Now let’s move to the first section of our passage:
13 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.”
George had BIG plans, BIG dreams, BIG hopes…It’s a human tendency to make plans….to strategize our lives. We seem to have an innate desire to avoid the unexpected…to protect ourselves from unexpected harm, or danger. We like to be in control and have things our way, don’t we?
We should also carefully consider whether the plans we make are based solely on what I want to do….or what God would have me do. Do my plans have impact in the world…do they serve the Kingdom of God….or do they only serve my own ambitions. Am I following in the footsteps of my Father….following the vision and plan of my Father in Heaven? Or am I blazing my own trail? Going on my own adventure?
14 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.
Our community has recently had its fair share of sudden changes in plans in the lives of some of those among us. We have all been praying for at least two families that have recently left our community in completely unexpected ways. We think immediately of the people in Lombok…and Palu…and the families of those connected to Lion Air flight 610. We can all think of personal examples in our own lives, too.
I remember vividly the day in 2009 when we got “the call” from our pastor in the States telling us that my father-in-law had died instantly from a massive heart attack while cutting wood in forests of Montana.
But not all change is bad. There is a little girl somewhere up in the balcony who is testimony to an unexpected change that has brought much joy–not only to our family but to everyone in this community. She brought with her change nonetheless–and turned our family upside-down in some very good ways.
Sudden, unforeseen changes are hard. And in these times are reminded of the hard reality—so easy to forget in the midst of our own comfortable lives— that none of us can plan anything with certainty.
Life is precarious…and not even all the money in the world can change that.
Truth is, life doesn’t always obey the plans we have make for it. The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “time and chance” happen to us all–life happens, and it’s not always in the form we envisioned it…
The Psalmist reminds us that humans “plan their course but the Lord determines their steps.” Yes, sometimes the Lord directs in ways contrary to our own plans….
- …sometimes through, a still, small voice,
- …sometimes through circumstances out of our control,
- …sometimes through the voices of others, and
- …sometimes by observing the people around us, seeing the situations they face, and realizing that we can do something to help
Either way, our time is short, so let us all learn to “number our days” that we might gain wisdom on how we should spend our time.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
In our movie, George is not particularly spiritual, except at his lowest hour when everything seems hopeless—he sits in a bar and begins to weep, and prays, “God…Dear Father in Heaven…if you’re up there and you can here me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way.” Not long after that Clarence shows up. George’s prayer us a pretty good paraphrase of Psalm 25:4-5 – “Show me your way, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Guide me in your way, and teach me.”
16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. Just as Mr. Potter was evil…so, too, is living only for ourselves.
George, I believe, saw the evil that was Mr. Potter, and the good that needed to be done. And in that moment when the frame freezes and all of his dreams and plans go flashing through his brain…he chooses to do the good he knew he ought to do….
I can only speak for myself, but I can think of far more times that I’d like to admit, when I saw something good that could have been done and did not do it—
- Because I was tired
- Because I was scared
- Because I didn’t want people to think I was weird
- Because I didn’t care
- Because I put myself first
The excuses could go on and on and on. I’m assuming I’m not the only one. This tends to be the way of the the human creature. I think, perhaps, what James is trying to get at here is something like this—
Go ahead and make your plans, have dreams and goals, and think about what’s ahead. But, don’t forget to read the disclaimer—everything is life is subject to change without prior warning or advance notice. That’s just how things are. Most importantly, don’t ever ignore the opportunity to do the good that is right in front of your nose here and now, because you are waiting to do something good in the future…you don’t know what will happen tomorrow…but you can do something good today.
I really like the sign posted on the window in front of my son’s classroom—“You can have excuses or results”….not both.” Lord, help me…by your strength and power…to weed out the excuses in my life….that I might live more and more in the fruitfulness of the results that only you can bring.
Thank you for reading!