“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I was 19-years-old, in a musty rented office, sitting in a cheap folding chair across from a woman who was interviewing me for a cold-call sales job I didn’t want. She was asking me questions off of a page so freshly printed that it was still warm. Based on the cliched line of inquiry, it was an article she had found five minutes before our appointment by googling “how to do an interview.” I was relieved when the painful ordeal was finally over.
But that one question kept haunting me. Where would I be in the five years?
I was annoyed that it struck me, such an overused platitude of a question. It’s the kind of question adults ask bewildered teens at their high school graduation parties. When you’re young, five years seems like a lifetime. How could someone plan so far in advance? But the question resonated with me because I truly had no plans for the future—I was interviewing for jobs I had absolutely no interest in, after all. I didn’t know where what I wanted or where I was headed.
I desperately needed a long-term plan.
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The Subjectivity of Success
Some poo-poo the prospect of long-term planning. None of us can say for sure where we’ll be in 30 years, so why bother speculating? But that shouldn’t stop us from making plans and holding them with an open hand (Proverbs 16:9). There is no biblical warrant for breezily tripping through life in your tie-dye shirt waiting on some mystical leading of the Lord before you make a decision. The Bible is not anti-planning, it’s anti-arrogant-planning.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.”(James 4:13–15)
So, we know we need to make our plans with an eye toward their Lord’s sovereign will. But of what should a Christian’s long-term plans consist? In broad terms, we know our plans should not be to do things that are sinful or that promote sin. We should probably not plan to build a Casino empire or a prostitution ring for example. We also know that our plans must be about glorifying God. But that can take many forms. Perhaps you will lead a successful paint company with the aim of operating with integrity and excellence so as to bring honor to Christ’s name when they hear that you are a Christian. Though we have these broad outlines, however, the details of what each of us should plan for are elusive.
That is for good reason, I think.
Not I, nor anyone, can tell you specifically what you should be doing with your life in thirty years. God has uniquely equipped each member of the body of Christ. He’s put you in a specific situation with a specific set of pre-planned good works that you should walk in (Ephesians 2:10). So, I can’t tell you what your 5-year plan for success should be for your career and family. Our lives must be marked by faithfulness in all that we do, but there is still a subjectivity to success, even for the Christian.
Here’s a question for you, though: Does that same subjectivity of success apply to goals that are even longer-term than 30-years, or a 100-years, or more?
Does the Scripture give any insight into what my goals should be if I look far enough into the future? As it turns out, the Bible tells us a lot about our long-term futures.
Working Backwards from Eternity
On a recent podcast episode I was speaking with my friend James Parker about some of the principles that are taught in Gary Keller’s book, The ONE Thing. And one of those concepts is called “goal setting to the now.” Here’s how Keller defines it:
Goal setting to the now is the concept of taking your long-term goals and breaking them down to understand what needs to be done at different stages. It’s a reverse engineering that gets you from the distant future to today.(Source)
It’s a simple notion. But it makes a lot of sense. When you plan a trip, the first step is to know the destination before you start making left or right turns. But what would happen, I wonder, if we looked at what we know for certain about our future as Christians and we goal-set-to-the-now around that? Though our 30- and 5-year goals will look different, they should be informed by the certainty the Bible gives us about eternity.
What would happen if we took that knowledge of where we are headed eternally, and came up with, not a 1-, 5-, or even 30-year plan, but a 10,000-year plan?
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Fit for Heaven
First, before considering your 10,000-year plan, you must begin by ensuring you are actually headed to Heaven. Eternal life is only the inheritance of those who repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). If you have not bowed your knee to Jesus as Lord, then you have no hope of Heaven and remain under condemnation (John 3:18). Start there.
Second, once you know Heaven is your inheritance because you are an adopted child of God, you should consider what we know of the character of glorified saints. The Scriptures tell us we will be clothed in the white robes of holiness (Revelation 7:9). Reasoning backward from this fact, J.C. Ryle writes about how we should live in this present life,
We must be holy, because without holiness on earth we will never be prepared to enjoy heaven. Heaven is a holy place. The Lord of heaven is a holy Being. The angels are holy creatures. Holiness is written on everything in heaven.
If growing in personal holiness in this present life is not part of your plans, I would urge you to amend those plans immediately. Your eternal abode will be a holy place, so make plans now to grow fitter and fitter for such a home. Today, next week, or five years from now, is what you are prioritizing and planning liable to produce more of the fruit of holiness in you? Practically, this looks like making plans to put off sin, to be disciplined in attending to the means of grace like prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and the Lord’s table.
Third, we should make our plans in light of the knowledge that our eternity will be occupied with joyful worship and service to the King of Kings. in 10,000 years (if the Lord does not tarry) Christ will have crushed sin and death, we will have been resurrected to eternal life, and “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him” (Revelation 22:3). We are those bond-servants serving Christ forever through fruitful labor. Yes, there will be work in heaven.
If I reason backward from what I know will be my eternal occupation, it makes sense that my activities now should likewise consist of serving the Lord with all of my might and affections. I will also want to labor to receive that “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21). If I am faithful with the small things now, I will have opportunity to be faithful over greater things in eternity. That is a noble goal, as the greater the number of things my Lord entrusts me to steward in eternity, the greater my ability to bring Him glory forever.
When we know where we’re headed, we know how to plan for it. So, what’s your 10,000-year plan? How is it shaping your plans for the intervening years? How is it shaping your plans for today?