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.

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following through

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:23-25

Not sure the direct analogies we can draw that are intended. Certainly the word reveals ourselves, and our flaws in not conforming to God’s will, our sins. And that’s of vital importance. And when you consider not only the immediate context, but the entire letter, change in our lives is a major focus. But it’s not only change to get rid of vices, but also to develop virtues, particularly related to relationships, how we treat each other.

James wants us to look and keep looking, with all the intent and follow through of actually practicing or doing what “the word” tells us to do, God’s word no less. Called “the perfect law that gives freedom.”

And with our attempts to do so, as imperfect as they inevitably will be, we’re promised God’s blessing. A blessing we want not only for ourselves, but for others. In and through Jesus.

faith entrusts

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:1-8

I have wondered why God calls people to pray and pray, and pray again, before he answers. Actually there are ready answers from scripture, like when Daniel fasts and prays, and is somehow involved in an angelic, demonic battle in the midst of it. Or maybe God having to move hearts in a certain direction over a period of time.

Why doesn’t God simply do all that needs to be done, for good and against evil? There are probably a good number of answers for that, but perhaps the most basic answer has to do with God himself, and God’s respect for others.

Certainly God can do what God pleases, and he does. But basic to that is God’s sovereignty grounded in a love that is pure and wise, though often we find ourselves unable to track with it. God respects human dignity he put in creatures made in his image. Free will is a fundamental aspect of that, meant to be lived out in God’s love. Of course in our world now, that is broken, and even where found, not lived out in perfection even by God’s people, except in dashes and glimpses of it.

We simply may not really desire God’s will at least sufficiently enough, or believe God will answer. So that is one reason God calls us to pray, and keep on praying, perhaps even with fasting over something gone wrong. That is a major issue with me, I’m afraid. I can’t either see, or imagine the good I wish. And so I have to pray, just as a sheer act of faith, believing that in spite of the way I’m feeling about things, God can move for good through those prayers. Whether concerning big matters, perhaps close to home, or smaller everyday things, just as important in their place.

We have a great promise found in another place in scripture:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

While it is important to note the immediate context, Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers, and by extension, for us to pray and receive, it is still a fitting promise for us, as we endeavor to pray in God’s will, and by the Spirit. God can do more than we can ask or imagine.

And so, instead of doing what might come naturally to us: taking matters in our own hands, we need instead to pray, and keep on praying. The answer will come, both for the concern, and for ourselves. As we trust God through prayer, entrusting all to him, in and through Jesus.

life is fleeting

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

Often life doesn’t seem fleeting. Especially when we’re young. We’re waiting for this or that, or planning ahead, whatever it might be. But that’s only an illusion. Life is fleeting; it is passing, soon to be gone forever.

Tragically for some it can go in a moment of time. Really for any of us. Recently for a young woman, not long married, with a four year old daughter in a car accident. None of us know what a day may bring forth. Not just a trite saying, but truth.

There are those who just say party up, knowing that it will all end soon:

“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”

1 Corinthians 15:32; Isaiah 22:13

The point for us all is both that we should take note just how quickly all of this may and ultimately will be gone, and live in the light of that. Both. It is easy either to live as if only this moment or time matters, or to simply carelessly, either not taking the brevity of life into account, or else live as if it won’t end. It is amazing how we can so easily live in denial of this, or just throw in the towel, and think that nothing matters.

Ecclesiastes likens life to a breath. How it goes about as fast as it comes. With the conclusion that we’re to fear God and keep his commandments, knowing that every act of ours will be brought into judgment.

Today will end soon. It’s more important that we live it well, in God’s will in Jesus, then that it goes like we would like it to go. How can we live in a way that’s pleasing to God and helpful to ourselves and others? That’s the question we must ask. As we prayerfully seek to live according to God’s good will in his grace to us in and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer tied to living in God’s presence

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Recently James Banks spoke to us at Our Daily Bread Ministries on prayer. And specifically on living in God’s presence, or “practicing the presence of God.” It definitely spoke to me, James often referring to his black Labrador who loves nothing more than just being in his company.

Prayer is not just a means to an end. It’s about participation with God in seeing God’s will be done. And it involves dwelling in God’s presence. Jesus’s words about abiding/remaining in him point that direction:

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

“Remain” here might better be translated “abide.” Concerning the Greek word here, μένω, Bill Mounce writes: “To abide in Christ is to follow his example of a life obedient to the will of God.” As I heard Pastor Darwin Hartman of Pike Mennonite Church suggest recently, arguing along the same lines: while remain might be literally accurate, that comes across as more passive than the context of its usage might suggest. That to abide by something, means adherence to it in a more active sense (my words of what Pastor Darwin said).

Prayer is then dependent on both God and us. We pray, and in a sense are in God’s presence in both speaking to God, as well as being with him. God’s presence is never withdrawn from us, though we often can be withdrawn from him, and not living in God’s favor.

James Banks noted how that his Labrador gets special favors from him, because the Lab is lovingly present with him. Another dog they have doesn’t like to hang out with his master, but is disappointed when he misses out on the treats James gives. That could be an apt analogy of part of the dynamic of prayer. That we want to be near God, that God even appreciates such a longing. And that God honors that in specific ways. In and through Jesus.

old lies

Sometimes in our journey we run across the same old worn out, tired lies which used to plague us in the past, and really became a part of us. The symptoms of such lies might come out in words like, “I’m no good,” or more or less in giving up on life entirely.

What we need in their place is God’s truth to us found in scripture, and in and through Jesus. It is truth in terms of what the scriptural text says, independent of our feelings, and of what was planted in us in years past, perhaps in childhood. It doesn’t matter what others might think of us, or even what we might think ourselves. We need to center ourselves and remain in God’s word to us.

Lies dissipate only as we learn to ignore them by focusing on what is true, regardless of how that goes against the grain of our own perception. So that the truth in Jesus can settle into us, into our hearts, so that we’re changed from the inside out. And of course, this is a gradual process which takes time, and we will fall out of along the way, so that we have to get up and continue on. In the truth of God’s good will and love for us, in and through Jesus.

our Father will take care of it

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6

Anyone who knows me well knows I can be prone to worry. Although I’ve come a long way in overcoming it, mostly by dealing with it much better. But also by being in the word, in scripture, which helps prevent its onset since our minds are occupied elsewhere. And where they’re occupied when we’re in scripture is in terms of God’s will, which is actually good, and in terms of the real world in which we live, which is wonderful, yet also fraught with danger and death, not to mention degradation.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount can help us with the realization that our lives are in the Father’s hands (link above). God will let nothing pass through other than that which he allows. And there honestly is mystery in that. Why are some beset with problems, and at times, even disasters, while others seem to live long, relatively trouble free lives? We don’t know, but we have to trust that God will work good out of what always will be evil. And that God redeems, and can indeed rescue. We pray, and ask God for his help for ourselves and others. And above all, we seek to entrust ourselves, our lives, our all, and especially our loved ones into the tender hands of the Father’s care. In and through Jesus.