If It Is the Lord's Will

James 4:13-17

We are a people of vision and planning – short-term, long-term, 1/5/10 years –  we set goals and quotas and mid-term evaluations – we invest, we take out loans, we sign leases, we rollover IRA’s – all based on what we assume will happen in the future.

But Isaiah wrote, All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.  The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass (Isa. 40:6-7).

Jesus said, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And James writes, 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.

Does God hate planning and vision and preparation for the future?  David envisioned a Temple for God.  Paul, while writing to the Roman church is making plans to go to Spain.  God himself, before the foundation of the world, sees the sin and fall, and makes plans for the redemption of the world through the death of his son.

It’s not that God hates planning, he simply hates the way we do it.  Listen in – Our planning is often self-centered and self-enriching.  Our vision is self-directed and self-reliant.  God’s problem with our planning is not that it is so far reaching and visionary – it is that it is so short-sighted and self-serving.

James highlights three sins that affect our ability to plan for the future:

The sin of presumption (vss. 13-14)  James 4:13  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 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.

It’s not that we don’t believe in God, it’s just that our planning never factors him into the equation – it’s practical atheism – we believe, but we don’t act as if God exists and has a will for our lives.

James describes a common situation – men making plans for the future – business deals, investments and profits – it’s all pretty 21st century – “we’re going to find our niche in the market, work it hard, clean up financially and retire early”– it’s the hard work ethic – it’s capitalism at its best – it’s the American dream.  Actually, it’s been everyone’s dream.  James was writing to 1st century Christians who dreamed of fortune and wealth.

So, what could be wrong with that?  What could God have against financial planning and hard work?  Well, nothing – and everything.

When we make plans for the future based solely on our hard work, shrewd planning and ingenuity – we are putting ourselves on the throne and ignoring God’s involvement.

Jeremiah wrote, “I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).

A young woman sets her eyes on the future – falls in love and makes plan to marry a young man – but he’s not a Christian, and so she ignores the Word of God, ignores the counsel of her family and friends who warn her of how this will affect her life.

A young man sets his eyes on the future – chooses a career that demands enormous commitment and time away from his family – he knows that he will be expected to travel constantly, work weekends and be unable to worship God or have time for his family.

A small businessman hires a secretary – she is beautiful, she is attentive – red flags are waving – but he says, “what possible harm could there be?”

A family sets their eyes on the future – “we need to spend more time together” – they buy a boat and start spending their weekends together – on the lake.  Church becomes an afterthought, relationships at church are replaced, priorities become skewed.

It is the sin of presumption – the assumption that my plans are God’s plans – that whatever I decide is good for me is the final word on the matter. 

The sin of boasting  (vs. 16)

As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil. (vs. 16) 

James nails the heart of the problem – pride.  Self is the center of the equation.  Have you noticed?   James is still touching back on the theme he started back in vs. 6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Jesus gave a powerful example when he told the parable of the rich fool – Luke 12:16-21  -- “I, my,  I’ll, I, my, I, me, mine” – 11times he uses the 1st person pronoun and possessive.  And God says, “You fool.”

Jeremiah gives a powerful corrective – “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD’” (Jer. 9:23).

Invariably, when our plans and actions become self-centered, and our goals become self-serving, it is because we have taken our eyes off of the Lord.  Our focus has shifted, our hearts belong to someone or something else – and the plans that we make are merely symptoms of the deeper problem.

The sin of omission (vs. 17)

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (vs. 16)

There are times when we defend our actions by claiming, “I don’t see anything wrong with it!”  We defend our innocence – “Nobody got hurt.”  It is a righteousness that is based on negatives – “I didn’t, it didn’t, we didn’t…” We pat ourselves on the back, “I just stay out of trouble, and try not to do anything wrong.” 

God doesn’t applaud our passivity –

·         In the parable of the Good Samaritan – the priest and Levite not innocent because they did nothing wrong

·         In the parable of the Talents –  the man who buried his treasure and did nothing was not commended.

·         In the scene of Judgment – the people who said, “we never saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison” are not excused.

It’s not enough to look down on those who are making self-centered plans to go off and do things without including the Lord in their plans.

James tells us, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.”  You can’t sit at home, refuse to plan, not do anything wrong and think you’ve pleased the Lord.  This is a positive exhortation – get out and do what needs to be done – act on those intentions that will honor God – make plans with the Lord’s will at the heart of those plans.  The question is not “are you not sinning?” – it is “what positive thing are you doing that honors God?”

James antidote for our presumption?  Vs. 15 – “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.’”

Notice that James adds one crucial factor to the equation – they can still say “we will live and we will do this or that.”  The future is a legitimate area for planning and acting for Christians.  But there is that one crucial factor of consideration – “if it is the Lord’s will….”

Do you press all of your plans through that filter of God’s will?  Do you consider whether they are godly plans?  Have you considered whether these plans will lead you away from God, or whether they will compromise your effectiveness or your witness as a Christian?  When you make your plans do you make them – not only with their negative impact in mind – but also with whether they will give you positive opportunities for growth and service as a Christian?

There is nothing wrong with making plans – if those plans are submitted to the will of God, and our priorities are placed under his lordship.  If you can honestly place your plans alongside the will of God and see him glorified and his rule in your life honored, then go forward with confidence. 

Our plans – big plans, small plans, long-term, short-term, career plans, relationship plans, recreational plans, spiritual plans need to be firmly rooted in God’s will – always with glorifying God as my highest purpose – always with the contingency “not my will by thy will be done” – acknowledging that God is in control of my life.

How do you go about making godly plans, then? 

·         It starts with the foundation – Jesus spoke about the  wise builder and the foolish builder.  The one who built on the shifting sand of this world encountered disaster, the one who built his life on the rock of Jesus had security and blessings.  Paul wrote, For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11) -- if your plans are incompatible with the foundation of Jesus, you need to change them.

·         Paul also wrote about the intentionality of our lives – Eph. 5:15-17  Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. What we need most is wisdom – not the wisdom of this world, but the wisdom of God – seeing things through his eyes, through his perspective.

·         For Jesus, there was always a sense of the bigger picture.  Even in the short term events and the seemingly inconsequential details, Jesus had his eyes locked on the ultimate goal for which God had sent him for – “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” 

What are your resources for making God-focused decisions?  Are your plans:

·         Rooted in God’s Word – not just do you spend a few perfunctory moments reading a verse of scripture for the day, but do you spend time letting the word of God penetrate your life?

·         Bathed in prayer – does God have a voice in your life – do you spend time with him daily?

·         Based on godly principles – are you operating under a bigger picture than the bottom line on your P&L statement?

·         Seek the guidance of spiritual counselors – do you have godly people in your life that you trust with your plans and goals that will help keep you on track?

What happens when you have made bad plans, miserably failed, directed your life out into the wilderness far from God?  You may be on top of the world right now, but you realize how far you have wandered and how much you have left God out of your life and your plans.  What do you do?

God’s promise is that he is always able to take us right where we are.  We are never scrap, we are never worthless and unredeemable – we are always precious and valuable.

But we must be surrendered and ready to be changed. 

·         If we examine our plans and realize they have left God out – we have to be courageous enough to start over again.

·         At the very foundation, making sure our lives are built on Jesus Christ.

·         Living intentionally – planning with God’s will considered at every step.

·         And, like Jesus, keeping the bigger picture in focus.  Are all my short-term plans (and all our plans on this earth are short-term) made with my long-term goal of eternity in heaven in mind?

Illust – Space shuttle Challenger – Launched on Jan. 28, 1986 – 73 seconds after takeoff the shuttle exploded and all the crew members were killed.  James says that we are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  None of us can imagine not seeing tomorrow, not making it home after church, not taking the next breath.  And yet, we have no guarantees that we will live beyond this moment.  Life can end abruptly, and so we are told to live as if every moment were our last, and to put every moment under the lordship of Jesus Christ.