Respond don’t react
As followers of Jesus, we all want to make daily decisions that please and honour God. Our lives are the sum of thousands of small decisions - moral choices, decisions about career, relationships, involvement in local church, where we live, our approach to self care and health…the list is endless.
But in his letter, James is cautioning us against making hasty key decisions. Simply put, he is calling those who have ‘given their lives to Jesus’ to make sure that we don’t slowly, gradually, and even unconsciously - take them back into our own hands again. We have made Jesus our Lord as well as our Saviour, and we want to be those who live intentionally to obey Him and fulfil His purposes for our lives.
But does that mean that we should never plan?
Let’s take a closer look at what James has to say:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city. We will spend a year there. We will buy and sell and make money.” You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears. Instead, you should say, “If it pleases the Lord, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15)
First of all, James reminds us of the brevity of life: it is like a morning mist, here and then gone in a moment. With so little time, we want to make the most of every day, willingly placing ourselves at God’s disposal.
But while James is against thoughtless, prayer-less planning, he is not against planning altogether. Note carefully his words, “Instead, you should say, “If it pleases the Lord, we will live and do this or that.”
He doesn’t remove provisional planning at all - ‘we will live and do this or that’, but rather calls us to preface ‘in principle’ planning with a determination to first and foremost fulfil God’s will for our lives.
One commentator remarks:
’James is not trying to banish planning from our lives, but only that sort of self-sufficient, self-important planning that keeps God for Sunday but looks on Monday to Saturday as mine” 1
Kent Hughes: “We are such children of our times that we cannot conceive it would ever be God’s will that we not become rich and prosperous. Sadly, we have often advised our children the same way: “Be sure you get into a profession where you will make a good living, son, so you won’t have to struggle like I did.” Some have even objected to their children going into Christian work because it is not lucrative. Despite Christian trappings and evangelical nods, we often live without serious reference to God’s will. This is practical atheism.” 2
When we approach decision making carefully and prayerfully, submitting our plans to the Lord, we respond rather than hastily react. There have been a few times in my life when I wish I’d slowed down before making a jump!.
1 Motyer, J. A. (1985). The message of James: the tests of faith (p. 161). Inter-Varsity Press.
2 Hughes, R. K. (1991). James: faith that works (p. 203). Crossway Books.