a good plan and what is not, according to James

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 in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

Planning is good, and especially planning with good in mind, as in having others in mind. James’s words here are not at all undermining the value of planning. But as in the wisdom tradition we find in Proverbs, James is simply stating that in the end it is God who will determine not only the outcome, but whether or not it takes place at all. All must be subject to God’s will.

It is often a matter of wanting to be in control, in fact that is the default attitude of so many of us much of the time. I think of entrepreneurs. And of course it’s not wrong to be one. A good one will plan and yet be able to adjust with the flow of things, and figure out what it takes to be successful. And yet behind that can be either an unwillingness, or more likely, not even taking into account any possibility that God might want something entirely different.

James chalks that up to boasting in one’s arrogant schemes. And we can be sure that such plans are not in line with God’s will. There is the lack of humility in acknowledging God and God’s will. And there’s the lack of appreciation for just how uncertain life is, both in terms of what might actually happen, and whether or not one will actually live to see it. It is as if someone is taking the place of God in their own attitude. Certainly not the mind of Christ whose delight it was to do God’s will, and submitted to it even when it was against his will as he did in Gethsemane.

James is warning believers, but he’s also encouraging them to submit their plans to God. That those plans might have value in God’s eyes, so that God may see them through.

keeping the big picture and the long haul in view in the immediate

It is easy to be knocked to one’s knees at times (if to prayer, of course a good thing), given what is happening today, and what we have to deal with, all the possibilities. Jesus did tell us to take one day at a time, to trust the Father’s care for the long haul as we keep the big picture in view, the seeking of God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6).

What we need is an understanding of the big picture, and then the faith to live in terms of that rather than be pushed and pulled in terms of the immediate. There are great needs and concerns that often do meet us in the here and now, and we certainly need to cry out to God concerning them as we see again and again in the psalms. But we do so as those who believe that God is at work in the world for good in and through Jesus. That God does have a plan and purpose, working everything after the counsel of his will (Ephesians). And that it is all good, centered and fulfilled in King Jesus.

This requires a plodding faith, confident that God will take care of his own, that God’s care extends beyond his own to the world, that he will actually address and redress all wrongs, a good judgment in Jesus to come, and that he will make all things new. And that his salvation begins even now in this life, even in the midst of sin and the brokenness and pain that often accompany it.

And so our help for the immediate ironically may not be focusing so much on the day to day problems, or perhaps better put, we deal with the immediate in terms of the big picture, God’s picture, with the goal of being faithful over the long haul until Jesus returns.