“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.” 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. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”
(James 4:13-17 NIV)
In chapter 4, James has been talking about submitting ourselves to God, and how that is the basis for getting along with each other.
James now goes on to talk about submitting ourselves to God, even when we do get along with others, when we’re not fighting or bickering or quarreling with friends, family, or others. James is teaching us here that submitting ourselves to God is a continuous and constant way of living, not just an escape hatch or a “Plan B” when we run into difficulties.
James uses the example of a business person making plans to set up shop in another city. Most Jewish people in James’ day were business people, traders of goods, so this example would cause them to sit up and listen. I can imagine that when verse 13 was read, a number of people that heard that verse said, “Finally, James is talking our language!”
As we look at James’ opening sentence in verse 13, is there a problem? Is it wrong to plan? Is it wrong to go open a shop in another city? Is the timing or duration of the venture wrong? Is it wrong to make money? The answer to all these questions is a resounding “no”.
So what’s the problem? Very simply, God has been left out of the picture altogether. God is not invited to participate in the planning, nor the timing, nor the duration, nor the outcome. It’s as if the business people in James’ example are practical atheists, completely ignoring God in their business dealings.
So what are our choices about God’s will? We can:
- Ignore God’s will altogether – don’t consider God, or acknowledge that His will even exists
- Defy God’s will – “God, I want to do this and I will do this. Oh, yeah, I want Your blessing on my plans.”
- Disobey God’s will – like Jonah, “God is understand your plan, but I choose my own way.”
- Obey God’s will – Like Jesus – “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
James reminds us that for all of our pretentiousness and boasting and thinking that we control our lives, we really control nothing. We don’t control today, or tomorrow, or the future. James says our lives are a mist that appears briefly, then disappears. As a wise pastor said, “On our gravestones, someone will note the date we were born, and the date we died. Our lives are the dash – the little line between the two dates.”
So what is James’ point? What is the right way to live our lives? Living in submission to God, and His will, not our own will.
Solomon wisely said:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)
What process are you using to make your choices? Do you ignore, defy, disobey, or obey God and His will?