How to plan for 2021

Preparing yet embracing the Lord’s will

January 11, 2021

In previous years, people would ring in the New Year with noisemakers, large crowds, and dropping balls. My husband Steve and I have often taken a quieter approach, spending the days around the start of the new year planning for the months ahead. But after weeks of opening Christmas cards that all sound the same theme––nobody’s plans panned out in 2020––we’re left wondering how we should go about planning for 2021? Should we even bother? 

The book of James offers perspective:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15). 

James tells us that it’s not planning that’s the problem, but presuming––taking for granted that our will is God’s will, rather than the other way around. James isn’t condemning planning for travel or profitable business activity, but rather, assuming that your travel and business will unfold according to your plans, with no regard for how the Lord might move you this way or that. 2020 humbled us. We are not in control. We are small, and circumstances swirl around us, with no regard for how they mess with our plans. 

But this is no reason to neglect planning for the year ahead. Scripture is full of encouragement to consider our ways (Haggai 1:5,7), count the cost (Luke 14:28), seek counsel (Prov. 15:22), understand the times in which we live (1 Chron. 12:32), and recognize how short our lives are in order to grow wise (Psa. 90:12). 

Keep planning, stop presuming

God tells us to submit our plans to him, asking him to guide us in our decisions, to bless us in our endeavors, and to strengthen us to trust him should he cause things to unfold differently that we want them to. In the process, we reap several benefits—unity, intentionality, and living in reality. Let’s unpack these one by one:

Family unity. It takes effort to agree on a shared plan. But the alternative is pulling in different directions all year long. Over the years, we’ve moved from a battle of the wills to sharing a common mission. Whether you can take a couple of days away, or just a few hours in a coffee shop, it’s worth making time to talk through and then integrate your commitments, expectations, and hopes for the year ahead. Working to agree on your priorities for the next 12 months has the potential to produce much clarity, unity, and fruitfulness in your family. 

Intentionality. It can feel overwhelming to realize how much will be required of you in the year ahead––and that’s just the stuff you know about in advance. But agreeing on which items to include at the start makes it less likely that you’ll be sidetracked when distractions arise. Getting your shared priorities down on paper also makes it more likely that you’ll do what you’ve decided is essential and even what’s desirable. Without planning, it’s easier to end up frittering your days away on time wasters, never getting to what was most needed and most enjoyed. Planning helps you avoid the pitfall C. S. Lewis described in Letters to Children:

Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do. (2) Things we’ve got to do. (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of these three reasons…

Reality check. We tend to think we can do more than we possibly can in less time than it actually takes. Looking at just one commitment in isolation, it’s easy to think you can get it done. Writing them all down provides a helpful reality check. When you start compiling a list of all the commitments of everyone in the family––work, school, church, social, travel, etc.––you feel your limitations. You can’t do everything, but rather than defensively responding to whatever happens to be right in front of you, it’s much better to do what you decide is most important. That requires setting priorities.

To do that, we look at our calendars to see what’s coming in the months ahead, talk about what should be most important in the next four quarters, and list the milestones we, and our children, will reach. We’ve found it helpful to ask a few questions to help us identify, and remember, what will be important in the coming months. Questions like:

Do you have a baby on the cusp of potty training? That will require a different focus than  a toddler who will be starting kindergarten, an adolescent who’s a recent convert and is considering baptism, or a son or daughter who’s ready to head to college. How about noteworthy birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, or family reunions? Different seasons will require different plans. And the achievement of all these milestones benefit greatly from planning ahead.

After we have a broad outline of what will fill our time, we invite our kids to join the conversation. When they were little, we asked them what they like doing most, as a family, when we have vacations or free Saturdays. Together we would make a list that included things like picnics, neighborhood bike rides, roasting marshmallows outside, bowling, and trips to the library. We also talked about fun activities and tourist attractions nearby we would enjoy visiting in the year ahead. We would tape that list to the fridge and refer to it when we saw free time on our calendar. It gave us shared things to look forward to and cut down on disagreements about how to spend those blocks of time.

Now that our kids are older, they bring their commitments, important dates, aspirations, and expectations, too. Including their input isn’t always seamless. But even imperfect planning is better than none. And it gets easier to plan the more you do it.

The power of routine

Writing a plan is the starting place. But to really get things done, you have to put them into your routine. Is exercise important to you? You likely have a regular time of day and days of the week when you work out. How about family discipleship? If it’s not part of your daily rhythm, it’s not likely to happen regularly. The same thing goes for church involvement, hosting friends, reading the Bible, family meals, budget review, reaching out to neighbors, the list is endless. Whatever is most important to you is what you make time for. And what you make time for is what you will get done. 

The best thing about working to fit priorities into your routine is that inertia begins to work for you instead of against you. Any time you take on a new commitment, your current routine works against you, and it’s tempting to fall back into old patterns, but if you press through to start a new routine, you can begin to see inertia working for you. I remember seeing that happen when we started trying to add family devotions with Bible reading after dinner. The first few nights were a struggle as it disrupted patterns we already had. Our 4-year old, especially, was thrown off and often seemed distracted. But at the beginning of the second week, he surprised us when he went and got the Bible and set it beside Steve’s plate—to have ready for our new routine.

Knowing the power of routine makes a review of our regular patterns a key part of our planning each January. What will our daily, weekly, and monthly routines look like? What will yours?

Plan with prayer

Most importantly, begin your planning with prayer. The evil one is keen to disrupt this sort of intentional work through all manner of distractions: spilled drinks; bickering or distracted children; incoming text messages or Post-Christmas Sale! e-mails; as well as bigger challenges of disagreements between spouses over what the plan and priorities should even be. We have learned, and must relearn––every year it seems––that it’s always wise to ask the Lord for protection, help, and wisdom at the outset. 

No matter how our plans unfold in 2021, God’s good, all-wise plans will stand:

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, “My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,” (Isa. 46:9-10)

For unity in your family, for realizing your limitations, and for doing what you must and most want to do, it’s worth making the effort to plan humbly and diligently, even in a year that’s difficult to plan. We should work heartily, knowing that we will do this or that, if the Lord wills.

Candice Watters

Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses blog editor. She is a wife and mom, and author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, and co-author with her husband Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses have four children and are passionate about … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24