Psalm 143:10, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness”
Luke 14:28-30, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish”
Our text – James 4:13-17
Our theme – “We should always make plans in light of God’s will”
The future: A Hollywood movie called it “The Undiscovered Country.” For many, the future is a place of anticipation. It is a place where there are weddings and children. A place where there is college and courtship. A place where there will be opportunities, challenges and victories. That is the future of the optimist!
For the pessimist, the future is a horrible place where dreadful things will happen. There will be sickness, death and partings. There will be sadness, burdens and despair. There will be valleys, and storms and loneliness. Depending upon your outlook, the future is either very bright or very dark. However, regardless of how you see the future, we are all on our journey into the undiscovered country. As we make the trip, we need to do so with a plan.
In today’s study, James’ reader’s devised great plans, but had omitted one vital element – the consideration of God’s will for them. We all have plans made for today, tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year. However, we really don’t know what one day is going to bring about. In light of that, how are we to live?
James began chapter 4 by talking about conflict; conflict with God, others and ourselves. In verses 6 through 10, God gives us more grace by allowing us to submit, resist, draw near, purify, grieve and humble ourselves before the Lord. James is responding to the fact that (we all have a tendency to be selfish people). How true that it! That selfishness leads to conflict and wars. James has been dealing with the subject of worldliness and its contrast with true godliness.
Basically, worldliness involves becoming friendly with the world. It manifests itself in a variety of ways, but always behind the activity, whatever it may be, and is the desire to be involved with the world and what it offers at the expense of our relationship with God. It involves an arrogant, self centered determination to satisfy our own wants and desires.
One of the ways we manifest worldliness in our lives is by simply excluding God from our everyday activities. We make our plans without any thought or concern for God and His will for us. It is to this area that James now turns our attention to. It is all too common for believers in Christ to divide their lives into two boxes:
(1) The secular and
(2) The spiritual.
We come together on Sunday morning to worship God and learn more about Him through Hymns, the study and preaching of His Eternal Word. However, many times we approach the rest of the week as though our relationship with Him were only a minor factor. Biblical Christianity is to make an impact upon every area of our lives. Even the plans we make in our jobs are to be submitted to God and to His will for us. James has some strong words for those who would live otherwise as stated in today’s study.
The Review of Their Plans
James 4:13, “ Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money”
Here in the last few verses of chapter 4, he addressed yet another sin that we so easily fall into and that is the sin of self-confidence, arrogance or pride and how that relates to our attitude toward the will of God.
(1) Is it possible to know the will of God or is it just a dream we all have?
(2) How have you been able to determine the will of God in your own life?
(3) How have you been able to know “His path” for you?
James addresses this topic with us. He actually starts off in verse 13 with, James is saying, “Listen!” Pay attention! If you don’t get anything else, get this! Take it to heart! Don’t brush me off! And most important, don’t let your arrogant hearts prevent you from knowing God’s will and direction in your own heart and life. We can develop ideas that we think would be really great.
However, if we fail to pray and to seek God’s will in our hearts and in the direction of our life, we may very well be setting ourselves up for failure! We need to prayerfully seek God’s Word and His will, trusting the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, anoint and direct our pathway of life. To do otherwise sets us up for almost certain failure. And none of us really want to fail. There is no need to fail when we allow Him to have control of our hearts and lives when we prayerfully seek God’s direction for our futures!
James wants us to listen and pay attention to what he is saying. It’s interesting that James started the chapter talking about war and conflict and ends the chapter talking about the will of God. Do these have any connection? Sure they do! When we as believers are out of the will of God, we become troublemakers and not peacemakers. Take for example:
(1) Lot moved to Sodom and brought trouble on his family
Genesis 13:10-11 tells us that Lot made his own choice about a desire he had. He “lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere … like the garden of the LORD … Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan.” The plain of Jordan, with its rich soil and copious water supply, looked best to Lot. But the land was polluted with wickedness (v. 13).
Pastor Ray Stedman said, “Lot, presuming to run his own life, ‘chose for himself,’ and, deceived by what he saw, stumbled blindly into heartache and judgment. Abram, on the other hand, was content to let God choose for him … Abram saw it in its true light.” Lot chose for himself and lost everything – his family, his fortune, his favor with man. It is always the best course to let God choose for us and to follow His direction, knowing that all our heavenly Father’s choices are prompted by infinite wisdom and love.
(2) David committed adultery, murder and brought trouble on his family.
(3) Jonah disobeyed God and almost caused a ship to sink.
In each of these cases there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God. A huge question for us today would be: What is our attitude toward the will of God? How do you and I respond to the fact that God is all knowing and is a God of wisdom, a God of love? Often times we ignore these truths and decide that WE know what is right, true and wise, so we set our own destiny, rather than rest in the will of God for our lives.
Basically James is telling us that we have different attitudes toward the will of God and he unloads them for us with his stern and forthright warnings. He confronted people who were living and planning as though they controlled their circumstances. Somehow they had assumed that since they were believers, they could pursue their personal goals and that God would just go along with it.
A. The Determined Goal
The group to whom James wrote may have been wealthy business men in the assembly. They had evidently decided as a group to relocate in a certain city for business reasons. The fact that they were pursuing gain indicates they were not just making plans for a vacation or building a home. They were pursuing some promising investments or business opportunities that they expected to yield a good return.
This group of believers was evidently self-employed tradesmen. The new city they planned to move to was probably a better marketplace for their trade. There is no evidence that they sought the will of God in their decision making process. Seems as if they were measuring their success in life by how many times they got their own way, and boasted in the fact that their plans were accomplished. They were in the driver’s seat. They had no idea that God might have other plans for them. Thus, self-centered living produces people who ignore God’s will.
B. The Departed Time
James said the plan first included a time to make their move. He wrote that they had concluded that “Today or tomorrow” was when they planned to move. James’ point was that they had designated a date and were pursuing their plans in light of that. “Today or tomorrow” is a figure of speech indicating the plans were no longer just one of many options. All options considered, the date had been determined and the countdown had begun.
C. The Designated Place
James said they planned to go to “such” a city. His generalization doesn’t mean they hadn’t made a firm decision. However, it may suggest there was more than one group that had made similar plans for the pursuit of their future and fortunes. The important point is that their plans involved relocating. “Go” has two interesting connotations, both of which color the significance of the merchant’s plans. The first is that they were simply continuing a journey on which they’d already embarked. Already “scattered abroad,” they had no problem with moving again. Perhaps they’d never really put down roots but had simply gone where the work was. Now word came of a new opportunity, so they were prepared to move on.
“Go” can also mean transfer. It was not to simply make a trip as one might suppose if the plan was to go and then return. This was a life-changing, future-altering plan under consideration. The merchants were being good stewards by carefully planning their business endeavor; however, they forgot to ask God for direction. In doing so, they swept aside God’s will. James points out to us a couple of arguments that reveal the foolishness of ignoring the will of God.
(1) Life is complex (v. 13)
Think of all that is involved in our lives; people, places, activities, goals, days, years, daily decisions, and we each have to make hundreds of decisions each day. How many decisions to you and I have to make each day, many just on auto-pilot?
(2) Uncertainty of Life (v 14a)
James statement is based on Proverbs 27:1, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Have you ever made plans well in advance but the plans never happened or were fulfilled? Life is uncertain. Yet, these people were very confident, “We will go, we will spend, we will carry on business, it is part of His nature. So it makes perfect sense that only when we are in God will can we be confident of tomorrow. This doesn’t mean that we can’t plan ahead and that our lives are just hit or miss, but we have to submit our plans to God first, might be a good idea even to consult God first before we make our plans.
Life’s one certainty is its sheer uncertainty. As Scripture reminds us, we “do not know what will happen tomorrow” (James 4:14). Real estate developer Larry Silverstein can bear witness to the truth of that text. Though he owned impressive property in New York City, he was, according to his own testimony, obsessed by the desire to add the great Twin Towers of the World Trade Center to his holdings. His wish came true. Six weeks before those two imposing skyscrapers were destroyed by terrorist; he had obtained a 99-year lease worth $3.2 billion for that majestic center. Sadly, the fulfillment of our dreams can sometimes turn into nightmares.
This reminds us not only of the uncertainty of life, but also of the need to align our desires with God’s will. Experience teaches us that if we allow presumption to run our lives, the fulfillment of our own compulsive dreams may turn to dust and ashes. There are legitimate desires, to be sure, but the book of James tells us how to approach them. Instead of presuming that our plans and dreams will be fulfilled, we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that” (4:15). When we submit our plans to God’s will, we can enjoy His peace in the midst of life’s uncertainty. Someone put it this way, “Write your plans in pencil, then give God the eraser.”
(3) Life is short (v 1b)
I think we all know this in our head, but we don’t live as if our lives are short. We live as if we will grow to an old age. Yet, James reminds us that life is a vapor. Quickly gone. The book of Job gives us insight into the brevity of life:
(a) Job 7:6 – “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle”
(b) Job 7:9 – “The cloud is consumed and vanished away”
(c) Job 8:9 – “Our days upon earth are a shadow”
It is interesting that we celebrate “annual birthday” once a year, yet God tells us to number our days? (Psalm 90:12). We live a day at a time and we should be investing each hour of each day, in those things that are eternal, rather than earthly. Yet this is so hard to do!
The Revision of Their Plans
James 4:14-15,”Why 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. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”
The message of James in this text is one that no person should overlook or disregard and one that, if heeded can alter how we live our lives today and every day for the rest of our lives. James message is a reminder, a word of warning or caution for those who are so busy living from day to day they forget how completely fragile and uncertain is this thing called life. Simply stated, he says our lives are like mists or like the stream of smoke that dances into the air when a candle is extinguished. It is here today and gone tomorrow; it is here one minute and gone the next.
Verse 14 speaks to the brevity and uncertainty of human life. This is a theme that permeates the pages of the Bible (Job 7:6-7; Job 9:25-26; Job 14:1-2; 1 Peter 1:24). The brutal truth is that none of know when we will reach the end of our lives. A trip to the cemetery confirms this truth! After all, there are graves of all sizes there. It would do us well this morning to consider just what could come about in our lives during the course of this year, or even on out into the future.
This study is not meant to sadden you or to fill your heart with dread, but to help you see that the future is coming and will soon be upon us. We had better be ready for it. Simply denying what may come will not stop it from coming about! Let’s notice some things that could come about in your future or in mine for that matter. Look around the world at large and around your own life in particular and you will see that this word from James is true.
There are loved ones whose presence is as central to our lives as our own breath; and yet one day we look around and death has snatched them away. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Look at the flood waters of the Gulf Coast or the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq and you will see how quickly lives can be snatched away. In a burst of gunfire or the breeching of a levee the people we love the most can be taken away.
The book of James reminds us that we should not take tomorrow for granted. We should not put off until some later time those matters of the spirit that each one of us needs to resolve:
(1) Is your house in order today?
(2) Is your soul right with God today?
(3) Are you living today in such a way that its apparent that you understand you can be here today and be gone tomorrow?
Do you understand that with all of our wealth, learning, social status and long-range plans, you and I are nothing more than a mist that vanishes away? He isn’t talking about material things, our job, marriage or health. He is saying that you and I can physically be here today and physically be gone tomorrow. What is your life?
Life is short! We only get one go at it! If we take a match and light it, then blow it out and watch how fast that the smoke quickly dissipates; we can compare this to the brevity of our own lives in line with time and eternity. This is not a dress rehearsal. We can’t come back and do it again. No, this is really it.
And while we can’t take back sins and wrongful choices of the past, we can repent and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to surrendering our hearts and lives for God’s ultimate will and direction for the rest of our lives. He can do it so much better than we can. So, just let Him do it! Let the Holy Spirit have His fullness within us as only He can do once we’re totally committed to His saving and sanctifying fullness!
It should be clear from verse 15 that James was not teaching that planning is unspiritual. James made no comment that would nullify the idea of planning altogether. Instead, he challenged his readers to revise their plans in light of the Lord’s will. He cautioned them that they could not control the circumstances that would prevail upon their future; therefore, they needed to be pursuing plans made in light of the Lord’s will for them.
A. The priority of Prayer
Even though the word “prayer” does not occur in this specific context, but one cannot pursue the will of God without spending time in prayer. Jesus taught His disciples on two occasions that personal communication with God is not exclusively adoration, asking, and thanksgiving. An important component of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples (Matthew 6 & Luke 11) is the expressions of one’s submission to God’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven.” James’ readers were not being chided for planning. James cautioned them against planning without praying.
B. The Particulars of Their Plans
1. The Modification of the Goal
James first challenged his readers to revise their goal. They were to pray specifically about God’s will in the matter of moving their trade. Should someone conclude, therefore, that he or she needs to pray in order to discern whether to work? Of course not. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to work hard so that their testimony might be evident to all (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12). He also recommended discipline for those who were too lazy to work (2 Thessalonians 3).
Why then should believers conclude they should bathe their choice of goals in prayer? Remember the specific failures of James’ readers; they were to enjoy the good and perfect gifts God wanted to give them, and they were intent on pursuing the lucrative promises of the world. Without question, their goal, of working at their trade in a specific place, was set with an attitude similar to that expressed in the first four verses of the chapter. James attempted to arrest their thinking and remind them that the will of God is the most important pursuit. There was nothing wrong with plans to move. However, it was imperative that their plans were in response to the leadership of God’s Spirit that He could and would use them someplace else.
A quick survey of the life of Paul reflects that his plans did not always conform to God’s plans. But he was willing to bring his plans to the Lord in prayer and submit them to the Lord’s changes. (See Acts 16, Romans 1, and Romans 16). Paul’s life and testimony are a good example of what it means to make plans but to make certain those plans are made within the range of the will of God.
2. The Modification of the Time
Another concern in making any plans is the matter of time. The fact that these believers had established a date was referenced by James in his “today” or “tomorrow” phrase. He confronted that fact with the reality that the human person has no way of predicting what a day may bring forth. The truth is that no one can be sure we will wake up on the next day to carry out our carefully laid plans.
(a) On the morning of November 22, 1963 President Kennedy was given a Shady Oak Western hat at a breakfast sponsored by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. Some of the press photographers wanted him to try it on so that they could take a picture of him in it. President Kennedy grinned at them and said that he’d be glad to pose in it, “If you come to the White House Monday morning.” But he never made it back to the White House alive. He was killed in Dallas later that day.
(b) On Saturday August 30, 1997, Diana, the Princess of Wales arrived in Paris for what she thought would be a pleasant visit. She was on her way to London and had plans to fly there the next day. She spent some time at the Ritz Hotel and shortly after midnight she got into a car for a short trip to a nearby apartment. But she never made it to the apartment. She was killed in a tragic car accident in a Paris tunnel.
(c) On the morning of September 11, 2001 almost 3000 people went to their jobs in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, fire and police stations. All of them had plans for that afternoon, evening, the coming weeks. However, their plans were all in vain. They were tragically killed in the terrorist attacks.
“Know” conveys the idea of understanding. These people who made their plans about what they were going to do had ignored the most basic principle of life; no one can predict the future, not even tomorrow. Again, it is the will of God that should have been their concern. If God were willing to give them another day, then perhaps they could carry out their plans. J
I’m reminded of the story Jesus told of the rich fool who pulled down barns and built new ones to accommodate an abundant harvest. He had assumed that he would live to see the harvest. His foolishness was in the neglect of his own soul and preparation for eternity, which faces every person. As believers in Jesus Christ, we too can fall into similar traps. Instead of buying up resent opportunities to live for God, we dream of making a “big splash” or a large amount of money at some point in the future. Life is a vapor, just a wisp of smoke that appears for a few seconds and then disappears.
3. The Modification of the Place
Verse 15, “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”, challenges the believer to first consider whether it’s the will of God for him to:”live” to pursue his plans. Secondly, he should consider whether it’s God’s will for him to do “this or that.” James was speaking not only of the goal but also of the time and place his readers were planning to work. The implication is that it may very well have been God’s will that they stay right where they were or, as in Paul’s case, that they should go a completely different direction.
The Requirements for Their Plans
James 4:16-17, “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them”
As Job said in 14:2, “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We may be gone tomorrow.
But even more than that we should always be aware that God directs our lives. We are far from being self-sufficient. God gives us every breath we take. Your life is completely in His hands. In Job 12:10 Job said of God, “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” The life of every creature is in God’s hand. In Daniel 5:23 Daniel said to King Belshazzar, “you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” God held the life of King Belshazzar in His hand. He held all the king’s ways in His hand. It’s the same with each one of us—God holds our lives and all our ways in His hands.
Proverbs 16:9 speaks of this. It says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” In Acts 17:24-28 the apostle Paul said of God, “he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live… For in him we live and move and have our being.” We are not self-sufficient. We do not have life in ourselves. We do not have the ability to control our lives.
Our lives, our daily activities are in God’s hands. Thus, it is a great sin to be arrogant in this matter and act like we are self-sufficient and not give God the glory for our lives. We see this sin in King Nebuchadnezzar. One day the king walked on the roof of his royal palace and said, (Daniel 4:30) “Is not this the great Babylon. I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
While the words were still on his lips a voice from heaven came and told him that his royal authority would be taken away from him and that he would be driven away from people and live with wild animals and eat grass like them. The voice said that he was going to be like that, “until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.” What a fitting punishment that was. King Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment shows us that people who do not acknowledge God are like dumb animals and that they are not really fit for human society.
Knowing God’s will is the key to prayer, spiritual growth and fruitfulness in our individual lives. When it came to knowing God’s will, George Müller (1805-1898), an English evangelist who was remarkably and humbly gifted. A man of faith and prayer. He established orphanages in Bristol and founded the Scriptural Knowledge Institution for Home and Abroad. The following are wonderful excerpts from one of his essays. Here’s how George Müller set out to ascertain the will of God on a daily basis:
(1) I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are over come when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.
(2) Having done this, I do not leave the result to feeling or simple impression. If so, I make myself liable to great delusions.
(3) I seek the Will of the Spirit of God through, or in connection with, the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If I look to the Spirit alone without the Word, I lay myself open to great delusions also. If the Holy Ghost guides us at all, He will do it according to the Scriptures and never contrary to them.
(4) Next I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicate God’s Will in connection with His Word and Spirit.
(5) I ask God in prayer to reveal His Will to me aright (in the correct or proper way).
(6) Thus, through prayer to God, the study of the Word, and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge, and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. In trivial matters, and in transactions involving most important issues, I have found this method always effective.
So what is God’s will for our life? In the midst of our daily activities and busyness, it’s certainly easy to lose sight of this! Many people desire to do God’s will, but they struggle because they don’t know what His will is. Our God has wonderful plans for your life! Therefore, discovering God’s will is not necessarily a complicated process. He has given us many simple and clearly stated passages in His Eternal Word for our life. First and foremost, God’s will is that a person has a relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Once we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, God wants us to be Christ’s disciple and following God’s will daily. Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come to me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We are also told, “This is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 we read, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” Additionally, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Some other principles found in His Eternal Word that will help us discern His will for us are:
(1) We were created by God, in His image, and for a purpose. Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”;
(2) God has given us the Holy Spirit for guidance (John 16:13);
(3) He promises to give us wisdom. James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him”;
(4) We should trust God in faith that He will accomplish His will in our life. Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
My brethren, as we submit to God in these and other areas of our life, we are more likely to live in what Romans 12:2 calls God’s “good and acceptable and perfect will.” Living with God’s smile of approval leads to His guidance for the future. As we seek to know God’s will for the future, we must also act on what we already know now. Jesus Christ taught that knowing God’s will and living in obedience to that will is the KEY to it ALL! Thus, as we live by faith and do according to what the Bible clearly tells us to do; we can be sure the Lord will lead us through the difficult decisions when the options may not be so clear.
We must always remember that God is the potter and we are the clay. He will keep us spinning on His potter’s wheel, shaping and reshaping us to make us more Christ-like so He can use us for His will. My beloved, above all:
(1) Surrender daily,
(2) Keep your clay moist through daily prayer,
(3) Prayer that’s in accordance to His will,
(4) Because the best way to know God’s will is to say, “I will” to God.