James 4:13-17

Plan with Care—and Prayer

You ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15

I’m a planner. Maybe that’s one reason I chose a teaching career. Then I gravitated to freelance editing—also full of schedules and deadlines. I set daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and I strive to achieve them.

So I’m a little annoyed when James writes, “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” (v. 13). At first, it seems he’s saying that planning ahead is wrong.

What? Calm yourself, Denise. Take deep breaths. That’s not what James is saying. It’s not the planning that’s wrong; it’s the attitude behind the planning. Am I acting as if I’m in charge of my life—as if there’s no god I’m accountable to? Am I usurping God’s right to direct and perhaps redirect my plans? If so, then I’ve moved from planning to boasting, and that’s sin (vv. 16–17).

How do we avoid such arrogant behavior? We develop a “if it’s the Lord’s will” mind-set. In other words, we lay out our plans before the Lord, seek his direction, and then allow for detours, u-turns, and side trips.

Why? James gives two reasons. First, our lives are short. God’s purposes are eternal. We can’t see from his perspective—all of eternity at one time. We can’t even see tomorrow (v. 14). For example, I may gripe about a car breakdown that prevents me from starting a trip, but God sees the fatal traffic accident that could have occurred if I’d taken that trip.

Second, God is sovereign; I’m not. He knows what’s best for me and everyone else. If I focus too intently on my to-do list, I may miss God’s to-do list. His list is designed to bring me into contact with situations and people that will benefit me, edify them, and glorify him.

Laying our short-term and long-term plans before God is wise. His will is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). His will leads toward the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10). Why wouldn’t we want to set aside our to-do list and follow his?

DIG DEEPER

Read Matthew 6:9–13. How can Jesus’s teaching on prayer help us develop a “Lord’s will” mind-set?

Read Proverbs 27:23–27. What relationship do you see between this counsel about planning and James’s warning about planning?

Read Acts 18:18–22 and 1 Corinthians 4:18-20. How did Paul practice the “Lord’s will” mind-set James advocated?

You may also want to read The Rich Fool, a devotion based on Jesus’s parable about a man who focused on his to-do list instead of God’s.

Denise K. Loock

This devotion is a part of a series on The Book of James.

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