James 4:13-15 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.”
The verses above have often come to my mind over the last year. Life in a fallen world is full of joys and disappointment, fulfilled expectations and unmet expectations, dreams fulfilled and dashed dreams. Life in a fallen world during a pandemic adds another dynamic, the constant reminder that life is short, and we have limited control of our circumstances.
How can these verses bring perspective back into our lives? One truth that we should remember is that the Bible does not always explain the circumstances of life, but the Bible reminds us of God’s presence in every circumstance (Isaiah 41:10). This text lays out some powerful reminders and truths for our lives when we face the unexpected. Let me highlight two thoughts from these verses.
- We are not really in control.
James proposes a situation in which one plans to travel to a town to set up a business. The plan seems reasonable, spend a year there, trade, and make a profit. The response in verse 14 seems abrasive, but it is a good reminder to our souls. No one knows what tomorrow will hold. We do not know the circumstances we will face, nor do we know if we will carry out our plans. James continues with another reality; our lives are short like a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Have you noticed the mist that appears and disappears when you fill a sink with hot water? Our lives are brief on this earth and we will end our lives with unfinished plans.
We all know instinctively we do not have control. We know that we cannot know the future, but we can know the one who controls the future. The reality is that God is Sovereign and Providentially working in this world. Nothing surprises God, nor does anything occur outside of his sovereign will and control. There is a mystery to this truth, especially when we think about the reality of how God uses our sin and suffering for our good and His glory.
This leads us to make plans. The Bible tells us that we are wise to make plans and that God is involved in establishing our steps (Prov 16:1; 9). The problem is not in making plans, it is how we think about them. I often think that because I make plans that I have a sense of control. I put something on the calendar, of course, I am going to do it. The reality is that in a fallen world so much can go wrong: canceled flights, traffic jams, sickness, or even death.
- God is in control, so hold your plans with an open hand.
James tells us that we should have an attitude of humility and submission before the Lord. The real lesson is that we are to be humble since we do know what tomorrow holds. We ought to say “Lord willing, we will do this or that.” The Lord is one who knows and controls tomorrow. We are not to boast about tomorrow (Prov 27:1), but instead, humbly say “Lord willing.” This small phrase can reorient our minds to God’s sovereign control in our lives.
I write this as one who struggles to apply these verses to my life. I often hold my plans with a tight fist and the Lord continues to loosen my grip by putting me in situations that remind me that I am not in control. I am slowly learning to remind myself in my mind and words, “Lord willing” so that I might hold my plans with an open hand.
Lord willing…have you ever thought of how that could shape your attitude and perspective today?