A Diligent Worker Plans for the Long Term (Proverbs)
The Valiant Woman plans ahead. “She brings her food from far away” (Prov. 31:14), meaning that she doesn't depend on last-minute convenience purchases of questionable quality and cost. She “considers a field” (Prov. 31:16) before buying it, investigating its long-term potential. She is planning to plant this particular field as a vineyard (Prov. 31:16), and vineyards don’t yield their first crop until two to three years after planting. The point is that she makes decisions based on their long-term consequences. Proverbs 21:5 tells us that “the plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”
Wise planning requires making decisions for the long-term, as seen for example in the cycle of agricultural asset management.
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds; for riches do not last forever, nor a crown for all generations. When the grass is gone, and new growth appears, and the herbage of the mountains is gathered, the lambs will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; there will be enough goats’ milk for your food, for the food of your household and nourishment for your servant-girls. (Prov. 27:23-27)
Like the Valiant Woman planting a vineyard, the wise herdsman thinks years ahead. So too, the wise king or governor takes a long-term view. “With an intelligent ruler there is lasting order” (Prov. 28:2). The proverbs also turn to the ant as an example of long-term diligence.
Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazybones? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior. (Prov. 6:6-11)
Planning ahead takes many forms in workplaces. Financial planning is mentioned in Proverbs 24:27: “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house.” In other words, don't start building your house until your fields are producing the necessary funds to finish your construction project. Jesus picked up on this in Luke 14:28-30: “Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”
There are many other forms of planning, and we can’t expect the proverbs to serve as a planning manual for a modern enterprise. But we can note again the link in proverbs between wisdom, in the form of planning, and God’s character.
The plans of the mind belong to mortals, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. (Prov. 16:1)
The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established. (Prov. 19:21)
God plans for the very long term, and we are wise to plan ahead also. But we must remain humble about our plans. Unlike God, we do not have the power to make all our plans come to pass. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov. 27:1). We plan with wisdom, speak with humility, and live in expectation that God’s plans are our ultimate desire.
Attention to long-term consequences may be the most important skill we can cultivate for success. For example, psychological research has shown that the ability to delay gratification—that is, the ability to make decisions based on longer-term results—is a far better predictor of success in school than IQ is. Regrettably, Christians sometimes seem to take passages such as “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:34) to mean, “Do not plan ahead for tomorrow.” The Proverbs—alongside Jesus’ own words—show that this is both incorrect and self-indulgent. In fact, the entire Christian life, with its expectation of Christ’s return to perfect the kingdom of God, is a life of planning for the long-term.
“Vine Growing” at vinegrowing.com, accessed on Nov. 11, 2011. This link is no longer active, but an archived copy may be available at https://web.archive.org/web/20111113045248/http://vinegrowing.com/.
Angela L. Duckworth and Martin E.P. Seligman, “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents,” Psychological Science 16:12 (2005), 939-944. Similar results have been reported by Mischel and Shoda (Science, 1989), Rosenbaum (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1986) and Bialer (Journal of Personality, 1961), among others.