Daily Reflection #298

James 4:13-17

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.   17 Anyone, then, who knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

James begins with a bang, in effect saying ‘Now, listen carefully you lot!’ He may well have been directing his blunt warnings to the travelling merchants of his day. His teaching here also applies to those of us who like to plan ahead, as I do. James warns us sternly to avoid any self-serving presumption that ignores God’s role in our futures! He views God-less planning as no more than evil boasting (v16). The great Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) once said “There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass – one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know” (see v14)However, another great Victorian orator, Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), once cleverly said that “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” In verse 15 James too is clearly all for us making plans. The problem comes when we act as though we can do so without involving God and being subject to His will. That is why James reminds his readers in verse 14 that for each of them life is as temporary as a mist – very real and present for a while before it disappears.

After over a year of pandemic we well know that in the eternal scheme of things our time on earth is short. Office for National Statistics estimates for UK put life expectancy in 2017-2019 at 79.4 years for males and 83.1 for females. The figures for 2020 were lower – at 78.7 for males and 82.7 for females. At some point we will all disappear and life will go on without us. This reality was even more stark at the time that James wrote his letter to Jewish Christians, possibly before 50 AD. Life expectancy (including infant mortality) in the Roman Empire at that time was only about 25 years! Life expectancy for those who survived infancy doubled to over 50 years. There was good reason for James to urge them to make God and His perfect will the focus of all their hopes and plans in preparation for eternity. 

One of the lasting impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic may be to make us less presumptuous about the extent to which we can control our todays and tomorrows. Our desk diary for last year, with all its crossings out, reveals a total lack of perfect 2020 vision! Even St Paul often had to change his plans in the light of the Holy Spirit’s direction (see Acts 16:7). His many ‘life events,’ which ultimately included his martyrdom near Rome in around 67AD, involved spectacular suffering and dangers (read 2 Cor. 11:23b -28). Even (or especially?) the great Christians can’t map out easy, safe and comfortable lives. There are no such guarantees for any of us. We must place our lives in God’s secure hands by making them what pastor Ricky Powell from Jacksonville, Florida has described as ‘a Declaration of Dependence’ upon Him.

In the words of John Piper about today’s reading, “Let us remember how wonderfully secure we are in the confidence that it is God who finally governs our lives – God and not chance, God and not our enemies, God and not disease, God and not the devil. I for one, am very glad that that my life is in the hands of an all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful Father.” Me too!

Today’s Prayer:  Please forgive us Father that our lives are so often more of a Declaration of Independence from you rather than ones of humble submission to your will. We know Lord Jesus that you fulfilled your mission “to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” We thank you that you went to the cross and rose again to restore us to the Father. Holy Spirit please give us the strength to be humble and obedient too. Amen.  (MW)