December 4, 2011

Presumptuous Planning

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 4:13–17


Presumptuous Planning

James 4:13-17
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith


April 25, 1995. At the time it was the worst act of terrorism on American soil. Using a massive home-made explosive device composed of fuel oil and fertilizer, Timothy McVeigh brought down the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people in the process. Six years later McVeigh prepared his final statement prior to his execution by lethal injection. He passed a handwritten copy of William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus" to prison warden, Harley Lappin, just before his death.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


In the Bible we have the story of the great Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar. At the zenith of his power he arrogantly proclaimed, "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30).


How much control do we really have over our decisions? What guarantee do we have that our plans will go through as expected? Can we control the events of the universe, much less even the events of our own lives? Is there a God? What happens when His will crosses ours? Who wins?

The Bible teaches that God is sovereign. He is in absolute control of everything. He does what pleases Him and in His providence works all things out for His glory and the good of His people. He is independent of His creation. No creature, no person, no nation, can either thwart His will or act outside the bonds of His desires.

For several months we have been learning about this Christian community that received the letter of James. They were dealing with all kinds of problems. They needed God's help. They needed more grace, but something was in the way. Something prevented them from receiving this grace. They were filled with pride. As James said in 4:6, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

And perhaps one of the clearest indications of their pride, one we will look at today, was their presumptuous planning that failed to consider the will of God. Though they might not have been as blatant as McVeigh or Nebuchadnezzar, their arrogance was nonetheless just as offensive to our Lord.

Let's see if there is something we can learn from their example!

It all seems rather innocent. In verse 13 James puts words to their thoughts. "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.'"

First let me say what James is not teaching. He is not coming down upon people who consider their finances. It is wise to set financial goals. It is fine to be a creative entrepreneur. There is even nothing wrong with capitalism so long as we pursue our desire for a profit within Christian parameters. For example, it is OK to want to make money, but are we doing it with honesty? Are we maintaining a faithful work ethic? Are we considerate of others? Are we keeping away from the common trap that tends to view money as our god?

The problem was that these Christians in the first century were rebuked for something that directly applies to us today: Presumptuous planning. According to verse 13, they thought they had it all nailed down. In their own minds they determined the time ("today or tomorrow"), the location ("such and such a city"), the duration ("spend a year"), the enterprise ("engage in business") and even the outcome ("make a profit"). It was a model business plan. The problem we have here is that God was not part of the equation. These children of God made plans as if God did not even exist. They were living as practical atheists.

I thought about this. I find it amazing how God is brought into our financial planning when it is convenient. I mean, often we really don't want Him to tell us where to work nor do we want Him to interfere with the plans we have established. We definitely do not want Him to dictate how we spend the money we make. But when it comes time to make the money, I have never seen so many people - even unbelievers that for a moment become believers - suddenly and enthusiastically invoking God into the equation. "Oh, God, we pray that you will bless our business!"

Also, staying within the context of the passage, how often do we plan things without the consideration of God? A family vacation? A change of careers? A new home? A future spouse? I believe it was Augustine that said, "Love God and do as you please," but how often do we, "Do as we please and then tell others we love God?" Could many of our poor decisions have been averted if we had not failed to put God at the heart of our planning? Do we show some of the same arrogance that characterized the recipients of James' letter? Is there some arrogance in our hearts that plans with no consideration of God's will? I, I, I, me, me, me.

The rebuke from James to their self-centered planning comes in verse 14 in two parts. First, "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow" and second, "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." Let's look at these.

"Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow"

I am one that is normally very organized. I am driven by tasks that are often lined-up weeks in advance. As my schedule gets consumed, several plans each day are preserved and prioritized, almost etched in stone. Yet what I find is that sometimes the day I have planned goes nowhere near the way I planned it. Many unforeseeable things alter the rigid plans I formulate. And what I have learned is that unless I submit my day to the Lord and accept the fact that He will direct things as He wants them to be, I will experience a heavy wave of frustration and total loss in contentment.

Proverbs 16:9, "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." Proverbs 19:21, "Many plans are in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand." Therefore, Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 16:3, "Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established."

It is good to know that God is overriding my life in a way to best glorifies Himself and brings about my greatest good. It simply takes faith to believe what we cannot see as we rest in a God who is sovereign and all-powerful and conducting those attributes with love and wisdom.

James also adds, "You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (Jas. 4:14).

We do not know what tomorrow holds. As a matter of fact, according to this verse, we might not even be alive tomorrow. If the last sentence dealt with the uncertainty of life, this sentence deals with the brevity of life.

James compares our life to a vapor. I'm sure you have all gone outside on a cold day and while exhaling watched the smoke come from your mouth and instantly disappear. That's the idea. As James said, we are here "for a little while and then [we] vanish away." There could be an accidental death. Jesus could return. But even if we live what is considered a full life, when considered on the span of eternity it is less than a drop of water in the ocean.

Perhaps not accepting this reality is the reason we ignore God in our planning. Perhaps we feel that our life is more important than it really is. Perhaps this is why so many people, especially young people, live life as if this life is all there is. Perhaps this is why the greatest reception I receive for the Gospel is at funerals. When the group is staring at a coffin there is no doubting that life is short and death is real.

We must have an eternal focus that transcends this life as we know it. We must get our focus off ourselves and on the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember His parable about the presumptuous farmer? Remember the man who lived for himself and this life only, never considering God and the life to come? "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Lk. 12:20-21).

"We shall come, some day, to see the false and fascinating joys of earth in their true light: like the bubble on the stream, dancing its little moment on the surface - and then vanishing forever!" (John MacDuff)

Life is short (Job 7:6-7, 9; 9:25-26; Psm. 39:5-6; 90:12; 102:11; 103:15). Eternity is forever. Are you prepared to meet God on Judgment Day? Have your sins been forgiven because you have trusted in Jesus Christ? Is there evidence of that trust in the way you are planning your life now, showing a greater focus on eternity than the short life you have been given here on earth?

The correction comes in verse 15. "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.'"

James is telling us that not only are our days on earth dependent on God's will, so are our daily plans to the minutia of detail. You will arrive home safely if God wills. You will get that Christmas tree today if God wills. You will have family supper at 6:00 if God wills. You will be healthy enough to work tomorrow morning if God wills.

I think about a story I read (a bit far-fetched but it makes my point) about a man who was riding his motorcycle along a country road. He stopped to talk to a preacher in a churchyard. The preacher asked where he was going. He told him that he was going to town to sell his motorcycle. The preacher said, "You ought to say, 'I'm riding into town to sell my motorcycle if it be the Lord's will.'" The man rolled his eyes, laughed, and roared off toward town. He thought to himself, "Sell my motorcycle if it's the Lord will? Lord's will or not, I'm selling my motorcycle." Later that afternoon the preacher saw the fellow coming down the road stumbling and staggering. His pants were torn exposing skinned knees. His arm was in a sling. His shirt was half torn off his back. His hair was a mess. His elbows and forearms were covered in blood. "What happened?" asked the preacher. The fellow replied, "After I left you I was on my way to town and a big storm came up. I tried to outrun it, but the rain began to fall like lumps of lead. As I was going around a big curve I hit some loose gravel and the motorcycle slid out from under me. I skidded more than a hundred feet on the pavement. I managed to get up, and walked to a nearby farmhouse. As I walked up to the door, a frightened woman pointed a shotgun in my direction. I started running and she started shooting. I ran through the brush and briars and got all scratched up. As I stood there picking buckshot from my backside, lightning struck a tree and fell on me." The preacher looked at him and asked, "Where are you going now?" The man replied, "I'm going home…if it be the Lord's will."

Frequently we see the right mindset that is forever aware and respectful of God's sovereignty in the Bible. Consider the apostle Paul, "But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power" (1 Cor. 4:19). "But taking leave of them and saying, 'I will return to you again if God wills,' he set sail from Ephesus" (Ac. 18:21).

Yet there are also times when Paul does not mention this phrase. So I believe it is good to tack on a "Lord-willing" when we state our plans, but we must not use this phrase as a cliché or magical formula without rightly understanding its meaning. It's like tacking on to the end of our prayers, "In Jesus' name." It's a good habit, but the primary goal is not the "magical words," but rather the mindset that understands that the Father is only hearing my prayers because of the faithful work of the Son to bring me into His presence. Likewise, the words, "If the Lord wills" are good, but the primary goal is to know that all of our planning is always subservient to God's sovereignty.

And might I add that it not so much recognizing the fact that God's will will often trump our will, but even appreciating the fact that God is at times overriding our plans in favor of His. Therefore we go about our lives recognizing God's absolute sovereignty, but also finding comfort that whatever God permits in our lives is designed ultimately for our best interest. It is walking by faith to believe that these "interruptions" in our life are really blessings in disguise.

So it is arrogant presumption to think you are the master of your fate. It is arrogant presumption to overlook the fact that nothing can happen in your life unless permitted by the will of God. It is worldly self-confidence to think we can control our destiny (cf. 1 Jn. 2:16). It is erroneous to boast in what we will accomplish.

So James put his finger right on the nerve in verse 16, "But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." We read this in Proverbs, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" (Pr. 27:1). Last week we learned that judging other people is a right that belongs only to God (Jas. 4:12). This week we learn that boasting about tomorrow is no different. We tend to want God anywhere but on His throne ruling His universe. It is arrogance. It is evil. It is blasphemous.

The conclusion is found in verse 17. "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

There is a common conclusion drawn by many that accepts the fact that there is a God, but that God is uninvolved with the affairs of our life. Yet as we learned this morning, God is intimately involved in everything that happens. So while we would expect the unbeliever to ignore that there is no excuse for the Christian. We confess that God is great and we are small. We confess that He is infinite and we are finite. We confess that He is sovereign and we are weak. And we confess that we ultimately desire His will and not our own. And if we truly do desire His will, He will guide us in His proper paths. And as verse 17 says, when we ignore those paths where He leads us according to His will, we sin against Him. This is not so much the sin of commission, doing the things we shouldn't do, as it is the sin of omission, knowing what we should do and failing to do it.

Jonah would be a negative example. Jesus Christ would be a positive example. "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done" (Mt. 26:42).

The Lord used the past four days to teach me and my family the truth of today's sermon. We love the church, but even our involvement in serving you is totally at the mercy of God's will. Julie and the kids were hit by a reckless driver on their way to church Wednesday night. The car was totaled but they were fine. Nevertheless, neither she nor I would teach the lessons we planned for that evening. And then I pulled a muscle in my neck, sending me to the Emergency Room for five hours on Friday night. And while being pumped with heavy narcotics and being unable to move my body I doubted that I would even be with you this morning.

These events are perfectly designed for our good. They humble us as we have been learning in James. And when we respond to them correctly in faith, they improve our God-consciousness. They soften us and give us greater dependence on the Lord.

God hates arrogance and pride. I have no evidence of Timothy McVeigh repenting. I can only imagine he is learning today's lesson the hard way. But we do have record in the Scriptures of the arrogant Nebuchadnezzar repenting after the Lord humbled him. He learned today's lesson before it was too late. The connection with our passage from James is amazing.

"But at the end of that period, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (Dan. 4:34-35).


other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James