As 2020 started many people made plans. They were confident these plans would come to pass. We are going to be looking at a passage in James in this article. The date of the writing of this article is August of 2020. The world is still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This is the year of canceled plans. This is the year when the family vacation was postponed and the family reunion didn’t happen. Almost all of us have had an experience where something was canceled, the ballgame, the church event. I know many of you included God in your thinking and planning. And all of this happened anyway. There is a passage where James warns us that we are not to be arrogant and boastful and proud and all full of self-confidence about our plans in life, but rather we are to be dependent upon the Sovereign God of the universe. During a year like 2020, we can really understand what James was talking about in his letter.
James 4:13-17 NKJV “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
A quick reading of this passage and one might think. What is the big deal? I made plans and if they don’t come to pass what is the big deal. The big deal is that we are not to live our lives depending on our own ingenuity and ability, but rather we as believers are God dependent. Through prayer and trusting in Him we can include God as the director of the plans of our life.
Here is why you don’t leave God out of your plans:
- WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL, BUT GOD IS, THEREFORE GOD SHOULD DIRECT OUR PLANS.
James begins by addressing some of the businessmen who will read his letter. I think that is important because, many times, we tend to compartmentalize our lives. We put the spiritual part in one compartment in our lives, and we talk to God all about that. But we tend to think that the part of our life that has to do with our work and finances is not related at all to the spiritual part. And so we leave God out of that part.
But how many of you know that the same God that rules our spiritual life is present and active in our business life. James 4:13 says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”;”
James didn’t speak against the whole idea of making plans. In fact, in this passage, he actually sets forth a very good pattern for the making of plans in life. When he wrote this letter, he was writing to Jewish Christians who were scattered from their homeland because of persecution. They were in a time of crisis; and many of them had to completely restructure the ways that they went about business. Their situation was a little like ours in 2020 in that respect. And here, we read of what many of them probably had to do.
First, they would say something about the date on which a plan for some particular business venture might be started: “Today or tomorrow …” Every plan of any kind—in order to be practical—needs to have a start-up date. And here, someone is presented as drawing a circle on the calendar. “We start today”; or, “We start “tomorrow”. We all count on the idea that a calendar can be trusted; and we assume that once we draw the circle on the day, that day will come around as scheduled and be there for us.
And then secondly, they would say something about where they will go on that date: “we will go to such and such a city …” You not only have to have a start-up date; but you also have to have a start-up location. They will pack-up their wares and travel to a specific city and set-up business. They will go to where the potential buyers are.
And thirdly, they would say something about how long they’ll stay: that they would “spend a year there …” Once they had established a start-up date—so that they can get their wares all ready for sale, and once they had established a location in which those wares could be sold, they establish a duration of time that they’ll be there. They don’t plan to live there, of course. They just plan to do business there—expecting that a certain amount of time will sufficiently bring them a desired amount of profit.
Fourthly, they will “buy and sell”. And so; that’s what this plan is all about—traveling to a place where business is good, and to carry on the business of buying and selling.
And finally, they would say something about the goal of it all: “… and make a profit”. This was no sight-seeing trip. This wasn’t a vacation. This was business. And the business of business is profit.
Now; when I read all that, I think of what a wise structure this is for making a plan. It’s got the “who”, the “what”, the “when”, the “where”, the “how”, and the “why” all laid out. And I don’t get a sense that James is speaking against the idea of making a plan at all. The problem was not with what was in the plan. Rather, the problem was what was missing from the plan. Nowhere in it is there any acknowledgment of dependency upon God. It’s a plan that, for all intents and purposes, was drawn up as if God didn’t even exist—or if He did exist, as if He wasn’t important or relevant to the task at hand.
James is not trying to banish planning from our lives, but only that sort of self-sufficient, self-important planning that keeps God for Sunday but looks on Monday to Saturday as mine. I believe he is right. It’s far easier to “keep God for Sunday” and do as we please Monday through Saturday. Many of us don’t even “keep God for Sunday.” We relegate Him to one moment on Sunday, one Sunday school class, or one hour of the day, one worship service, and then the rest of day is ours.
As believers in Christ, we need to be dependent upon God. Here is why? God has good plans for you. You can miss them if you go your own way. Don’t leave God out of your plans! Jeremiah 29:11 “ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Since God is in control of everything. Since He loves us enough to have plans that are good for us. Why would we leave him out and depend upon our own self to figure it all out? There are two things that this passage doesn’t teach.
`a. It doesn’t teach us that we shouldn’t make plans.
We should make plans. But we have to acknowledge God in our plans! Even changing our plans for His plans. Winston Churchill said that to fail to plan is to plan to fail. All through the bible we have people who made plans. God himself has already planned out the end of the age. We know for instance, that the apostle Paul was a firm believer in making plans. At the end of his second missionary trip, when he was about to leave Ephesus for Jerusalem, he told the believers there, Acts 18:21 “…“I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus.”
If you notice even in this passage, Paul said “God willing.” Paul was humbly acknowledging Gods part and will and sovereignty in his plans. This is not a teaching that we should never plan. It does teach us that God should be the first ingredient in our plans.
b. This is not about a formula we just say.
Nor is this teaching that we have a new formula to use. “If the Lord wills…” James 4:15 says “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills…” It has to be more than a formula. It has to be a real dependence on God.
I had someone in the church at one point who had apparently studied this passage and any time I would say anything about any plan, he would kind of correct me and say, If the Lord wills. Sure, we can add that phrase to our vocabulary. But I don’t think that is what this is all about. This isn’t about vocabulary. It is about attitude. It is about an arrogant and boastful attitude that leaves God out! It is not just adding to our speech…if God wills. It is praying through until we know what God wills! It is submitting to His will. It is walking in and doing the will of God.
Let me let you in on something. You may think you control all of life. That is an illusion. God is the one who is in control, therefore God should direct our plans.
- WE DO NOT KNOW THE FUTURE, BUT GOD DOES! THEREFORE WE SHOULD TRUST HIM COMPLETELY
James 4:14 says “whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.” The fact is that no one knows the future, except God and the prophets of God to whom He specially reveals glimpses of the future.
If we were in the shoes of these businessmen, how would we know if we would really be able to get into such a city today or tomorrow? Something may crop up and prevent us from going. We don’t know the future. And how would we know if we could continue to stay in that city for a whole year? We might only be able to stay for weeks. And how would we know whether or not we would make a good profit in our business there? There are a whole lot of businesses that start out with a good business plan but fail. We don’t know the future. A whole host of factors may affect our business, like competition from rival businesses, or a collapse in the economy, or simply a lack of demand. It is too early to tell what the outcome of our venture will be. If we were to tell people, from the very time we set out, that we will succeed, then we have made ourselves prophets who claim to know the future.
You might be thinking, I am a good business man or woman. I have had great success in my life. Maybe you HAVE made a lot of GREAT decisions. Maybe you HAVE a great career, and you think you have it made in the shade. Listen, if you are like that, then you need to be especially careful about this. Be careful about being arrogant. Be careful about boasting. Please, do not ever let success lead you into thinking that you possess some special sense that others do not have, some natural intuitive power, that enables you to reliably foretell what your future holds. Remember that any success you have in making a good deal, is due not to your own power, but to God’s blessing.
If God does not bless you, your business could easily go kaput! It would be a very grave mistake to think that you know what the future holds for you. The future is known only to God. Guess what. You aren’t God.
In Luke 12:16-20 Jesus told a parable about a man who thought he knew the future. Let me read it to you. “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17 And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18 So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ’
This man had his future all planned out! He thought he knew exactly what the next season of his life was like. But look at how Jesus ended the parable. Luke 12:20 “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’” You don’t know what tomorrow holds! I would like to tell you that you Jureen and I will grow old together and enjoy great health and that we will get the house paid off, and we will be able to enjoy as they put it our golden years. But I don’t know that. It is presumptuous for me to myself in the place of God. Especially if I am arrogant about it.
I am not trying to scare anyone. But by tonight, you may be standing in the very presence of God who requires that you give an account for your soul. You may be thinking, That could never happen. I am in good health. I’m a good driver. I am even a licensed concealed handgun carrier. I have my bug-out bag ready! I got this. I can handle anything. You don’t know. None of us do. You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow could be the day that the economy collapses, chaos ensues. We don’t know. So James says we must look at life as a gift. Don’t leave God out of your plans! We have to depend upon God for the future. We need God for the very next breath. That is why our attitude should be one of trusting God and not one of boastful arrogance.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall [b]direct your paths.
If you trust in God with your heart, acknowledging him in all your ways. He will direct your path
- WE HAVE A SHORT LIFE, AND GOD KNOWS WHEN IT WILL END, THEREFORE WE SHOULD MAKE CERTAIN WE ARE RIGHT WITH GOD.
James 4:14b “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” How many of you have ever seen a little vapor hovering above the ground on a hot humid morning? Sure. But in a matter of minutes, it is gone. That is what James is saying to us. Our life is short. Now most people have at least at one time or another listened to the radio on their way to work, and today it is so common place for to try to find out what the traffic is going to be. And so the news reporter simply says, do not take I-45 going south or I-10 east because there is an accident with a fatality and traffic is backed up so you will have to find an alternate route. How many of you have ever heard something like that? Most of us simply make plans to take a different route. Or we switch the station, or we start listening to music or whatever. But rarely in a world like ours that is so filled with deaths and traffic accidents. We don’t even think that somebody got up in the morning and maybe left the house before the kids were even awake and they thought they were just going to go to work as normal. They had lunch plans for that day. They had plans to go away for the weekend. They were saving money to buy a new car in a couple of months. But in an instant, every plan they had was canceled. The lives of their families was torn upside down.
This week on the news we watched the horrendous explosion that took place in Beirut, Lebanon. It was a sunny afternoon, a wedding was taking place. Children were playing. Business was going on a usual. But there was this explosion, and now there are 135 and 5000 wounded and hurt. Nobody had any idea what was coming. These stories remind me of how important this passage is to our lives.
Our life is but a vapor, it appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Don’t leave God out of your plans! You must get right with God! The point here is that we do not even have control over our own life. We have absolutely no control on when our life begins and ends, and so how can we plan as if we have full control over the future?
In the parable of the Rich fool that we just looked at in Luke 12 just a moment ago, This man mistakenly assumed that he would have many more years to live. But God had other plans for him – he died on that very night and never had the chance to carry out his plans and enjoy his success. Many people put things off, that they really need to take care of. Especially getting right with God! We live on this earth only for a passing glorious moment, and then shortly, we too are gone! Therefore if you know that your life on earth is transient, like a mist or vapor, please do not plan as if it is not transient.
A vapor is short-lived. You see the mist at one moment and a few minutes later it’s gone. You see the steam coming out of your coffee cup and in just a second, it disappears into the air. Life is like that.
In Psalm 90:10 Moses laments the brevity of life. He compares life to the grass of the field that sprouts in the morning and by evening, it has faded under the hot sun.
NIV “Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
Even if you live to be a hundred, how quickly life flies by! Life is like the roll of toilet paper—the closer you get to the end, the quicker it goes!” You may not care for the analogy, but it’s true! That’s why Moses prays in Psalm 90:12 NIV “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” I have only 9 more years until I will be 70. That is only 108 months. That is only 468 weeks. That is only 3285 days. Yikes. Only God can give me the wisdom I need to spend those days profitably in light of eternity.
George Bernard Shaw astutely observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive. One out of one people die.” You would think that because death is not just probable, but absolutely certain, and that it can happen at any minute, and that each person must stand before God for judgment, every person would be desperate to know how to get right with God. But, strangely, people put it out of mind and go on about life as if they will live forever. The bible says, Today is the day of Salvation!
If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, would you invite Him in today?