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.
In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with planning ahead. John Wesley, the great evangelist, even used to plan out his day in twenty-minute segments, ensuring that a third of an hour wouldn’t pass without him addressing himself to matters of God’s kingdom. But in these verses, James offers a word to men and women in every generation who are addicted to their calendars, who clutch at their phones, and who live with the impression deep down that the world will stop turning if they get off track.
At the heart of the matter is this rock-solid fact: to us, the future is unknown. Will it be sunny tomorrow? Will your flight be on time? Will the traffic be busier than usual and interrupt your schedule? We can plan as best as we’re able to, but ultimately all our best plans may fall into tatters. Indeed, they do so routinely. To presume upon the future is foolish when our ignorance of that future is an indisputable fact.
Facing this fact ought to have two effects. First, it ought to humble us. James has already reminded his readers that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6), and issued the challenging call: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (v 10). Now he reminds us that we ought not to take for ourselves the seat that belongs to God alone—we are not in control. It is our response to disruption and disappointment that reveals whether we have truly grasped this.
Secondly, tomorrow being unknown to us ought to help us, for the future is hidden from us for our good and for God’s glory. If we knew of some success that awaited us, we might become unbearable, preening our feathers and basking in our own sense of self-importance. By the same token, we should be thankful that we don’t live in the constant awareness of our future stumblings and struggles, fears and failures, bereavements and heartaches—for what advantage would that give us? God knows. That is enough.
So remember this: God the Creator established you, made you, and gave you all your abilities, your looks, your opportunities. He has ordered your life right up until today, and will continue to do so until He welcomes you home. Because of this, you can actually rejoice in what you do not know. There is beauty in the mystery. There is great wonder in knowing that God is ordering all things and will accomplish His purposes in and for you, whatever tomorrow brings. It is this perspective that will enable you to look at your plans for today, tomorrow, and further on down the path of your life, and say with a humble peace in your heart, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15, emphasis added).
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Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.