Preparing For The Future
The turn of the year is a time for making plans. We take stock of the year that has passed, and we make commitments and establish goals for the year that lies ahead. As Christians, what should be our attitude as we plan for the future? The Epistle of James addresses this question:
“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’ – 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. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-16).
Many have understood James to be drawing a contrast in these verses between making plans and depending on God, as though the two are incompatible and therefore it is wrong, or ungodly to make plans for the future. These folks understand the Bible to be advocating a somewhat haphazard lifestyle that does not consider the future or the implications of our actions and decisions. As one might expect, those who live this way often find themselves woefully unprepared for realities of life.
James, however, doesn’t contrast dependence on God with making plans. Rather, the contrast he draws is with an attitude that essentially equates our plans as human beings with certainty and security for the future. Such an attitude, he says is not only arrogant (v. 16), but fails to recognize how fragile, and fleeting, life is (v. 14). What he intends to communicate is that, in our human frailty, we are completely dependent upon God for everything. We cannot secure life, or the future, by making plans. Our life and our future are in his hands.
As Christians, our responsibility is not to give up making plans, but to make our plans with an attitude of dependence on God that says, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (v. 4). By doing so, we orient our lives to God’s will, rather than attempting to dictate the future according to our will. It means to live our lives with a single-minded objective: that God’s will be done on earth (and in our lives), just as it is done in heaven (Mt. 6:10).
James’ words both issue a challenge and offer great encouragement to God’s people as we make our plans for the coming year, in a world that is in turmoil and can offer little certainty for the future. The challenge is that our lives are to be wholly devoted to God (cf. I Kings 8:60-61), completely dedicated to doing his will above all other things. The great encouragement is that those who live this way provide a security against the uncertainties of the future that nothing else can provide.
Jesus made this point when he warned his disciples that his return would come as a thief in the night, and therefore they must be prepared: “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left” (Matthew 24:40-41). In both examples, people were going about their lives as normal, performing the necessary activities and pursuing the plans that are required for daily life. Neither knew better than the other that the Day of the Lord was upon them. The difference between them was that, in each case, one had lived a life devoted to God and was therefore prepared, while the other had lived attempting to secure life by their own plans and their own efforts, and they were wholly unprepared for Jesus’ arrival.
As we stand here at the close of the year that is gone, looking into the coming year with its uncertainties, let us commit ourselves anew to lives that are wholly devoted to him, seeking his will, and his kingdom, first; trusting that, as we make the plans we must make as a necessary part of living in this world, he will provide what we need; and endeavoring that he find us busy about the work he left us to do when he returns. There is no better way to prepare ourselves for an uncertain future than that.
Pastor Jon EnrightJanuary 1, 2022