Back in 1997 I purchased my first DayTimer. It was a black, fake leather, multi ring binder that contained my calendar, task list, and contacts. I grew to love and appreciate this simple organizational tool as I relied on it to help me plan for the future, prioritize tasks, and keep track of my life. I also grew to value the importance of good planning. It has served me well over the years. Though I have given up the DayTimer for various apps on my computer and phone I still understand the necessity of planning.
As we look in scripture we see there is definitely nothing wrong with planning and being prepared for the future, with one exception. In James 4, the author warns his Christian readers of one particular type of planning that is offensive to God. He urges his readers to be careful of planning like an atheist. This person makes their plans without any thought of God. They are confident in their ability to predict the future and plan accordingly. They schedule meetings and events, add to their task list, and prioritize their life with little to no concern for what God would want them to do. James succinctly calls this type of boastful arrogance in planning evil.
This serves as a reminder of two simple but humbling truths. We cannot predict the future and life is incredibly fleeting and short. Sure we may have think we know what tomorrow holds but we have all gotten that phone call, email, or text message with news that sends us in a different direction. And, as we age we are continually reminded that our lives are not as permanent and indestructible as we once thought them to be when we were young.
James writes this to remind us that we are not God. As a result we are to live our lives in humble submission to Him. Instead of making our plans without God James calls us to possess a mindset that says, “if the Lord wills.” This mentality seeks to make plans in obedience to God’s guidance and influence in our lives. It first asks the question, “God, what do you want me to do today, this week, this year?”
So how do we discern what God would want us to do? It begins by immersing ourselves in scripture. But understand, the Bible is not like Google. You don’t type in the question and have instant answers to your question. Scripture directs us by providing instruction in how to live our lives. So, we do what we are commanded first. And then, as we study the Word and obey it God begins to transform our minds and bring our will into conformity with His will. Over time we grow in our ability to discern God’s leading.
Furthermore, we must also pray and ask for wisdom and direction. This admonition occurs back in James chapter 1. When we don’t know what to do, we can pray, and trust God to direct us.
I have found that this process is like steering a kayak or canoe. As you travel down the river of life you use your paddle (scripture and prayer) to steer the vessel. But there is also a current in the river that will guide you as well. In life we continually seek God through His Word and prayer and trust that He will direct the current of our lives where He wants us to go as we seek His will.
As you begin to follow the plan you believe God has for you be prepared for detours. Part of submitting to “if the Lord wills” is a process of accepting the unexpected events that occur in life which threaten to mess up our plans. A mindset that is submissive to God recognizes that these too are from Him. There is a purpose for the detours. And so, we must continue to trust even these as coming from the Lord.
So, as you begin to plan out your week, month, or year make sure to include God in your planning. Take time to prayerfully ask God to help you “make the most of every opportunity” as Paul commands in Ephesians 5. And ask Him to give you wisdom to discern how He is calling you to live this day for His glory and your good.