James 4.13-17: Planning and Vanishing

December 13, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 4:13–4:17

James 4.13-17:  Planning & Vanishing

December 13, 2009

Sam Ford


James 4.13-17   13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.


We’re not the same

James letter is addressed to the church, and in this passage, he appears to be speaking directly to wealthier Christians—business owners, tradesman, etc.  These guys have goods, skills, services and they speak of their plans, as normal businessman would, to travel to a certain city, sell whatever they have brought with them, buy goods, and make money.  And James spends a few verses here, criticizing their words—James is not against making a profit.  Words and actions reveal the heart and James’ criticism is directed at the heart attitude reflected their approach to their business plans.  Namely, that they are “going about their business” in the same way that every other merchant does.


But Christians live, walk, work, play, and plan differently.  We don’t live our lives in segmented categories of work, play, and church.  We don’t divide our lives into “Spiritual” and “Secular”, inviting God into our spiritual times and ignoring him most of the time.  We must avoid making our faith little more than a set of behaviors we do around certain types of people, and more of an identity that governs all that we do.  Our kid’s know that they are FORD kids—we do things a certain way.  Wherever they go, school, play, church, whomever they interact with, family, friends, neighbors, they never cease being FORD kids.  And, every day, week, month, the FORD kids make hundreds of decisions hopefully through the filter of being part of the FORD family.  For the most part, they do well.  Sometimes, they get confused as to what is best, what is right, or good…they want to not only please their mother and father, but they want to make the decision that is most fulfilling. Sometimes they make wrong decisions, bringing dishonor to their parents, and pain to their butts—they believe they know better, that their parents were holding out, that they can get succeed another way.  


Though James appears to be addressing businessman, he is really addressing anyone who confesses Jesus and anyone who makes plans.  His concern is when we live in such a way as to build our OWN kingdom and DISMISS God’s; seek after your OWN desires and IGNORE God’s Will.  When we our glory, beauty, and success is the greatest pursuit in our life—makes it impossible for God to be.  And when you are at the center of EVERYTHING, it’s hard to submit to God, especially when his plans don’t match yours.


Planning without God

James is addressing those who plan their futures without God.  He attacks the overconfidence men have in their own power, wealth, and wisdom.  We make plans without relying on God’s wisdom and believe that we achieve anything we want apart from God’s favor.  We are sinfully presumptuous to believe that 1) we will live as long as we please 2) we can make whatever plans we please 3) we have choice to go on today or tomorrow 4) we can accomplish any plans we conceive 5) all of our plans will and should profit us.  We FORGET our frailty & our ignorance; we forget our sin & our weakness; we forget our dependence & our need for God’s favor.  James takes his message from a parable Jesus told:  Luke 12:16–21  16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” 


You do not know about tomorrow

We are people obsessed with our future.  And though our obsession is often packaged in terms like “stewardship” or “responsibility” or “health”, often our obsession is simply idolatry.  We put our identity, our hope, our security, our peace in the right career choice, in taking the right vitamins, in choosing the right stocks, in making right decisions for the environment—we’re always thinking about the future. And I am not suggesting we don’t plan for the future, but the reality is that we don’t know a lot: Proverbs 27.1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.


There is nothing inherently wrong with PLANNING.  Wise planning is appropriate when we confess that God is God, and that we are frail, rebellious, ignorant, and dependent upon him—even for our next breath.  It’s not that we don’t move or plan until we hear God speak, its not that we have a verse to recite for every decision we make, it is not that we never pursue our dreams or think about tomorrow. It’s not that the prideful person says, “We will do this or that” and the submissive person says “We won’t do this or that”.  The difference is in considering the will of God. Do we even care what God wants?   


Will it profit me?

You’ve probably heard that phrase “God’s Will.”  How do I figure out God’s will?  God’s Will feels like that plan he has for my life, all of the answers to all of my questions, the thing he holds me accountable to FIND but REFUSES to tell me what it is.  BEFORE we spend our time on God’s Will, let’s be honest, typically, we don’t spend our time wondering how my decisions and plans are in line with what God wants, but what I want—how will this profit me?  QUESTION:  When was the last time you planned and dedicated your plans to the Lord BEFORE executing them?  How much of your faith, marriage, parenting, career, finances, or other aspects of your life have you planned WITH God? 


Many of us “pretend” to be seeking God’s Will.  We use the phrases like “open doors” to describe having FOUND God’s Will.  A great book I read recently called, Do Something by Kevin Deyoung said this, “when we speak of open doors, we are merely referring to opportunities God has given us to do the good things we already wanted to do.”  In other words, we determine the WILL of GOD for our life, what plans, decisions, or choices to make by whether or not WE WANT TO.  Whether they bring us comfort or discomfort, whether they require we work more or less, whether they bring us pleasure or pain.  And when it brings us comfort, or it’s easier, or it’s pleasurable we say, “I guess the Lord is opening doors.”  Sometimes, an open door theology can enable our laziness or lack of diligence. If God opens a door for you in this way.  We must not assume, however, that the ease or difficulty of a situation is God ways of telling you to do something or not. That is what TRIALS are all about.  


What is your life?

James challenges the obsession with the future and asks, What is your life?  His answer is, your life is nothing more than a mist that disappears when the sun comes up.  You are not guaranteed a tomorrow and yet, we spend every moment of our lives seeking after things to make us secure for tomorrow.  And, in the midst of that pursuit of what you want for tomorrow, I wonder if we lose sight of what God wants in the moment that is today.  Because our life is not a MIST that comes from nowhere...all we have is a moment…and it is not a moment we are entitled to…it is breathed out by God for HIS purposes.  And when we take the attitude that our time is guaranteed and that our purposes are what is most important, our faith becomes only words.  “How can I show God to my children today?” “How can I glorify God here?” “How can I love the people I am with right now?”  “How can I serve and meet a need now?”


Matthew 6.25-34 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.


What we should say…if the Lord wills

The implication is we either SEEK for our LIFE or we SEEK for JESUS.  We either seek to build and live in our kingdom or we seek to live in JesusKingdom.  In other words, Jesus calls us to RUN HARD after his kingdom, his commands, his way AND we will get what we need (protection and provision) AND what we want (beauty and joy like a bird)


James contrasts boasting with our tongue, with humbly saying “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” I TRUST GOD. Nothing is wrong with making plans or succeeding.  Jesus himself taught his disciples to pray that the will of God be done in all their prayers.  These words are not a magic formula. Not only are we overconfident in our own wisdom and strength, we are often overconfident in our ability to know the will of God. Even if we pray that God’s will be done, in our hearts we’re praying that ours will be done because we think that God has this plan laid out for us (one he won’t tell us) and every decision will either align with it, or not.  And what results, as we seek the kingdom, is an attitude of FEAR where we’re scared to make a decision OR an attitude of RECKLESSNESS where we do anything thinking “It’s God’s Will.” 


What is God’s Will?  What should I be seeking?

God’s Will for his people is not as mysterious as we might think.  Whether you are young, old, educated, uneducated, single, married, rich, poor, employed, unemployed, struggling or thriving in your fait, it applies. The heart of God’s will for life has less to do with a every day little decisions AND everything to do with our growth as Christians and our LOOKING MORE LIKE JESUS.  1Thessalonians 4.2-3  3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: Looking more like Jesus looks like a life of more discomfort, more sacrifice, more service, more humility than you could ever muster, but more joy than you could ever imagine.


As we humbly submit our will to God’s, committing our works to Him, we pray for what we desire.  As we do, we must trust that he will either give us the desire of our hearts, or change our desires.  We trust that, even if our plans do not come to fruition as we hoped, God’s Will is still working—he doesn’t leave anything to chance.  IF we genuinely dedicate our plans to the Lord, believing that whatever we achieve or receive (or not) is a result of God’s Grace and Mercy, THEN we must accept God’s will when it’s different than ours.   In the end, though we may not understand everything, we see that God has a bigger and better plan.  And even if His way is disruptive, confusing, harder or more painful, we rejoice because he is God and He knows what he is doing.  Thessalonians 5.16-18  16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


The way of Wisdom

James closes us with somewhat of a proverb saying:  17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.  Proverbs often speaks of the fool and the wise.  “Wisdom is understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God.  Wisdom is always MORAL in nature, not just INTELLECTUAL.  In other words, wisdom is right and foolishness is wrong.  The fool is a sinful idiot because he does not live life God’s Way and, is not only condemned, but in chaos.  To quote Kevin Deyoung, “When we talk about wisdom, “we are talking about a profoundly God-centered approach to life.”

It can be scary to actually live out your faith, because walking by faith and not by sight, means you may make some decisions that didn’t fit into the “perfect plan” of your life.  And so we bargain with God about when we will start living out the faith we’ve claimed for days or years. I will serve God when it is easy, convenient, and comfortable. That is not faith.  I will sacrifice for God when I have something extra to sacrifice.  That is not faith.  I will love my neighbor tomorrow, when I have more time and energy.  That is not faith.  Faith is not trusting God IF tomorrow works out the way you plan;  faith is trusting God with your tomorrow and making your plan about serving him today regardless of how it works out. 


When was the last time you planned and dedicated your plans to the Lord BEFORE executing them?  How much of your faith, marriage, service in the body, parenting, career, finances, or other aspects of your life have you planned WITH God?  Sin is not only to do what God has forbidden, but it is also to fall short of the glory He has for us.  Many of us will think, well, my plans are working out right now pretty well—again, measuring their “rightness” as to whether or not they are bringing us profit.  Consider, you could be profiting, enjoying life, and at peace and yet, be dishonoring God.


As you take communion, consider that as you do, you declare Jesus as a victorious King, with a kingdom of which you are a citizen of.  Do not dishonor the King by taking communion while you build your own apart from Him.  Commit to him wholeheartedly, honor him completely, love him radically, for one day (perhaps soon) you will sit before him confessing your love like an adulterer or a sold out single focused lover—and He’ll know.



More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows