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I love to plan but do I love to do God’s will? I have great ideas for the future. I deceive myself into thinking I can make them happen. All of that defies the fact that God is in control, and I am not. It is a bizarre kind of arrogance.

It should be my habit to say, “If Jesus, my Master, wants it to happen and I am still alive, I will do X, Y or Z”.

  • Is Jesus my Master?
  • Is Jesus in control?

If so, it is all up to him and not up to me.

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.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. [1]

James 4:13-15

James was addressing the wealthy merchants in the assembly. They might have discussed their business deals and boasted about their plans. There is no evidence that they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions. They measured success in life by how many times they got their own way and carried out what they had planned.

But James presented several arguments that revealed the foolishness of ignoring the will of God.

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The complexity of life (v. 13). Think of all that is involved in life: today, tomorrow, buying, selling, getting gain, losing, going here, going there. Life is made up of people and places, activities and goals, days and years; and each of us must make many crucial decisions day after day.

Apart from the will of God, life is a mystery. When you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and seek to do His will, then life starts to make sense. Even the physical world around you takes on new meaning. There is a simplicity and unity to your life that makes for poise and confidence. You are no longer living in a mysterious, threatening universe. You can sing, “This is my Father’s world!”

The uncertainty of life (v. 14a). This statement is based on Proverbs 27:1—“Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” These businessmen were making plans for a whole year when they could not even see ahead into one day! See how confident they were: “We will go. We will stay a year. We will buy and sell and make a profit.”

Their attitude reminds us of the farmer in the parable of Jesus in Luke 12:16–21. The man had a bumper crop; his barns were too small; so, he decided to build bigger barns and have greater security for the future. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry’ ” (Luke 12:19).

What was God’s reply to this man’s boasting? “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (Luke 12:20). Life is certain to God, but it is uncertain to us. Only when we are in His will can we be confident of tomorrow, for we know that He is leading us.

The brevity of life (v. 14b). This is one of the repeated themes of Scripture. To us, life seems long and we measure it in years; but in comparison to eternity, life is but a vapor. James borrowed that figure from the Book of Job where you find many pictures of the brevity of life.

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle” (Job 7:6). “The cloud is consumed and vanisheth away” (Job 7:9). “Our days upon earth are a shadow” (Job 8:9). “Now my days are swifter than a post” (Job 9:25), referring to the royal couriers that hastened in their missions. “They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey” (Job 9:26). “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not” (Job 14:1–2).

We count our years at each birthday, but God tells us to number our days (Ps. 90:12). We live a day at a time, and those days rush by quickly the older we grow.

Since life is so brief, we cannot afford merely to “spend our lives”; and we certainly do not want to “waste our lives.” We must invest our lives in those things that are eternal.

God reveals His will in His Word, and yet most people ignore the Bible. In the Bible, God gives precepts, principles, and promises that can guide us in every area of life. Knowing and obeying the Word of God is the surest way to success.[2]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jas 4:13–17.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 371.