over these lists together to see how you are doing?
Finally, put it on your calendar right now the date you will have your next retreat. I recommend no more than six months when you’re first starting this process.