The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
Stop! Schedule time to think. Thinking is work too.
It pays to plan. First plan your work, and then work your plans.
Don’t confuse activity with productivity.
Patience and laziness look similar at first glance, but they are very different. For people addicted to action, planning looks like a waste of time. But the journey of a thousand miles doesn’t really begin with the first step; it starts with a good map. The text states a profound financial truth. Some texts give indirect financial guidance but this one is crystal clear. Look at it closely:
- The word surely appears twice. In other words, the cause-effect is certain.
- The verbs lead and comes are in italics, showing that they are missing from the Hebrew. Thus the original is even more succinct: Plans + diligence = gain; haste = poverty.
- The word everyone means all people; there are no exceptions.
Here’s the point: Haste makes waste. It’s short, snappy and easy to remember. It’s deadly accurate and one of the best maxims in the English language. According to the text, haste not only makes waste but it brings poverty to the one being hasty. A hasty person ends up with a double loss—a pile of waste and fewer resources!
High Energy Failures
The Hebrew word for hasty, אוץ (ʼûṣ, pronounced “oots”), is used four times in Proverbs with the idea of loss of money, productivity, or respect. It seems to be an irrefutable asset management law: Haste brings waste. But the hasty and diligent have something in common; both are busy, high-energy people. Those who are hasty aren’t lazy, yet they will end up with the lazy—namely in poverty. Their impatience makes them poor. In a sense the hasty are to be pitied more than the lazy since they expend time and effort yet end up with nothing. At least the lazy conserve energy. How can we distinguish a hasty energetic person from one who is diligent? Both are visibly working, at least at first glance. As we look closer we see the diligent incorporating order, method, patience, and rest periods, whereas the hasty are characterized by disorder, erratic actions, and multiple reworks. Haste reveals a lack of forethought. Think of it this way: Chickens with their heads cut off are high-energy creatures.
Changing Activity to Productivity
We can learn how to work well from Ecclesiastes 9:10 where we read, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in shĕ-ōl (the grave) where you are going.” Note the words of King Solomon in reverse-order sequence:
- Wisdom: Knowing the right place to go.
- Knowledge: Knowing how to get there.
- Planning: Allocating time, resources, and methods.
- Activity: Expending the required physical energy.
In other words, work while you are still living and able, but put the mind before the body! The first three steps are mostly in the mind while the last one is physical. Without wise guidance, relevant knowledge, and proper planning all activity is useless.
Where do we find the first evidence of thought before action? A close look at the creation account in Genesis reveals the contemplative and directive work of the Spirit of God (Genesis 1:2) before God did anything else (Genesis 1:3). Before God spoke, the Spirit of God hovered. What was the Spirit of God looking at? There was nothing to see. I believe the Spirit of God moved, hovered, brooded over (the only other time this Hebrew word is used, it describes an eagle circling its nest in Deuteronomy 32:11), and visualized what would happen before anything was done. We don’t know how long the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. The length of time is irrelevant, but my point is this: Clear, careful, unhurried thought must precede words and actions if we want good results. We see the same idea communicated by the Lord Jesus Christ when He said that the Father is looking for those who will worship Him in (1) spirit and (2) truth. In other words the Bible seems to indicate that when the Spirit and the Word “dance together,” the Spirit leads the “dance.”
Spirit First, Law Second
Furthermore, creative thinking (that is to say, the spirit) must precede and guide words (that is, speech). The spirit of the law trumps the letter of the law. Words and instructions that are automatic and mechanical, with no allowance for personal discretion, destroy those who blindly obey. The following video shows what happens to those who simply follow the rules without any personal thought. The letter of the law kills but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Independent Planning is Unwise
Planning based only on human wisdom while ignoring the Spirit of God is simply bad planning. God warns His children that they are acting in rebellion when they make elaborate plans on their own, without first having sought God’s counsel (Isaiah 30:1). It’s rather humbling to acknowledge personal need for guidance. A common cliche goes like this: “Real men don’t ask for directions.” It's really arrogant men that don't ask for directions.
It’s not easy to get advice or direction from an invisible, inaudible Spirit, but that’s exactly what God wants us to do. It’s not just a matter of reading the Bible, but reading it with a heart open to the Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:20). The apostle Paul warns us “not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” (Ephesians 4:30). Stephen, the first martyr, was killed by those who read the Holy Scriptures but who always resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).
Independence from the Spirit of God is not a virtue, but a vice. The infinite intelligence of the Spirit of God is the basis of all of creation. We are told to be intelligent in all our buidling projects (Proverbs 24:3). Furthermore we prosper when we follow God’s intelligent ways of working, that is, we honour him to our own benefit (Proverbs 3:9-10).
The intelligent design movement, birthed in the 1990s in the academic world, is based on the premise that all intricate productive machinery comes about only with prior creative and logical thinking. In the early part of the 20th century many academics believed that there were only two essentials in the universe: Matter and energy. Now, partially due to sophisticated computer modelling and a greater understanding of the enormous complexity of life, many academics believe there are really three essentials for life: Matter, energy, and intelligence. We all know that thoughtless workmanship is sloppy workmanship.
Planning and knowledge built the bridge from wisdom (the brains) to activity (the brawn). Note that the text does not comment on the nature of the purpose or the goal, but only on the importance of planning, and then on its consistent application. To use another common English maxim, “Discretion is the better part of valour.” In other words, act when you must act, but be sure you always think prudently before you act.
Stress Stifles Planning
The spirit of haste grows in an environment of stress, discomfort, or anxiety. It’s associated with fear. Sometimes we describe actions without thought as pure panic—wasted energy. A lack of confidence can bring panic. As someone once said, “Having lost direction, he doubled his speed.” Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock captures the concept when he wrote of a horseman who “rode off madly in all directions.” Planning is often more difficult than action, especially when we are under pressure to do something. During the First World War, Canadian General Currie was quoted, “In a crisis situation the man who does something is sometimes wrong, but the man who does nothing is always wrong.” How true. But it takes discernment to identify what makes a genuine crisis. Planning is often discarded for action—any action. It takes a cool head to know when and how to act.
While on the topic of Canadian military history, many believe that unnecessary hasty action in Quebec changed the control of an entire country. On September 13, 1759, French commander Montcalm hastily led a charge against the carefully-controlled British forces lead by General James Wolfe. The battle took less than 15 minutes, but resulted in an enormous loss for the French. Most historians agree that Montcalm did not need to rush into the battle on the Plains of Abraham. The French could have easily waited in the comfort of Fort Quebec while the English froze in the Canadian winter. The hasty action cost Montcalm his life and France a vast territory that would eventually become the third largest country in the world—Canada.
Investing or Gambling
How does this apply to the investment world? All serious investors know the need for due diligence, that is, thoroughly investigating the merits and management behind the investment opportunity. The diligent will take the time to research whereas the lazy investor is merely gambling as a speculator playing a lottery. It’s like action without intelligence. Lottery ticket buyers are usually the lower middle income folk. That’s why lotteries have often been called a tax on the poor. Impatience results in poverty just as laziness results in poverty. The paths of the impatient and the lazy are very different but their final destination is the same.
Planning in the Four Financial Battle Zones
Planning is vital for success. Our most important battles are in our minds, not our bodies. The truth in the text applies to each of the four money management battle zones:
- Spending: Impulsive buying wastes money often leading to indebtedness.
- Sharing: Deliberate acts of kindness are better than random acts of kindness.
- Serving: Rushed service at a restaurant usually means poor service.
- Saving: An investment in “just anything” is merely speculation.
Planning usually includes the following:
- Knowing where you want to go.
- Looking at the options.
- Receiving counsel from others.
- Identifying and organizing your resources.
- Scheduling time appropriately.
- Anticipating difficulties and obstacles.
- Receiving criticism from those who are “action-addicted.”
A sabbath is a predetermined period of rest. It is transliterated from the Hebrew word "shabbath". We should rest before we work. I appreciate the insight that Dave Worland, from the USA National Christian Foundation, brought to this topic. He said that God made Adam and Eve on the sixth day, and then the next day, the seventh, was a day of rest. Thus Adam and Eve’s first full day on the job (as a couple) was spent resting and that likely included some thinking about the upcoming gardening and planet management.
A rest, a distraction, a small break, all act to reset the mind. I find it significant that as God created the earth, on each of the days when there was visible progress, God would step back and evaluate what He did, seeing that it "was good" before proceeding with the rest of creation (Genesis 1:4,10,18,21,25). Similarly we need to relax and enjoy our accomplishments. It's part of ensuring that we are on course.
Drifting to Disaster
I also appreciate the comments from Rick Spence, writer and consultant with the Financial Post as he spoke of the problem of “mission drift”—half-baked strategic ideas. In the June 23, 2008 edition he noted that:
“Peter Drucker harangued us for 50 years. The biggest challenge for most businesses is executing well—not devising helium-filled plans for reaching ‘the next level.’ Good ideas must be well thought out right through to full implementation. Diligent people work hard to move plans from paper into a reality.”
Clear and well-informed, long-range thinking is critical to success. Without the end in mind, we can easily drift to disaster.
True Long Range Thinking
In 1937 Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich, a seminal book on how to generate and manage wealth. It has sold over 15 million copies and continues to be popular. It is somewhat helpful in that it stresses the importance of planning but dangerousy misleading because of its poor treatment of long-range planning, namely on the topic of the fear of death. Napoleon Hill claims that, “Death is mere transition...nothing comes after death except a long, eternal peaceful sleep, and sleep is nothing to be feared.”1 Note how this contrasts with the message of the Bible, “It is appointed for a man to die once and after this comes judgement,” Hebrews 9:27. Even classical English literature such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet speaks of the dangers of an afterlife judgement:
Genuine, lasting prosperity requires good thinking first and foremost. This includes true long-range thinking, that is, thinking about the benefits of our work before AND after our death.
Our Maker, Saviour, and Friend
Jesus never acted in haste. His life is detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He was often very busy but never hasty (Mark 6:31).
He told us to work with eternity in mind (John 6:27).
Consider again Napoleon Hill wrote about death," ...nothing comes after death except a long, eternal peaceful sleep and sleep is nothing to be feared." 1 Jesus Christ said something totally different. He described a rich man experiencing excruciating torment such that even a droplet of water on the tip of his tongue was craved yet forbidden (Luke 16:23-25). Jesus said that the rich man had no idea that an after death place of torment even existed. Of course if neither heaven nor hell exist, implying that Napoleon Hill was right and Jesus Christ was wrong, then there is no issue. The problem is that Jesus Christ made no mistakes. He did all things well (Mark 7:37).
- Memorize the text in your favourite translation and think about it often.
- Don’t skip the planning phase and just dive into the problem.
- Read about Prudent Pauline. This is her theme text.
- Schedule time to think. Plan your work. Work your plan.
Which of these steps, if any, does Jesus want you to take now? Ask Him.