Making Plans: What About the Future?
© 2020 C. O. Bishop
We humans are constantly making plans: we have “day-planners” that we carry with us, and business-plans, wherein we predict the future of a company. I am told that US businesses think they are doing well to have a five-year business plan, but that many Japanese businesses have 100-year plans. That boggles my mind, because there are so many unforeseeable changes in the world that it seems impossible to have any sort of serious plans extending more than a very few years. How can one predict market trends, new inventions, famines, plagues, wars, etc.? In reality, we have very little “control” of our lives, though we want very much to think that we are in control. James reflects that reality, and warns us to give God the honor He deserves by confessing that, in reality, He… and only He… is in control of the future. All we can control is our response to that reality.
So, James answers our ambitious, presumptuous, self-confident plans by saying, 13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: 14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. 15 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
It would be an easy shift, to change our thinking, and simply acknowledge that God can confirm our plans or He can change them completely. We could simply say “If the Lord wills…” which could be just lip service. But it does require at least some humility, to say, “I hope to do thus and so, but, ultimately, God is in control, not I.”
The Problem of Self-Direction
16 But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
We don’t think of our “grand plans” as “boasting,” but God says they are! And each of us has made such plans, at one time or another, thinking we were “taking control” of our futures…but the fact is, we do not have control of our futures. Our lives are completely under God’s control, for good or bad. My wife and I knew a Godly young woman, apparently with her whole life ahead of her. She was married, and had great things planned. But she slipped on an icy walk, and smacked her head: and the bleeding on her brain killed her. Was she in sin? Not that I know of. She was really a godly young lady, and rejoicing in the Lord. But God has the right to take his children home, and it is not punishment! She simply graduated early. She is home with Jesus. It was a surprise, and a shock, but, honestly, isn’t that what we are all looking forward to?
And God says that our “self-centered” desire to be “self-directed”, making us “self-made” men and women, is what is evil, having found its root in the sin of Satan, which we can read about, in Isaiah 14:12-15. 12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
Lucifer lost his position as the “Light-bearer” (that’s what “Lucifer” means) when he sinned. What was the sin? The desire to be self-directed…to be his own master, and thus, ultimately, to supplant God.
He made five statements of self-will in that passage, all exalting himself above God.
- I will ascend into heaven (not by invitation, but by presumption)
- I will exalt my throne above the stars of God (referring to the angelic host)
- I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north (referring to Zion: God’s chosen throne on earth)
- I will ascend above the heights of the clouds (God’s position)
- I will be like the most high. (Self-direction is the only aspect in which he could be like the most high…he could not attain to the attributes of deity, but he wanted the position and honor of deity.)
What did all five statements have in common? “I will…” This is the self-will that set in motion the sin that pervades our human sphere. He spread it to the first Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden, and they lost their position of innocence. They regained fellowship with God through a blood sacrifice, and by faith. We also enter into that fellowship by a blood sacrifice (the Cross) and by faith. But when we sin, even as believers, we emulate the self-will of Lucifer, because we defy the authority of God, and, by our actions, words or attitudes, we declare that “In this small sphere, I am the master! I will make the choices, here, and I will chart the course of my life!”
It is hard for us to think of these things in this way, because we have been taught, all of our lives, that such things are good! “Be your own person! Take charge of your life! Be all you can be! Be your own boss! Throw off the shackles of authority! You deserve the best!” Does any of that sound familiar? Those are all advertisements in magazines, as to how you can tell off your boss, start your own business, and suddenly be in charge of your own future, get rich (or at least richer), and have all the things and the relationships you have always wanted! Interesting, huh?
How does the Enemy attack us?
Do you see how, when Satan tempted and tricked Eve, he attacked through three areas of temptation? Genesis 3:6 says that “When she saw that:
- the fruit was good to eat, and
- that it was pleasant to the eyes, and
- desirable to make one wise,
(then) she took the fruit and ate, and gave it to her husband with her, and he ate…” The result was the fall of the human race! Spiritually, we all died that day in the Garden of Eden. We were separated from fellowship with God! We have regained our position through Jesus’s blood at the Cross, but we still have our old Sin nature, and can still be drawn away to sin.
When Satan tested Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), he used the same three areas of temptation: food, public status, and riches. But Jesus successfully rejected that temptation, on the basis of God’s Written Word…which we can also choose to do.
There’s an odd thing, here: God calls out those specific things as how the enemy will tempt us, too! (1st John 2:16 “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” )
- The Lust of the Eyes (what I see and find attractive)
- The Lust of the Flesh (what would serve to gratify the body)
- The boastful Pride of life (What would serve to gratify my sense of self-importance.)
Those same weapons have been used against the human race from the very beginning. And the pride issue, the part of us that says, “I did it myyy way!” (That was a famous song!) is a very common failing, virtually universal among humans. So, with that warning, we need to change how we approach life.
What can I do differently?
Is it “wrong” to make plans? When God says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding…” does that mean it is sin to make plans? Absolutely not! In fact, Jesus addressed that idea in regard to discipleship, saying we need to count the cost, sit down and calculate whether we can do the things we hope for: He gave the examples of one preparing to build a tower, or go into battle, calculating ahead of time whether they had what it took to complete the work, or to succeed in battle.
I have to plan ahead, and make time to study God’s Word, or I will not have the teaching to feed a flock. We have to plan ahead and prepare the soil for a garden, if we want to reap a crop or even have flowers. We have to plan ahead and acquire specific schooling if we want to work in certain jobs or professions. And maybe, after all, we aren’t able to do those things once we take the training. (You can’t be a surgeon, for example, if you always faint at the sight of blood! Or a commercial fisherman, if you can’t overcome motion sickness, etc.)
We each have plans we have to make, and the passage that warns us to “trust in the Lord with all our hearts” goes on to say, “…in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path!” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)
So James echoes this idea; that we need to recognize our frailty at the very least: our lives are like a vapor, or a mist, that appears briefly and then is gone. We have grand ideas of things we’d like to do, but the very least we can do is realize how short life really is, and that we simply don’t have time to do them all. (I like to make things. My brother-in-law pointed out, “Chet, you can make anything! You cannot make everything!” Meaning, “You won’t have time!”)
Not all of the ideas we have are worth wasting our limited time on them. But if we start with the confession of our own frailty and the very brief time we have been given in which to function, then we can begin to rethink our values and our choices, and apply the wisdom of God to our plans, seeking His guidance and approval as we go. He says that we need to recognize every day that our plans are subject to His authority, and that things may change suddenly and without warning. (Remember the rich man who was planning to tear down his barns and build bigger ones to store all his crops, as opposed to sharing that bounty. He didn’t know that he was already in his last day of life.)
I knew a Bible teacher, in 1975 (Ralph Hovland, a retired missionary,) who had spent what most would call “his retirement years” teaching the Bible to younger men and women, preparing them for service. He finally was too old to even continue that, so he was going to retire, and he and his wife were going to move to a retirement home of some sort. He was walking down the street near the school with one of his students, Scott Gutmann, and explaining his plans. He concluded with, “But, of course, the Lord could change those plans at any moment!” and at that moment, he suffered a massive heart attack and dropped dead! He was called home, as a good and faithful servant. No suffering, no slow deterioration. And the impact it had on Scott’s life was profound! He went on to serve as a missionary as well.
There is nothing wrong with making plans, and we are urged by God to do so: Proverbs 6:6-8 “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7 Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8 Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.”
We are given ample instructions as to preparing for an uncertain future: to “…watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord cometh.” Ralph Hovland had done exactly that: he was fully prepared for an uncertain future. It changed without warning.
How should we respond, then?
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
Each of us has this warning, so, then, each of us is responsible to take heed. In so saying, James gives us one of the four New Testament definitions of Sin: “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” This is where the sins of omission come in: If we know what God wants us to do, and choose to do something else; even if the thing we are doing is not intrinsically “wrong,” it is sin, because we knew we were supposed to be doing otherwise. Sin isn’t necessarily on a list of things not to do: It could simply be doing something other than what we were directed to do.
We need to be looking to God for our direction: in His Word, in Prayer, being alert to the prompting of God, by the Holy Spirit. He never leads contrary to His Word, so that is a “filter” we can constantly apply to our plans. Read the Word and find out God’s Principles!
In this particular passage, it seems that the “good”, is something “good” in the sense of moral rightness, not just “they would like it if I did this.” And, in the second place, it says, “if a man knoweth to do good, and doeth it not…” (Not, just “if a man has a great idea of how to be a blessing to the world around him.”) I do think that there has to be some sense of having been directed by God; either through His written word, or some sort of clear leading.
When Ann and I are moved to give money (for example) to meet a known need, we are both alerted to the need, and, invariably, we have the same amount in mind. We see that as God’s leading. Perhaps there are better ways to approach this, but, between God’s Word and Prayer, I don’t know of any better way.
The Key is Submission to God
The real key in making plans is to consistently be in submission to God as we read in James 4:7, so that He is able to direct our hearts and, ultimately, our paths. Apart from a conscious choice, moment by moment, to submit to the Lord, we can’t be sure we are doing His will, even though we look to His Word for direction. If I have chosen to submit my will to God, and I can see from His Word what I think he wants me to do, then I can be pretty sure I am doing right.
I knew a fellow, years ago (a believer,) who earnestly wanted to do God’s will, and daily sought to lead others to Christ. The problem was that he was an hourly worker, and was trying to lead people to Christ during times when he was supposed to be working: and the type of work (welding) precluded working and talking at the same time. He did not see that he was dishonoring God by taking time during which he was paid to weld (as were the people he was talking to) to try and tell people about Jesus. He was ultimately let go…not for witnessing, but because of not working. (He was actually off in another building, going through the garbage dumpster, looking for cans to turn in for money, when he was supposed to be working.) That is not a good testimony, and it is not being in submission to God. I don’t know if he ever admitted to himself that what he was doing was wrong, but it served to remind me that the things we do have eternal impact, for better or for worse.
In these tumultuous times we are living in right now, we have a special desire to use our time wisely, and to make Godly choices, as it truly seems we are getting closer to the Lord’s return. We don’t want to waste what little time we have left!
We will try to spend some time, soon, talking about these troubled times and how we are affected by them; but for now, regardless of when the Lord returns, the key issue is that we be in constant submission to the Lord, and alert to His direction and leading.
Lord Jesus, please draw our hearts to yourself, so that we are constantly motivated by your Word, by your Spirit, and your Love. Allow us to examine ourselves in the Mirror of your Word, and remember what we see there. Use your Word to cleanse our hearts and transform us into your likeness. Make us the men and women of God you have called us all to be.