by Dr. Anthony Pranno
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.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Right away we feel a tension in James’ words. He is giving a clear warning to some people who seem to have articulated a plan of moving to a particular city, spending about a year there, starting a business that has some clear financial goals, and being successful.
Is there anything inherently wrong with this kind of plan? No. So why the stern warning? Think about something you’ve planned recently: a wedding, a baby, a birthday party, a project at work, even a to-do list that has helped you stay on track over the weekend. What are some of the benefits of planning for the future?
Articulate specific goals
Stewardship of time
Avoid costly mistakes
Stay within budget
I really don’t know anyone who thinks planning for the future is a bad thing. Why not plan? Are we supposed to live life by the seat of our pants? Isn’t that reckless, foolish, irrational and irresponsible? Even the Bible seems to be clear about the importance of preparation, training, and planning for the future.
In context we see that it’s not really the planning that James has a problem with… it’s the presumption and arrogance of those who plan without God in the mix. James gets our attention and asks:
- Do you know what’s going to happen tomorrow? No? Then be careful how attached you are to your specific and detailed plans.
- Do you realize life is very short in the grand scheme of things? God may cause or allow something to happen in your life (or to your life) that will drastically change your plans.
- Are you boasting or bragging about how well prepared you are for the future? Do you know who really holds the future? It’s not you!
- Are you submitting your future plans to the Lord’s will? If you are, you are doing right. If you’re not, you better change your ways.
James’ goal is not to discourage us, rather it is to help us remain humble and acknowledge that God is ultimately in control. Consider a few of these verses from Proverbs…
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, cautions us over and over about planning. There are 98 specific references to planning in the Bible and the vast majority of them warn about the dangers of man’s plans vs. God’s plans. All our plans should be fully yielded to the will of God. As much as we may tend to every detail of our plans, we have to acknowledge the future is in His hands.
Bruce Barton, editor, author and theologian, wrote this about planning for the future…
Planning for tomorrow is time well spent, worrying about tomorrow is time wasted. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference. Careful planning is thinking ahead about goals, steps and schedules, as well as trusting in God’s guidance. When done well, planning can help alleviate worry. Worriers, by contrast are consumed by fear and find it difficult to trust God. They let their plans interfere with their relationship with God. Don’t let worries about tomorrow affect your relationship with God today.
The Bible tells us that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. May all our future plans be fully yielded to Him.