Everyday Faith (James 4:13-17)

MOTIVATE

We see life progressively, but God views life panoramically. God is timeless, so He can see the past, present, and future simultaneously.

  • Take a parade for example: We are positioned in a location and view a single band, vehicle, or group that is marching past. However, an aerial view is able to see all the groups from its perspective.
  • Take 2020. Many of our plans were either changed or canceled.
    • Some were going to graduate in a certain way.
    • Some were going to get married in a certain way.
    • Travel came to a stop, schools shifted, many businesses were blocked from operating, many churches closed, sports stopped, and life has been different and dramatically altered as we knew it.
    • All of our plans have had some sort of course correction. During the quarantine, plans were changing by the day, and sometimes by the hour.
    • The point is no one knows what tomorrow holds, much more the future. The future is unpredictable, uncertain, and unknown to us. Ecclesiastes 8:7 “For man does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?”
  • Not knowing the future causes us stress and anxiety.
  • Today’s passage in James provides us principles to focus our priorities. 

EXAMINE           What is my life?

James 4:13-17
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.”
16  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
17  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James is addressing 3 common transitions of life: travel (go to such a town), vocation (spend a year and trade), and financial (make a profit) decisions. In other words, these are common actions of everyday people, which makes James such a practical book for early (and present) Christianity.

Additionally, James provides 3 principles against common problems in how we use our time: Planning, Presuming, and Procrastination.

Planning: Life is uncertain, include God in your plans.

James describes a person who is planning to travel, and perhaps even spend a length of time in a vocation in a certain place. To be clear, James is not against planning. Planning is valuable.[1] The book of Proverbs, and the words of Jesus exhort us to prudently plan and calculate the costs in our priorities.

The person James describes is quite prepared with his plan. He has projected and planned several goals:

  • When: Today or tomorrow
  • Where: certain city
  • How long: a year
  • What: trade/business
  • Why: make a profit
  • Who: we (person and partner)

Further, it has become popular today to critique certain economic systems, namely capitalism. The Bible is not against making a profit but is against making a profit by dishonest means[2] or greed without generosity.[3] Earning a living wage with the ability to provide for family and promote good in society is fulfilling our cultural mandate outlines in God’s design for creation.[4] Yet, when we compare all the economic systems, it can be easy to label some as corrupt, callous, and godless – but the same can be said for American capitalism. In all, James isn’t criticizing economic policies but spiritual priorities.

James warns against making decisions without seeking the Lord. The individuals James describes plans but doesn’t pray. Many Christians operate no differently than unbelievers, and worse as functional atheists, as if God doesn’t exist because they seek their own will but not God’s will. The Bible says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6). We should ask ourselves:

  • Have you prayed about (before) your plans? Asking for God’s wisdom; willingness to change your intentions; blessing for the good of others.
    • God before Google.
    • If I want God’s affirmation, then submit to God’s authority.
  • Have you asked others to pray about your plans? Involving others can protect against foolish decisions and provide greater effectiveness. The Bible says, “Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
    • Spouse
    • Skilled advisors
    • Trusted friends
  • Do any of your plans contradict Scripture? What would happen if all Christians followed your example?
    – Many people have high expectations for pastors but not for themselves. They think it’s ok if they behave or make a decision that is different from Scripture, but they would never want their pastor to follow.
  • We have 53 days in 2020. How will you include God in your plans? What are your plans to prioritize God in 2021? Don’t be casual or coast in spiritual life.
    • Psalm 119:32-33 “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart. Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.”

Presuming: Life is short, focus on eternity.

James asks another provocative question: “What is your life?” This statement is meant to give us pause.

  • Often when I ask my dad, “What are you up to?”, he responds “Oh, about 5’10””
  • James isn’t asking us to be literal in quick response of the immediate activities or actions of our life. Instead, James wants us to be more reflective and self-evaluative. The apostle Peter follows this example by writing, “Since the earth will be burned up and dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for the coming day of God?” (2 Pet 3:11-12)
  • James describes our life as a mist (ἀτμίς), like a puff of air in the cold that is visible but vanishes quickly. The Bible repeatedly teaches us that life on earth is a temporary timeshare – a footnote – a passing through, but eternity is forever.   
    • Job 7:7; 9:26 “my life is a breath… going by like boats of papyrus”
    • Psalm 39:4-5 “O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am. Behold, my days are a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you.”
    • Psalm 90:9-10, 12 “For all our days pass away… we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone and we fly away… So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
    • Psalm 102:3, 11 “For my days pass away like smoke… like an evening shadow”
    • Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”
  • Since we cannot presume upon today or tomorrow, we should say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” We do not know how long we will have on this earth, nor those we care about.
    • Southerners say: “If the Lord wills and the creek don’t rise.” The meaning implies unless there’s an act of God and uncontrollable emergency, I plan to do this.
      • No one knew 9/11/01 would happen.
      • No one can predict life-changing accidents or tragedies.
    • ALSO, we can add this phrase, “If the Lord wills” in a way that is less committal; kind of like “We’ll see,” which often simply means “NO!” Jesus warns us against this sort of speaking, and exhorts us to keep our word (cf Mt 5:37; 1 Cor 4:20).  
    • Write the word: L – I – F – E. Have you ever noticed there’s a big IF in the middle of life? Nothing is guaranteed or dependable in life, except the promises of God. 
    • Even if we don’t have a life-changing accident or tragedy, life is still short.
  • Each day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present (a little corny but true)! Our life is not given to us all at once, we can only live it one day at a time. There’s another saying, “Life by the yard is hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch.” So, while we can plan for tomorrow, we can only live in a day. Therefore, let’s try to lessen fretting about the future. Fretting and worry is like expecting a rocking chair to help you travel to your destination; it’s stewing without doing. Worry means we are not trusting God to get things right. Instead, we need to learn to breathe deeply, invest in the moment, take nothing for granted, and honor the Lord with the circumstances we face. 
    Matthew 6:34 “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”[5]
  • Individuals, do not presume you will have tomorrow. How do you want to be remembered by family? How are you cherishing friends? Let’s not just count the days but make the days count for the Lord. What we do on earth will echo in eternity.
  • Church, let’s not presume we have 5, 10, 20, or 50 years. Let’s realize we will enter eternity together, stay united – relate to the next generation with urgent priorities but limited time to pass down what they need to know – and then treat our community not as a lifeguard treats those swimming, ready to rescue souls and knowing God wants no one to perish but all moving toward repentance and faith in Christ.
    Let’s get serious – obsessive – about #WhosYour1.

Procrastinating: Life is distracting, focus on the next right act of faith and obedience.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James realizes no one drifts toward obedience. Faith doesn’t happen coincidence but design. And even when we have faith but fail to follow through, we get discouraged because we’re not all together certain why we failed. Certainly, we can fail with committed sins, which James has been warning: sin of duplicity (faith w/o words), of partiality/prejudice, sin of words, sins of our hands and our hearts. We can sin by doing all kinds of things, but we can also sin by doing nothing. We can fail God with sins of omission – things we should do but do not.

It is possible the church hasn’t suffered for the sins of the world as much as the world suffers for the sins of omission of the church.

James has been challenging Christians to be mindful of people in need. And sometimes we can become overwhelmed by the many needs that it paralyzes us to do nothing. It’s not that we are unmoved or unmotivated, but we realize how insufficient we are to help. But this is where James is becoming profoundly practical. He’s urging us not to procrastinate but to participate with God. When we participate with God, then He has a way of multiplying our little and making it much.

Procrastination is a thief. It steals your God-given potential and God-orchestrated opportunities. When we hear the Holy Spirit speak, our immediate duty is to serve – act in faith and obedience to what God has placed before us. We may not know what tomorrow, next week/month/year will hold, but what’s the next right thing God has placed before you?

  • Stop saying someday and say today.
    • Today is the day of salvation… baptism (11/15).
    • Today is the day to begin a discipline/habit for spiritual growth.
    • Today is the day to become a member.
    • Today is the day to witness to that friend, neighbor, co-worker.
    • Today is the day to reconcile with that person you have a gripe.
    • Today is the day to initiate action on that dream.

      Don’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances bc it will never be perfect.
  • Immerse yourself with Jesus. Jesus is the prime example of living according to how James is describing. Jesus lived with planned intention and surrendered to the will of God. He prayed frequently. He served radically and generously. He spoke and lived with bold confidence in His identity. And Jesus never delayed obedience – His timing always had a purpose.

APPLY/THINK

Which is your greatest challenge?

  • Planning without God
  • Presuming with selfish perspectives
  • Procrastinating
  • What size is your luggage?
  • How will you unpack stuff?
  • What truly needs to go in your luggage?

Jesus offers peace. He is the Immanuel – present in each moment. He’s speaking now. Are you listening? Are you willing to take that next step?

While we are small and all around us seems so big, we must remember – – – How Great Is Our God!


[1] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2020/10/07/planning-power/

[2] 1 Samuel 8:3; Psalm 119:36; Proverbs 1:19; 10:2; 11:4; 16:8; 28:16; Isaiah 33:15-16; 56:11; Jeremiah 6:13; 8:10; 17:11; 22:17; Ezekiel 22:12-14; Micah 4:13; Habakkuk 2:9; 2 Cor 2:17; Ac 8:18-23; 1 Tim 6:5; Titus 1:11

[3] Job 20:18-19; Prov 3:27; 14:21, 31; 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; 28:27; Isa 58:6-7; Mt 25:35-40; Lk 12:33-34; 14:12-14; Rom 12:13; Heb 13:16; James 2:14-17; 1Jn 3:17-18;

[4] Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 11:24-25; 13:22; 21:5; 31:18; Jeremiah 12:13; Matt 25:14-30; Lk 19:11-17

[5] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2015/10/30/todays-grace-for-tomorrows-worries-matthew-625-34/

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