This post is part of our series Finding God at Work.
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What does it mean to be with God at work? We’re looking at this question from a variety of angles in our current series, Finding God at Work. Today, I want to focus on a common feature of our work life: project planning. What would it look like to do our project planning with God?
Project Planning with God
There is much talk of strategic planning these days. Even I am guilty of having led a few strategic planning sessions. While strategy has its place, some of the activities that go under the guise of strategic preparation are overblown. That’s why I prefer to talk about “project planning.” It’s a little more down-to-earth, a little closer to the ground. If you are setting out to do a project, you need to make a plan for it.
Back when I was on a full-time ministry staff team, prayer informed our project planning. When we started to prepare for a project, we often genuinely tried to ask, “What is God doing?” Our projects were situated within a vision of God’s providential action; we wanted to discern how God was moving, ask for his guidance, and then fit our efforts into what he was doing.
For example, leading up to a new ministry year, we would have prayer times where we read Scripture together, listened for words or images from the Holy Spirit, and shared our impressions with each other. I count this as a strength of the team culture I got to participate in.
When I went to work a corporate job, our leaders did not approach project planning in this same way. There was never a team prayer meeting to discern God’s intentions about the work we were taking on. Although I had several Christian coworkers, there was no explicit connection drawn by leaders between our faith and our projects.
At first blush, this approach might seem reasonable: It was a business, not a ministry. But as Christians, we know that God’s concerns intersect with the business world. His mission in the world includes the efforts of his people in every line of work. Even beyond Christians, God is concerned about the outcome of all work endeavors, for good or ill, because of their effect on the world he created and especially on the well-being of people, made in his image. That means God wants to provide wisdom, guidance, and encouragement for people as they plan their projects at work.
Great projects often emerge from great ideas. But where do new ideas come from? This is such a fascinating question that a whole cottage industry has emerged, dedicated to understanding the genesis of ideas and creativity. Much of the research is helpful, highlighting how unexpected connections between previously distinct ideas, images, and people can lead to new discoveries. But the moment of the creative spark itself eludes full analysis. What is it that happens inside a musician’s head when the right melody comes along? How is it that sometimes a labored brainstorming session produces nothing of real value, but then the best project of the year leaps to someone’s mind while they’re taking a shower?
I would like to suggest that God can give us great ideas. Sometimes a particularly wonderful idea will be hailed as “inspired.” The roots of that word are specifically spiritual: To be inspired is to be filled with breath, to be filled with spirit. While Homer invoked the Muse to inspire his poetry, Christian project planners can ask for the Holy Spirit to give them creative ideas. We often turn to the word inspiration when describing the Scriptures, whose authority as “God-breathed” texts are unique (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). But the same Holy Spirit, albeit in a different way, can breathe life into our project planning. Our creative work at this stage of the process can form a uniquely joyful way of collaborating with God.
I know in my experience, when a real breakthrough idea comes to mind, my immediate feeling is gratitude. There’s something about the mystery of how ideas emerge that makes me feel I can’t take complete credit even for my own best ideas. Even as the science of creativity advances and we understand where ideas come from better, we know that like all good gifts, they ultimately “com[e] down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17 NIV).
Discernment in Advance
Welcoming God into project planning means also leaving room for his influence before all the decisions get landed. If you’re on a team at a Christian workplace, that might look like prioritizing times for prayer and discernment leading up to planning meetings. In a setting where a team prayer exercise isn’t feasible, you can still do your own work of prayer when you know important meetings are coming up.
I have found even a two-minute prayer before a big meeting can change my whole attitude. Regardless of any specific guidance I might receive, prayer reminds me that my responsibilities are not on my shoulders alone. David encourages us, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22 NIV).
Decisions in the Moment
Prayer isn’t just for discernment in advance; it can also shape the whole planning process. Asking God for wisdom is particularly important when it comes to decision-making. Good project planning involves weighing the trade-offs built into various options that could be pursued. This part of project planning is like defining the options on a multiple choice quiz. The difference is, the only way to find out whether you chose the right option is to do it and see how the project turns out!
Even with wonderful tools of analysis, decision-making always contains a subjective element. Every decision is a leap into the unknown. We can ask for God’s wisdom to help us make the right call. He knows the future that remains unknown to us, the factors that our analysis could not include, and the outcomes that will never make it into our annual reports. Sometimes, this can be a silent, half-second prayer for wisdom before speaking up in a team meeting. At other times, it may mean saying, “I need some time to think that over. Can I get back to you on Thursday?” If you control your own calendar, you can block out a think-and-pray session before communicating your final decision.
This does not mean that prayer will automatically lead to right decisions. We have our own self-deception and sinful motives to deal with, which can remain hidden from our conscious deliberation even while shaping our feelings about which direction to go. God’s purposes may be at work in apparent failures, too—I don’t think it’s beyond him to hide a “right answer” from us when the wrong answer leads to something better in the long run. Even so, this is all the more reason to ask God to direct our thoughts and our gut feelings when we plan a project.
Assessment At Project’s End
One of the most fraught aspects of project planning is evaluating how it’s going, or, for completed projects, how they went. We’ve written in the past about the value of doing post-mortem meetings to evaluate both successes and failures. Healthy teams can take such opportunities to speak frankly about results and cement lessons learned.
At the same time, it’s difficult to have thick skin for the critical feedback that can surface during an evaluative meeting, or even in less formal contexts for feedback. I know from experience that when I’ve poured my heart into a project, critique can sting.
Here is perhaps one of the most powerful ways to welcome God into project planning: Asking him to protect our hearts so that we can see our work and its quality clearly. We get defensive when our ego is bound up with our work. It’s a shame-based response, a kind of psychological self-defense. Even psychologists in the secular world can tell us that the solution is a deeper personal security and sense of worthiness, which allows freedom from that shame which overidentifies with the work we’ve accomplished.
We know the best source of such security: the love of God. It’s striking to me that one of the verses that speaks most clearly to God’s personal love also speaks of protection from shame: “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV). When we rest secure in God’s love for us, we can receive and even welcome critique of our work, taking it as an opportunity to keep growing instead of an attack on our well-being.
Along the same lines, resting in God’s love can protect us from the temptation toward pride that may come at the closure of a particularly successful project. If our ego isn’t depending on others’ praise for us in particular, we’ll feel the freedom to spread the credit around our whole team, giving each person their due.
Reflect and Practice
- Have there been moments at your workplace when you have felt a sense of connection with God? What was that like for you?
- Do you need some creative ideas for a new project? Consider praying with Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s “Liturgy of Praise to the King of Creation” and asking God to inspire your work thoughts.
- How can you (and your team) prepare in prayer for important project planning meetings?
- What would it look like for you to welcome God’s guidance into your project decisions?
- What’s one way for you to delight yourself in God’s love this week?
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels
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