The book of James, often referred to as “the Proverbs of the New Testament,” urges us to plan in pencil.
“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’” (Jas. 4:13–15).
The writer of Ecclesiastes, also wisdom literature, suggests why bother planning at all. It’s all pointless.
“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil” (Eccl. 2:17–21).
I’m a list person. Making lists helps me organize my thoughts and try to account for all I want to do. Plus, since much of my memory is external nowadays, making lists helps me to remember what I need to do. When something occurs to me, I write it down. People make fun of the President because he carries notes with instructions like: “Enter the room.” “Take your seat.” “Give comments for two minutes.” “Thank participants.” “Turn and depart.” But I can relate. It’s easy to lose track and, at the very least, such a list serves as a safety net.
We try hard to find some measure of control in our lives, but so many forces conspire to thwart our best laid plans. We head out to an appointment, only to arrive late because of a traffic jam. When we do finally get there, the one we were meeting is not there. We feared we stood them up, until we look at our calendar to discover our appointment was for the following week.
We take the same approach in society, thinking that political party or greater legislation is the answer. For example, the overturn of Roe v. Wade is a wonderful win for the unborn image-bearers of God and is cause for celebration. But it does nothing to overturn wanton disregard for life.
In keeping with Solomon’s observation, our most determined efforts can seem for naught. But the fear of the Lord encourages us to continue to plan, continue to work, continue to make an effort. Why? Because to do so honors God. All of our work is to done for the Lord (Col. 3:17, 23-24). Only He can establish the work of our hands, no matter how precise and diligent our efforts. Remarkably, God even uses our feeble attempts beyond our expectation and intentions, in keeping with His perfect purpose.
While we can use political means, ultimately our victory is in the Lord and so we lean upon Him, submitting to His will, rolling with His providence. He is the God who directs the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1). He brings what is evil to serve His will for good (Gen. 50:20), the most glaring example of which is found in the giving of His Son (Acts 2:23).
Not that we should ever be complacent about evil, but the fear of the Lord enlarges our vision and gives us hope that there is more going on than meets the eye. And so, we continue to labor on, to spend and be spent, knowing that we need not despair when we trust in the Lord.
- What value is there in seeking good if it seems inconsequential?
- How does fear of God encourage us to press on through opposition?
"Heavenly Father, grant me grace to walk by faith that believes You exist and that You reward those who seek You."
For further study, see Stanley D. Gale, Making Sanity out of Vanity: Christian realism in the book of Ecclesiastes (Faverdale North, Darlington, England: EP Books, 2011).
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Books, a division of Good New Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.