Life is a gift from God that must be lived with responsibility. Making good planning is part of carrying out that responsibility. If so, why did James rebuke Christians who make plans? 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.” (James 4: 13)
The Letter of James was addressed to Jews who have become Christians and live outside the land of Israel. Some of them work as traders who usually go from one city to another and live there for some time to do business. These cities might have been Antioch, Damascus, or Alexandria, which at the time were large cities visited by trade. So there is nothing wrong when they say: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Then, what is the reason James rebuked them? Verse 14 tells us: 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.
James told about two facts of humans, namely humans don’t know what will happen tomorrow and describe human life like mist. Mist expresses uncertainty, mortal, futile, brief, momentary. Mist, fog, smoke, or whatever they are called, only appear for a moment and then disappear into the wind. That is human life in this world. Now we know that the planners in verse 13 have ignored two things. The first is human limitations which automatically limits their knowledge of tomorrow. The second is the uncertainty in a short life in this world.
Friday afternoon in mid-January, my husband and I were going to get ready for church service when my cell phone rang. I felt strange because the phone call came from my mother who was sleeping in her room on the 2nd floor of our house. Why did mom call me while she knew that we were at home with her?
I answered the call, then my mother’s voice was heard, “Help me, I’m sick.” We immediately went upstairs and found my mother was already pale and sweating, groaning in pain while touching her chest. Apparently my mother had called out our name but we didn’t hear. Thank God there was a cellphone nearby so she could call us.
We immediately took her to the emergency room at a hospital and the doctor immediately ordered my mother to be treated at the ICCU (Intensive Chest Care Unit). Then the hospital staff asked my husband and I to go to a corridor and asked us to knock on one of the doors there, while my mother was pushed on a hospital bed through another door. Then we knocked on the door that was intended and was met by a cardiologist. For about 10 minutes the doctor explained to us about my mother’s condition. After that the doctor asked us to get out of the room then after that the door was closed. I don’t have the chance to see my mom again and I don’t have the chance to say anything to each other! We were really surprised and could hardly believe that the situation was changing so fast. I remember this afternoon my mother walked around in the mall, cheerful, and looked healthy. But this night she lay in pain and weak at ICCU.
For several weeks since that night, all our plans were in disarray because we had to stay in hospital all day. All our service schedules in the church must be canceled, a lot of work must be postponed, and the rhythm of our lives totally changed. A few days later we were told by the cardiologist that that night they were racing against time. The doctor said that one of the things that helped my mother’s life was that we immediately took her to the hospital in no more than 3 hours after a heart attack. The doctor said that if more than 3 hours the risk of death will be greater.
When we roll back the incident, we are grateful for several things: we were at home when the heart attack occurred, the road to the hospital at that time wasn’t jammed even though usually always jammed, also the emergency room didn’t have many patients (usually there were very many patients) so we didn’t need to queue and my mother could be treated immediately. On reflection, I realize that all the things we are grateful for are things that are beyond human control and knowledge.
That experience reminds us of 3 things. First, humans have no power over time. Second, humans do not have power over everything outside themselves. Third, humans do not have power over themselves, especially over their lives. If so, what is the reason for humans to boast and feel confident that they can manage their future without God ?? There is no!!!
So, it is really appropriate that in verse 14 James writes “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” The word “you” that used in this sentence in the original language has a qualitative meaning: “creatures like you” or “human being like you.” In other words, James was conveying, “How can mortal beings and not knowing the meaning of life like you dare to feel confident that you can manage the future ?!” So, in this context the mistake isn’t about making a plan, but the heart attitude of the plan makers.
Then what should be the attitude of our hearts?
SURRENDER TO THE FATHER’S WILL
James advises in verse 15: Actually you have to say: Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” This statement has the meaning “if my plan is in accordance with God’s plan” or “if what I want is the same as what God wants” or “if it is in accordance with God’s will.”
Jesus Christ set an example for us when He struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus’ will is the cup of suffering taken away from Him, but He submitted His will to the will of the Father. Jesus also taught us a prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6: 9-13) A heart that surrenders to the the Father’s will like Jesus which we must have when we make plans for our future.
Surrender to the Father’s will doesn’t mean we are only passive and do not make any plans.
Surrender to the Father’s will means allowing Him to intervene in our plans and realize His will in our lives, even if it means changing our own original plan.
A correct understanding that God’s will alone is sovereign over us, will help us not to be trapped in an attitude of confidence in ourselves in looking at the future. Unfortunately the planners in verse 13 didn’t realize this. They rely more on their own strength and wisdom in making their plans, as James wrote in verse 16, “As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.” In the original language, “evil” is a word that in other parts of the Bible can mean Satan. Therefore we must learn to humble before God and acknowledge His sovereignty over our lives. If we boast, we will find it difficult to bow down to God’s will, because we will assume that our plans are the best and will definitely succeed. This is dangerous for ourselves, because actually we know nothing about our future.
DO THE FATHER’S WILL
Human life always has a mystery, which is the future. The future isn’t always far from us, but it can only be one second after our breath now.
Look at the rich man in the parable told by the Lord Jesus in Luke 12: 16-21. It is told about a rich person who feels his life is safe and secure for years to come. Maybe he had made various plans to enjoy his wealth, but he didn’t know that God would take his life that night. One of the aspects of humanity presented in this parable is that human life is limited by time and no one knows for sure when that time will end. That’s the uncertainty of life. So, how we must always surrender to the will of our Father, God and Creator, the only fully sovereign God of the breath of every human life.
As humans who are given intelligence and conscience by God, we can indeed make a good plan. We can develop a calculated plan with our education, experience, skills, knowledge, connections and wealth. However, a plan that is self-reliant and not submitted under the perfection of God’s will will only be an uncertainty because we have no idea about tomorrow. We might be able to predict and exert all our energy to realize the things we want, but there is no guarantee what the reality will be. Our own plans may work, but only plans from God can bring us to the true meaning of life in Christ.
Now let’s return to the rhetorical question of James in verse 14, “What is your life?” The word “life” used in verse 14 is derived from the word “zoe”. Life that uses the word “zoe” is the absolute fullness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God. to live in all the maximum capacity according to God’s blueprint for those who put trust in Christ. Conversely, if we rely on ourselves, we will lose the main essence of life and only live the futility of a short life like mist in this world.
A question for us to think about: Do we want to live our lives in the fullness of Christ or are we just like mist?!
At this time . . . every one of us must have plans for our future. If we long to live the fullness of life in Christ, then allow the Omnipotent and Omniscient Father to intervene in each of our plans to be aligned with His perfect will. Let’s entrust the uncertainty of our future into the hands of the Father, because He is the only definite assurance for our lives. Amen
By: Sella Irene – Beautiful Words
Photo Credit: Google Images ( pxhere.com ) edited with pixlr apps