Plan Your Future God's Way
Dear heavenly Father, grant that I may always humbly recognize my dependence upon You. You have created me. Your Son has redeemed me. Your Spirit has sanctified me. You sustain me even now. May I ever with joy acknowledge Your almighty power, praise Your holy name, and abide in Your saving grace. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Asaph, an Old Testament believer, here expresses his joy over his close relationship with the Lord. We likewise should rejoice over our relationship with God, recognizing our dependence upon Him now and forever.
In spite of our close relationship with Jesus, our futures on this earth may not be easy. We must be ready to count the costs of discipleship as we plan our futures, knowing that following Jesus leads to eternal blessing!
Text: James 4:13-17 NIV
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.
In Christ Jesus, in whose hands we and our futures rest, dear fellow redeemed:
It has been said, “Well-planned is half-done!” As we step into a new year and look to the future most if not all of us realize that if we are going to accomplish our goals as individuals, families, or as a Christian congregation, it will require careful planning. If an individual wants to enjoy a comfortable retirement, that individual has to plan ahead and invest his or her earnings wisely. If a family wants to enjoy the best summer vacation ever, that family has to get on the internet, contact the Tourist Bureaus, and make any necessary reservations. If a congregation wants to move ahead to preserve and further develop necessary programs while providing adequately for its staff and the maintenance of its physical plant, it has to do the necessary long-range planning. Indeed, future planning is vitally important to the success of any venture. But future planning is not just about individual or corporate goals; or just about setting schedules, taking stock of resources, and analyzing risks. Oh, yes, one has to do all of those things, too, when planning for the future, but if our plans are truly to be successful there is Someone who must be involved in all of those planning stages from the very beginning. There are certain principles that likewise must be understood and applied from the very beginning. That individual is our God and those principles we find revealed in His Word. Today let us consider the instruction of James as it applies to future planning. I would urge you, therefore: PLAN YOUR FUTURE GOD’S WAY!
You can only do that if you plan with understanding! What do I mean when I say you should plan your future with understanding in order to plan that future God’s way? Understanding involves knowledge, but not just any knowledge. Anyone can develop the necessary knowledge of finance, or geography, or business to do planning for future projects. But we are talking about a more fundamental and necessary knowledge of God and of our own situation in this world, both under God and as a result of sin. Such an understanding is not something that we human beings have by nature. Solomon reminds us of that when he urges us in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” Where do we find understanding both of God and our personal situation? Once again, we must turn to God’s Word—the Bible! In Psalm 119 we read: “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Ps. 119:130). Consequently, the author of that psalm prays: “Let my cry come before You, O LORD; give me understanding according to Your Word” (Ps. 119:169). Now, having uttered that prayer ourselves, let us consider the knowledge needed according to James.
We read in our text: “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.” The first thing that James wants us to understand is that our knowledge of the future is limited while God’s knowledge of the future is limitless! We are not omniscient, but try to predict what will happen, but the LORD knows what will happen, for the future rests in His hands! The Psalmists writes: “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!” (Ps. 139:16) What a comfort it is to realize that God knows exactly what will happen in our lives as each day unfolds, and that His thoughts and desires for us as His children are only good!
Notice, secondly, that James wants us to understand that our lives are very fragile. He goes on: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Recently I read an article talking about how Chicago, which is not too distant from us here in Minnesota, is now called the “murder capital” of the United States. In 2012 it recorded 500 murders, while this past year the final figure, while much improved, still tallied 415—more than any other major U.S. city. Needless to say, I would guess that death was not part of the future planning of any of the 915 murder victims of Chicago in the past two years. Our physical lives here in this world are indeed but mist that can very easily vanish.
Consequently, James wants us to understand that we are dependent upon the will of God. Therefore he concludes: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Our plans for the future are always conditioned upon the will of the Lord! If it is God’s will, I will achieve my retirement goals…; if it is God’s will, we will travel to Disneyworld…; if it is God’s will, Immanuel will initiate or expand this program or achieve that goal. Yes, PLAN YOUR FUTURE GOD’S WAY with understanding!
Do so also with humility! James writes in our text: “But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” As with most things in life, attitude plays a major role. As we make our future plans God’s way, we ought to do so with a humility that arises from the understanding we gain from Scripture both with regard to God and ourselves. Earlier in this same chapter James quotes one of Solomon’s proverbs and says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). The apostle Peter after quoting the same verse in his 1st Epistle adds this comment, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). Pride in self has no place in the life and planning of the child of God. Such pride can only lead to boasting in self, which is always evil. We are not talking about a proper sense of confidence that arises within a child of God after acknowledging and developing the various gifts God has given us. No, James is here talking about a pride which is rooted in self and sees self as the source and reason for personal success. Such pride is evil, because it denies God His proper honor as the Giver of “every good gift” (Jam. 1:17) and replaces God with self!
Rather, let us walk humbly before our God. He has, after all, created us and given us the gifts and talents we possess. Paul tells us, “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God has, as well, redeemed us, poor sinners that we are, through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is in connection with that work of redemption that Paul encourages us to develop the mind and attitude of Christ, who “humbled Himself and became obedient ... to the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). So it should be in all of our plans, that we humbly ask the Lord’s blessing as we look to the future and undertake the planning of any project.
The dangers of ignoring God and exalting self can be seen so clearly from any number of Old Testament accounts. Think of Pharaoh in Egypt who had plans for all sorts of building projects, but who boastfully exclaimed to Moses: “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?” (Ex. 5:2) Pharaoh thought of himself as a god literally, but his kingdom was destroyed because of his pride. Think of Goliath, who had all kinds of plans for the future dominance of Israel and who cursed the shepherd boy, David, and taunted him by saying: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field” (1 Sam. 17:44). The Philistines no doubt cheered, but soon their champion lay on the field of battle dead and decapitated because of his prideful opposition to the LORD! Dear fellow Christians—let us have none of that, but rather PLAN YOUR FUTURE GOD’S WAY with humility!
Do so, finally, with integrity! James writes in conclusion, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” When you first hear this verse you may wonder exactly how it fits together with the preceding thoughts expressed by James. However, after careful thought it becomes apparent how closely tied all these thoughts are. All planning for the future involves deciding on a course of action. Almost all actions involve some sort of moral choice. In other words, they can be either right or wrong. If you are to PLAN YOUR FUTURE GOD’S WAY, you will want always to choose to do the right thing, even when there may be apparent risks in doing so. Then you will be planning with integrity!
If you study the concept of integrity in Scripture, you will find that integrity involves two things. First, you need to know what is right and wrong, while, secondly, you need to act upon what is right and avoid what is wrong. When Solomon came to power after the death of his father David, the LORD made this promise to him: “Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever” (1 Kgs. 9:4). Notice how integrity was tied both to knowing right and walking rightly! Solomon, recognizing the importance of this truth, later told his son: “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them” (Prov. 11:3). Do you notice how much importance Solomon places on integrity in terms of the future? It serves as a guide for the faithful child of God, while the opposite, perversity, destroys those who practice it. One final thought from Solomon before returning to some summary thoughts on James. Solomon writes in Proverbs: “The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him”
(Prov. 20:7). What an important thought to bear in mind especially for those among us who have been blessed with children and grandchildren!
Returning to James, then, what is James telling us with regard to our future planning? He is saying, first of all, that it is important that each of us study God’s will so that we know what is both right and wrong in His eyes. Having done that, it is important that we ask the LORD for His strength and direction so that we actually do that which is both right and good. To do anything less, James warns us, is sin! Should that occur, we pray that the LORD would lead us to repentance and renewed faith, so that we might walk in the LORD as we plan for the future. Amen.
--Pastor Paul D. Nolting
To God alone be glory!