James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.
It seems like we make all kind of plans – some grand and some rather ordinary – and more often than not, things don’t go as planned. Sometimes it seems like God listens to our best –laid plans and chuckles and says, “We’ll just see about that!”
We spend a lot of time thinking about tomorrow and making plans for it. Mapping out the courses of our lives. We’re pretty sure we know just how things will go – especially if we are young and inexperienced. Of course those of us who are older and wiser make a lot of plans too.
I am reminded of Jesus’ story about the rich man and his barns (Luke 12:16-21). The harvest had been very good for many years – so good, that the rich man’s barns were overflowing. So he made a plan to build up new barns and store up his harvest so he could retire and live the good life. But it was not to be. That very night the man dies.
I know a pastor who, when teaching the book of Revelation to confirmation students, says, “The book of Revelation is not a secret code to be figured out so you know when the world will end. No one knows that. And no one knows when his personal world will end. After all, you might be hit by a bus on the way home tonight.”
Ok – it’s a little fatalistic and a lot dramatic, but I think he sums up what James is teaching here. No of us know what tomorrow will bring, or next week, or the month after or the year. Maybe “we will go to such and such a place and spend a year there” and do whatever. Maybe not. Life happens and plans change.
Jesus said something else about making plans and worrying about tomorrow. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:31-34).”
When we pray Lord’s Prayer, we’re doing exactly what Jesus teaches in this passage (of course, Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer, too, so this makes sense!). First we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – that’s seeking God’s kingdom first. Then we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread” – which Martin Luther teaches in the Small Catechism, is asking God to provide not only bread but all that we need for today. Just for today. Tomorrow is another day, another prayer, another opportunity to trust that God will provide for us.
But we have to plan for the future – right? There are mortgages to pay, and college tuition to raise, and retirement to plan for. Yes, in this world we do have to make some plans. The key is how we look at it.
There is an Arabic phrase, “in sha'Allah.” It means “God willing.” Christians in the Middle East and Muslims everywhere use this phrase when talking about their plans. As in, “Tomorrow, I will go to the market, in sha'Allah.” Or, “David plans on going to college next year, in sha'Allah.” It's similar to the old farmer saying, "God willing and the creek don't rise!"
This is what James is reminding us to do each and every day passage – humbly recognizing that you live and move and have your being in God.
Some thoughts to ponder:
Do we really mean it when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread?”
Do we trust in our ability to provide for ourselves, or do we humbly and gratefully realize that our lives and plans are in God’s hands?
Try to live today mindfully aware that it is in God that you live, and move, and have your being. Then reflect this evening on what impact that awareness had on your day.