A Word for Our Time
James 4:13-15 says, “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."
Many of us, including those that James wrote to in the New Testament, act as if we can determine our own future. We just have to want something enough. We just have to work hard enough. Isn’t that what we often hear?! We can make our plans, make notes in our diaries and take so much for granted. But we know that our plans and dreams aren’t always realised – the coronavirus and the various measures in response to it are certainly a stark reminder of this. We cannot, at any time, (coronavirus or not), say what will definitely be; we can try to influence our futures – and can be successful at many times, in many ways, but God is the one who ultimately determines the outcome. We may think we know what lies ahead but often things do not turn out the way we think they will or the way we want.
Jesus reminds us of this important truth in Luke 12 where he tells the parable of a man who hoarded his possessions, storing them up for a rainy day. He made his plans and was proud of his ingenuity and wealth. But God comes along and announces that he will die that very night and all his worldly plans and possessions would count for nothing. That parable teaches us against greed. It teaches us to put God first before possessions. It also highlights the fact that we shouldn’t presume what tomorrow will bring.
Making plans is not wrong; in fact the Bible encourages us to be thoughtful in making plans for the future. But it also urges us to look beyond ourselves and to submit to the bigger picture. “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley” said the Scottish bard, Rabbie Burns. In other words things can go wrong, our good intentions can lead us somewhere we didn’t expect to end up, life has a way of surprising us or even disappointing us and we thus shouldn’t lean too heavily on our own ability to make plans (as clever and ingenious as we can be) but rather, with an awareness of the unpredictable nature of life on earth, we should lean on God’s presence and purpose to guide us through each day. That’s not just because we do not know if our plans will succeed, but we do not even know whether we, ourselves, will be part of the future. This is what James is saying to us in vs. 14. Even our life can disappear like a mist dissipates quickly in the morning sun. That raises a huge question: have you made plans with God, through Jesus Christ, for eternity? There is an unseen existence beyond the grave but life after death is only possible through Jesus Christ and faithful acceptance of His sacrificial death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and eternity with God.
Something we don’t see so much these days, although it is still used, are the letters DV at the end of a Christian letter or correspondence. DV is the abbreviation for Deo Volente. In our plain everyday English it means God Willing! DV acknowledges that it is alright and necessary to make plans, but that these plans are subject to God; That although we must take responsibility for our lives and must be thoughtful about the past, the present and the future we are not ultimately in control; we can play our part in shaping the future but we cannot determine it. God alone is sovereign – whether we like that or not. The Apostle Paul knew that and showed it in his letters. He told the church at Ephesus in Acts 18, "I will come back if it is God's will." And to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 4 he said, “But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing.” We don’t have to speak or write DV all the time; the important thing is that we think about it; holding an attitude and approach of humble reverence to God’s superiority and Kingship over all things, including our lives.
We live in a time of great uncertainty; a time of stress for many, and pain and grief for a growing number. Now, surely more than ever in our lifetime is the time for turning to the Lord God, through Jesus Christ – His saving and sustaining power, His guidance, His presence – and His peace, through whatever still lies ahead. As we do that, we continue to uphold everyone in prayer and to do what we can, when we can, for those most in need.