Planning and God’s Providence
In an earlier article we looked briefly at how Paul viewed the providence of God in his life and apostolic ministry. Here I want us to turn our attention to what James says in James 4:13-17. Continue reading . . .
In an earlier article we looked briefly at how Paul viewed the providence of God in his life and apostolic ministry. Here I want us to turn our attention to what James says in James 4:13-17. There we read:
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. (James 4:13-17)
Do you know what James calls the absence or failure or perhaps even the refusal to acknowledge the sovereignty of God’s providential will? He calls it arrogance, evil boasting, and sin (James 4:16-17). So that ought to answer any concerns you might have that I’m to exaggerate the importance of living our lives each moment conscious of the providential sovereignty of God. [I was especially helped in my thoughts on this passage by a sermon John Piper preached on April 9, 2000, entitled, “If the Lord Wills” (www.desiringgod.org). I encourage you to read it!]
Try to envision in your mind the scene that James describes for us in v. 13.
He wants us to picture a group of businessmen hovering over a map or perhaps a chart of some sort as they identify the most lucrative trade centers and cities where the greatest profits can be earned. They are discussing time limits and the duration of their stay in a particular city, or perhaps how much profit they will obtain and by what means. They are portrayed as setting goals and projecting potential losses and determining what are the best and most effective means of achieving their desired ends. Put in contemporary terms it might have sounded something like this:
“Mr. Jones, our best projections are that sales will increase by as much as 15% over the next 18 months. But this is dependent on the effective implementation of new techniques of production that will reduce our costs by no less than 20%. We also believe that we should increase our sales force by 10% and expand our market outreach to include the west coast states of California, Oregon, and Washington. To achieve this goal we need to relocate a significant percentage of our field representatives.”
Be assured of one thing: James is not denouncing good, effective, wise planning. He is not condemning trade or commerce or business ventures or the making of an honest profit. He is not condemning capitalism. He is not suggesting that it is wrong or sinful or that it reflects a failure to trust God for you to read the Wall Street Journal to determine the future prospects of the stock market. He is not in the least recommending that you ignore social and political trends and simply make your decisions based on the flip of a coin!
Neither is he arguing that it is sinful or wrong for you to think and plan about what you will do following high school graduation, or college graduation, or what awaits you following grad school. He is not condemning careful evaluation of your current job situation or the trajectory of your career, as if to say you should never think about the future at all.
What he condemns is the attitude of mind that enters into such planning apart from a humble acknowledgement that the authority and power to determine what the future holds belongs to God, not human beings.
Jesus himself addressed this sinful mindset in a parable found in Luke 12:16-21.
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
What was wrong with this man? Was it his success? No. Is he accused of dishonesty in his business dealings? No. His problem was his self-centered, self-referential perspective that failed to acknowledge the providential sovereignty of God over his life. Observe the repetitious “he” and “I” and “my” . . . He clearly refused to acknowledge that God was the source of his success and wealth. He consults only with himself; he determines his future plans solely on the basis of how it will affect him; he conceives of his possessions as if wholly his own. Not only his present success but his future security, so he thought, were all of his own doing and his life consisted of the treasures he had amassed.
When we return to this passage in the next article we’ll take note of five principles set forth by James to help us live in the light of divine providence.