“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.”
It’s rather funny now to think about the email I sent out in the beginning of March 2020. It was an invitation to a combined Sunday gathering on March 15th of all seven locations of our church in Prague, Czech Republic, with a service at 10 am, potluck lunch at noon, and an annual meeting at 1 pm. A few days later we had to cancel those plans, and plenty of other plans in the ten months since then. How many of your plans, meetings, and trips were changed in an instant? It’s a striking reminder of the truth of the words we find in James 4:13-17.
Among the people that James was writing to were businessmen, builders, and financiers. They could be heard to say in verse 13: “Let’s spend some time in this place! Let’s make some money in that place!” Does that sound like anything we might do? We plan our trips. We expect to arrive at our destination. We schedule a certain amount of time to be away. We choose what we’re going to do while we’re there. And we expect certain results from our time away.
But wait – is it wrong for us to travel? Should we not try to plan ahead? Is it a sin to make a profit? Certainly not. It’s just that an important perspective was missing from all of these plans. When we have the proper perspective in place, it changes everything. We need a proper understanding of our life, and we need a proper understanding of God. Then we see everything in a different light. Then we have gained the proper perspective.
James describes our life as a mist or vapour that appears and then vanishes again (v.14). When King Solomon uttered his famous words, “All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2) it had the same meaning in Hebrew – everything is a mist or a vapour. Life is so fleeting and elusive; it’s really just a breath and then it’s gone. Why should we ever want to pin our hopes on this life? We need to realize that our life is so much more than just what we can experience with our five senses. Ultimately, we should always live our lives with the perspective of eternity in mind. Only what’s done for Christ will have eternal value.
Our life is such a precious gift from God. Job realized this when he said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Whether we live or whether we die is ultimately up to God. James reminds us of this truth in verse 14: “If the Lord wills, we will live.” Every heartbeat is a gift from God. Our next breath is by His grace. Our internal organs continue to function by God’s sovereign will. We were created to glorify God with our lives!
Not only are our lives in God’s hands, but our plans as well. So how should we preface our plans, our travels, our business proposals, our decisions? James gives us the answer also in verse 14: “If the Lord wills, we will… do this or that.” All of our plans should always subject to the will of the Lord. The people described in verse 13 gave no thought to their lives in light of eternity, and they gave no thought to God as the sovereign Lord of the universe. They were consumed with themselves.
James concludes in verses 16-17 with some strong words for those who give no thought to the fragility of life and the sovereignty of God. Boasting about our plans, dreams, goals and aspirations, without considering the shortness of life and the greatness of God, is what James calls arrogance and evil boasting (v.16), and when we know what we should do and we don’t do it, the Bible calls it sin (v.17). In Proverbs we read, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. (Pr. 27:1)
For me, the last ten months has been a distinct reminder how utterly dependent on God I truly am for my life, my breath, and for my future. Let’s receive every new day as an amazing gift from God. Let’s lay our heads down at night in gratitude to God for the day he has given us. Let’s praise Him for the life he is allowing us to live and the body he has given us to glorify him. Let’s count the cost, let’s seek God’s will, let’s set a course, and let’s rejoice in every step of the journey as we follow Christ our Saviour every day.