written by
Major Tom

How to plan your life by beginning with your death

9 min read

New Year planning has some strange assumptions

I am a planner, and I believe the act of being intentional and setting priorities matters.

The way we surface those priorities, however, bakes in some false assumption.

That assumption is that we even have the horizon we plan for.

It’s assuming that if we plan for a goal by the end of the year that we have that year.

And it’s assuming if that one-year set of goals meets our five-year goals we have those full five years.

I still believe it’s important to make those considerations.

But only after that’s really important has been addressed. The way to do that is to assume you don’t have any time at all.

I know that the secular version of this thought exercise is also challenging. It results in bucket lists and YOLO lists or whatever.

But I think this verse deserves for more attention than we typically give it:

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. (James 4:14)

To me the point of focus, the thought that should condense and concentrate your thoughts, that should squeeze out all the waste and dross in your life, is actually not your death.

It’s what occurs after your death.

I don’t want to get in the mechanics of when that meeting with Jesus occurs, although it appears it may not occur immediately after death but only after about his Second Coming.

But what’s important is that an encounter occurs.

I certainly cannot describe with precision what that will look like. Nobody can.

But Scripture gives us enough clear glimpses that it’s worth extending our imagination for the purpose of making it come alive. To make it more than just an abstract concept that we read about it passing.

What gives us this glimpse?

The clearest I think will be an encounter, perhaps even a conversation.

"In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance." (Revelation 1:16, NIV)

What is this sword? Hopefully this dramatic passage from Revelation immediately jars you with this passage from Hebrews:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

If this doesn’t change your approach to Scripture...if this vision that a conversation will be an encounter with Him, speaking with a penetrating Word...and Word that all of us have right here.

So let’s think about how this conversation could go before I go into details.

It’s revealing human nature. When we find the truth, we revert to kids speaking to parents. Three responses. But play them forward and realize:

  1. I did all these other things
  2. I didn’t know
  3. I didn’t understand

Regret minimization isn’t what you think it means

We believe initially it’s what we are afraid of missing out.

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Many, however, in planning resolutions are about the worldly sorrow, about missing out, about needing to attain, the day to day, the things that are needed right in front of our noses: loftier titles, greater wealth, deeper comforts, more titulating pleasures. Even some legitimately good things still...

I argue that what to work backwards from, one of the pillars of great resolutions are to focus on minimizing Godly sorrow and repenting deeply.

This alone will energize you, listen to what Paul says:

Consider what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what vindication! In every way you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Corinthians 7:11)

Work backwards to decide how you want to live forward

What happens when you have this encounter.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what we have done whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The one thing we can be sure of is, whatever Christ reveals to us about how we have lived our life cannot be changed. At that point, there is no do-over.

This approach, Jeff Bezos’ famous “regret minimization framework,” should reveal much as you make your plans.

What matters?

…But each one must be careful how he builds. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, his workmanship will be evident, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will prove the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as if through the flames. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)

Pursuing what your desires are?

  1. The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

The most important thought exercise as you plan your resolutions

The fallacy is, despite grace, and I want to emphasize that grace through faith in Christ alone is the only way, is whether we really believe.

The natural instinct is to believe that you know who Jesus is. And that is certainly important. To know Him through his Word and His commands and His character.

But on that day, after your death, it’s not as important whether you know who Jesus is.

It’s whether Jesus knows you.

I don’t want to make this a ...

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matthew 7:21-23

Fear or Grace?

Modern motivation theory, modern success theory says that we must be driven by intrinsic, not the extrinsic.

A response, an understandable response, is that often these borderline fire-and-brimstone messages are extrinsic, about fear and punishment. And, yes, many of those messages are not the Gospel. Those truly are about an angry, wrathful God and we run to our own sanctimony.

And that will lead to destruction.

But, back to our thought exercise about this encounter with Jesus.

And perhaps as you imagine him going through the list of your resolutions, your plans, your desires, your actions, your expenditures...., your goals, your dreams and He looks and says, “You’re in, but you have no reward beyond that.”

Or worse, and while we have assurance in faith, I think we should be testing the faith and ensure we continue to stand on the foundation of Christ and not on shifting sand, it’s very possible, Scripture suggests as much, that even those who attend the church, who listen to the message, don’t really understand, or don’t really follow, could also be unknown.

I think these things sadden Him, for he so desires to save the entire world.

And if we imagine responding in one of those ways, what would he say, regardless:

“But I did these other things.”

But I didn’t want you to do those things. My word to said these other things.

“But I didn’t know that you wanted me to do those things.”

“But, dear child, it’s in my word. It might’ve even been mentioned in a couple of messages at church, in your small group, on some random YouTube, right here. So you do know it. You heard it.”

“Yes, you’re right, but I didn’t understand that’s what you meant.”

“But what stopped you from opening your eyes? Perhaps spiritual things couldn’t be understood, and I don’t have an explanation for this. But perhaps you could have longed to understand, to ask someone, to read more, look here, I gave you these people in your life.”

“But...but give me one more chance!”

“I gave you a chance. Look, this fellow who spoke this message about planning your new year’s resolution, he said this very thing to you! Did you take it as grace? As Him speaking my word so that you would have no regrets on this fateful day? For that’s what it is. It is my people giving second, third, fourth, fifth chances....and what are you doing with it?

Did you reject it? Did you rely upon offense? Did you let the seed plant itself in yourself but then busyness snatched it away?”

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22)

Isn’t what what is at risk when you leave this message? Or any other message and begin working on your resolutions? What other translations choke the word?

weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard;

crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth;

the worries and distractions of the world and the deceitfulness [the superficial pleasures and delight] of riches choke the word

Fast forward as much as you can and imagine this conversation and work backwards from there.

What are the areas? Are the things gold and silver, or hay?

Are there things where there literally is behind your gates and the church has a need and you do nothing!

My hope is not that you make no resolution. To make no plans.

In fact, I think plans aren’t necessarily bad. But may be different.

If you’re busy and worried and that’s distracting you from hearing the truth in this, then make plans to be less busy. Seek out prayer, Scripture, and support to be less worried.

If you are lured by wealth and worldly desires, make plans to repent, to ask yourself why, to confess to strong Christians who are leaders of this and seek in conjunction with others.

Are you disconnected from your church activities and the spirit of grace through Christ? Seek help. Spend time with someone to confess this, repent, and connect them. Because those things aren’t bad, but Jesus says he doesn’t know probably because it’s failing to see Him as the only means to righteousness.

Most importantly, if you’re good standing on all those as you go through this exercise -- and when I mean go through this exercise, I don’t mean listen to my talking, I mean seriously, take time and imagine upon Christ’s second coming you stand before Him, and he says, “Hi, let’s go through your plans, your resolutions, for 2022, shall we?”

James may say:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” You do not even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your proud intentions. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin.