“Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'.” (James 4:15, ESV)
We’ve seen that James doesn’t discourage our planning, just our writing those plans in pen as though they were indelible. Rather, we are to subject our plans to the will of our Father in heaven. Every event on our calendars should carry the subscript “D. V.,” Latin for Deo Volente, “God willing.” Another way to put it is that our plans should be written in pencil, ready to be revised or retracted according to the will of God.
What is it James wants us to understand? Is it simply that things change and we need to be ready to adjust? Certainly that’s true but there is a more fundamental matter to consider, and that is there is only one God and it’s not us.
In Psalm 90, the only psalm attributed to Moses, the concluding plea is, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Ps. 90:17). Through Moses, the Holy Spirit bids us to seek God for stability, success, and satisfaction. We do not have it in ourselves to ensure these things. We must seek our God.
Moses begins the psalm by highlighting the nature of God and the distinction between us as creatures and God as Creator. Of God, he says: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Ps. 90:2, NKJV). Moses does not just describe God as everlasting; He from everlasting to everlasting. That’s a poetic way of saying that God is without beginning and without end. Even the concept of unfolding time (from… to…) is swallowed up in the immutable, self-existent being of God.
We, on the other hand, are finite beings, enclosed in time, whose being is not inherent but derived (Acts 17:28). Moses gives us a taste of our condition when he says of God, “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’” (Psalm 90:3).
It is this Creator-creature distinction that James wants us to understand, and to operate in light of. “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” (Jas. 4:14; cf, Ps. 90:5-6). To buck against that distinction is the height of prideful arrogance and presumption (Jas. 4:16).
In fact, to make plans in pen without regard to the sovereignty and supremacy of God is to usurp the glory that belongs only to God. James drives this home when he says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). By this pronouncement, James labels such autonomy, “sin.” It is the central sin of Romans 1: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21).
The upshot of what James is teaching is that we can plan but ultimately we want those plans to be in God’s penmanship.
1. How does fear of the Lord lead to contentment?
2. What is the essence of sin?
“Father, have Your own way. You are the potter. I am the clay.”