(? no tear sheet)
Joe’s wife handed him his Saturday to-do list. He was anxious to move on to other things so yipped in delight to see only one chore: fix a dripping kitchen tap.
When Joe looked under the sink, his smile turned to a frown. The line did not have a shut-off valve. He had to turn the water off. Joe headed to the basement, mentally adding a few more minutes taken from his leisure time. When he tried to turn the valve on the line for the kitchen sink, it would not budge. Not wanting to stress the joints and cause a leak, he decided he should turn off the main water valve. His frown became frustration when he found it was also seized.
Joe’s house was old. If he put muscle to his pipe wrench, he might make even more work for himself. So he called the city. They said they would come out and turn off the main in the street. When they got there, the valve was buried under two feet of landscaping. By the time Joe finished fixing the tap and the mess from digging for the main, it was almost dark. He was not amused when his wife said, “I guess life is what happens when you are planning something else.”
I can sympathize with Joe. Some days turn out like that. A simple chore becomes complex, or the telephone rings all day, or ninety-three email messages turn up in my in-box. Whatever the detour, all plans somehow fall by the wayside. Since tomorrow is another day (with another ninety-three messages), today’s plans may never be fulfilled. As frustrating as this scenario can be, there are some guidelines from God that do help.
First, we do not know the future. James 4:13-14 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 . . . .” It helps to remember that our plans are always tentative.
Second, remember our place in the grand scheme of things. James 4 goes on: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Knowing and controlling events is an ambitious undertaking for mere mortals. God challenges us when we think we can do it. He is the only one who can see both the end and the beginning at the same time. It helps to remember that too.
Third, because these two things are true, we ought to consider God in our plans. James 4 continues: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” While God does not move our lives around like chess pieces, He is sovereign. If He wants something, we cannot fight it. If He does not, no amount of our scheming will make it happen. By not fighting God, we become more flexible.
Fourth, taking control without considering God is sin. “As it is, you boast and brag (about what you plan to do). All such boasting is evil.” In the context of this verse, James repeatedly reminds us that we are not God. We cannot make things go the way we want them to go or even say we will do a certain thing without considering that He has the final say. By that, our plans become less rigid.
Fifth but most important, planning to do good is always safe. James finishes: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” This negative warning implies that our plans made without God can be selfishly motivated, even evil. When we consider God, the selfish element is brought to light. If we ask Him, He will give us something good to do, even good that can be included in our current plan.
Circumstances might prevent us from carrying out the plans we make, but if our hearts are motivated in a way that pleases God, we will not be upset with the unexpected.