Fork in the Road: Decision Making in the Proverbs (pt. 2)

Previously we noted that, according to Proverbs, there are at least three key ingredients to wise decision making: advice, planning, and most importantly, submitting to the Lord. In this post we are going address the second of these: planning.

II. Making Plans

Having a well thought out plan and direction is emphasized throughout Proverbs. Wise decisions are not usually made “on the fly,” but involve weighing the options. For those who will take the time to plan, the chances of success increase. Prov. 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” This proverb reminds the reader that there are no short-cuts when it comes to being successful; those who are willing to pay their dues by making adequate preparations and working hard find great blessing awaits them. As with all the proverbs, this is not an iron-clad promise. Rather, it is a general principle which recognizes that, generally, planning and hard work pay off (cf. 14:23).

As with the issue of acquiring advice, Proverbs has much to say about the kind of person who makes plans. Prov. 13:16 says, “In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.” This proverb is affirming the old cliché which says “actions speak louder than words.” Prov. 14:15 says, “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” This verse is saying the prudent person is discerning about the way he lives. He is thoughtful about his course of action. On the other hand, the simple person just accepts everything without thinking about it.

In addition, Proverbs also speaks of one’s thoughts and plans in terms of their rightness or wrongness. That is, Proverbs often casts one’s planning (and the accompanying actions) in a decidedly moral light. Prov. 14:8 says, “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” Derek Kidner clarifies this passage by saying, “Way in Proverbs means ‘conduct’ rather than ‘career’: hence this saying makes moral reflection the essence of shrewdness, whereas we tend to reduce shrewdness to business-sense.” Kidner’s testimony is borne out by the context of this passage which addresses immoral actions (cf. 14:15, 18). The application for us that the Proverbs are primarily (although not exclusively) concerned about making plans and being thoughtful about godliness rather than about the specifics of what job to take or what car to buy. The fact that believers often think first and foremost in categories other than godliness speaks to the distance between their priorities and those of the Word of God.

Further, Proverbs emphasizes the necessity of implementing your plans. Specifically, Proverbs mentions two extremes that one must be careful to avoid. The first is taking no action (14:23). Here, a person is all talk. However, talk accomplishes little. You have to act on your plans. The second is taking the wrong action (28:19).

That is, wasting time with irrelevant activity. The point is that both of these result in poverty. While Proverbs encourages the reader to take the right action based on good planning, it also provides a dose of reality. Prov. 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” There are few things more discouraging than the realization that something you have planned will take much longer than you expected. This verse is meant to help us be realistic about how long it may take our plans, in the providence of God, to be brought to completion.

For all the effort, diligent planning is worth it in the end. As with acquiring advice, there are specific results that come with thoughtfulness and planning. Proverbs cites things such as abundance (21:5), security (10:9, 29), joy (12:20), and a blessed life or long life (12:28) as products of planning.