Avoiding the Pitfalls of Mainstream Life Planning


Life coaches offer a lot of useful advice regarding how to clarify values, deep passions, and concealed aspirations. Yet, their methods are fundamentally flawed. How do we learn from them without having our perspective skewed?

Self-control is not so much ‘will-power’ as the authority and freedom under Christ to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. In Christ, we are liberated, equipped, and authorized to take leadership for our lives and to direct ourselves and our families along courses that bring praise and glory to His name.

Understood in this way, self-control is less the action of a powerlifter performing simple motions via brute strength than the finesse of a wrestler whose actions depend upon multiple areas of fitness – flexibility, strength, coordination, and speed – all syncing together in support of a single, concerted effort. Therefore, the key to developing self-control is neither self-denial nor self-exertion, but rather an intentional cultivation of underlying ‘spiritual muscle groups’ such as the imagination, intellect, affections, memory, and will. Only when each of these are properly tuned is a man truly free to direct his steps along the path to holiness.

How does a man begin to do this? The key to freeing up the imagination is to engage in a sanctified version of life planning. A man who ignores the future is like a person who walks around staring at his feet. He will miss a lot of useful paths in life because he never looked up to survey the landscape. The undeniable benefit of life planning is that the activity protects a person from ‘drift’, the mindless persistence along an unspecified course. Of course, for Christians, a deep attitude of humility must correspond to any attempt at life planning, since our lives are ultimately in God’s hands and because the future belongs to Him, not us. Nonetheless, most men will find spiritual relevance in Eisenhower’s quip, ‘Plans are worthless, but planning is everything’.

A useful guide to life planning is Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. [1] Hyatt goes through all the nuts and bolts of the activity in a way that is simple and practical. However, Christians who read this book need to be cautious on two points. The first is that there is a secular assumption at the heart of not just this book but almost all of modern life planning that needs to be exposed as a lie. This assumption is that the universe revolves around me. Any Christian intending to think seriously about his future needs to begin with the most fundamental fact of all: everything, including me, exists for the glory of God.[2] Therefore, the goal of life planning can never, for the Christian, be happiness (as defined by psychology), self-fulfillment (as defined by pop culture), or success (as defined by me). The goal of life planning is good stewardship – figuring out how I can best use my gifts and opportunities to bring acclaim to the Triune God.

The second point of caution regards Hyatt’s recommendation that a person write his eulogy. The logic behind the activity makes perfect sense. Men undoubtedly need to detach from the present and to get a long-term perspective on what they value and who they want to be. The problem is the point of view that Hyatt recommends. Looking back on life from the perspective of a eulogy inspires sentimentality, nostalgia, and a focus on temporary goods. For Christians, a better perspective to adopt is that of standing before the judgment seat of Christ. The question men need to face directly is not, ‘What do I want for my life?’ but ‘What does Jesus want from me?’ I may want for myself more comfort, more fun, and more ‘me time’. Christ may want from me more sacrifice, more service, and more ‘us time’.[3] Therefore, my suggestion to men is that, instead of writing their eulogy, they write a description of the life that Jesus desires them to live. If taken seriously, the result of this activity will be nothing less than a personal vocation, a clearer sense of that unique role that Jesus has summoned me forth from the dust to play.[4]  

Questions for Small Groups and Self-Reflection:

  1. How does the idea of stewardship adjust the purpose of life? Consider the difference between living for self-fulfilment and living for the mission of God.

  2. Most people begin the process of writing a life plan by asking, ‘What do I want from life?’ What difference does it make to begin with the question, ‘What does God want from me?’

  3. How did the judgment seat of Christ influence Paul’s trajectory through life? Read I Cor. 4:3-4, 2 Cor. 5:9-11, 2 Tim. 4:6-8.

[1] Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy, Living Forward (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2016).

[2] Anyone needing to detox from the navel-gazing of the modern world should read Jonathan Edward’s classic treatise The End for Which God Created the World.

[3] This perspective ought to create a sense of urgency regarding how we use time. J. Oswald Sanders says, ‘Suppose that we allot ourselves a generous eight hours a day for sleep (and few need more than thiat), three hours for meals and conversation, ten hours for work and travel. Still we have thirty-five hours each week to fill. What happens to them? How are they invested? A person’s entire contribution to the kingdom of God may turn on how those hours are used. Certainly those hours determine whether life is commonplace or extraordinary.’ Sanders, Spiritual Leadership.

[4] A useful guide to thinking about vocation is Os Guiness’s book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003).