Read James 4:13-17

"Now listen!" James is calling attention to those important points in our lives where we just go jet-propelled into the future, without a moment-by-moment consideration of God’s plans for us. In the rush and busyness, we so often forget how short are our lives and who should be the director of our every-day activities. "You are a mist that appears for a little while." (James 4:14) "Listen!" says James - but this can be so hard. How often do we not listen, even to those whom we love and live with? Maybe we are on the 'phone or doing other jobs. Our mouths are talking but our heads have moved on to the next job we "must" do. We fill every moment of our lives so that we don’t have to hear what our hearts are saying to us.

How much more important is this when it comes to our relationship with our heavenly Father. We say that He is our "Lord" and yet we often go about our day without having a clue as to whether He is pleased with what we are doing, or if it is even part of what He wants for our life. James is challenging people who were successful in business, making endless travel plans and financial calculations, to cut out the arrogant, proud attitude of thinking they were invincible and successful through their own great brains and business deals. He pushed them to recognise on Whom they needed to rely and to consider the source of all their creative ideas and wealth. The first century was a time of great commercial activity of various kinds, where the motive for hard work - as today - was profit. God used the words of James to challenge his readers to look at the motives behind all their activity. His words continue to challenge us today! Are we going to base our plans entirely on the values and thinking of those all around us, or are we going to submit them to God and seek to earn our living in ways that harmonise with His values and thinking?

What are our motives?

Go through these few questions to check out your own motives. Be honest!

  • Having done a job, do you make sure that as many people as possible know about it?
  • Do you offer to do a job so that other people notice (even if you hope secretly that you won’t actually have to do it?)
  • If a job does not go well, do you take personal responsibility or do you try and blame someone else?
  • Are most of your plans geared towards increasing your income?
  • When giving or receiving presents, does the price indicate their value to you?
  • When you receive a pay rise or a lump sum, are you more excited about what you can purchase or the difference it will make to the kingdom of God?
  • Do you ask God about it before offering to do some job?
  • If you have a spare couple of hours, do you look for a job to fill them rather than spend time in prayer?
  • Do you feel guilty when you do something for yourself?

Look back at study five of “Joyful Woman” which recognises that life is too valuable to be wasting time. “Only one life will soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last”. We should get on with our jobs cheerfully and take full responsibility for them, working diligently even if there is no immediate or visible reward. We do not need to be "stressed out" about work if we have a plan, put together with the Holy Spirit's help. We can make wise use of every moment and, even if things do not go according to plan, we have a "Plan B" to deal with "unforeseen circumstances". In effect, that is what James is saying here: we should plan ahead.

Planning ahead

Help in planning our time is available to us through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is He who helps us to discipline ourselves to obey His leading. Let's look again at our own plans and ask ourselves if we are spending time doing things of no eternal value, such as: spending hours in front of the TV, reading magazines, chatting on the 'phone and so on. As we make plans, we need to look ahead but, as we check out our motives, then we go to God in prayer because our entire life belongs to Him anyway. As we make our plans, we must always say in our hearts: "If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:15)

God is a God of order. He will show us the priorities in our lives. Everything is uncertain. There is no guaranteed stability in this world, except in our relationship with God our Father. Like the farmer who plants seeds, year after year, expecting a harvest, so we need to make plans with God at the centre, totally surrendered to His will regarding whether there is a harvest or not. the apostle, Paul, was often saying: "...if it is the Lord’s will." (Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19) The idea is not to put our trust solely in our own plans, but in the One who has our life in His hands. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but we know that we can always have the right attitude if we walk at all times with the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-26) If we have this intimacy, planning will be straightforward.

Intimacy with God

To everything there is a season and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) The most exciting part of the Christian life is experiencing intimacy with the living God and hearing our Father. It is getting up close beside Him and hearing His heartbeat. Talking to Him about not only what is on our hearts, but also what is on His heart has to be our first priority. If we are faithful in little things, He will share more with us because He knows that He can trust us. Intimacy does not require us to be perfect, but it does require us to be fully surrendered to Him.

We can show this through our total obedience and by "keeping short accounts with God". Whenever we fail, we acknowledge it immediately and don’t wallow in the failure. We have to stick with God, even in difficult circumstances which we may not understand. Paul wrote: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:8-10; 2 Corinthians 4:18) So, what is our focus when planning? God will talk to us; we just need to listen!

  • Some of what He says will be to be done straight away. (Romans 8:14. Deuteronomy 5:1)
  • Some will be to enlarge our hearts to be more like the heart of the Father. (Mark 4:11-12)
  • Some will be to share with others to encourage them. (Hebrews 3:13)
  • Some will be to warn others - if God is having difficulty talking to them directly - but this will only be if God can trust us to have a right attitude, not a superior one. (2 Samuel 12:1)
  • Some will be to store in our hearts for a future time. (Luke 2:19)

What of the future?

We must remember that nobody on earth knows or can predict the future. Many well-established methods of supposedly learning secrets - often to do with future events - have been tried by the human race in just about every culture and society throughout the world. But the Bible warns us that these practices are not harmless or "innocent fun". We cannot afford to read horoscopes, practise levitation, read tarot cards, use Ouija boards or go to mediums to contact the dead and know the future. (Leviticus 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-13) These things will never tell us the truth, They will only deceive us. There is a demonic world of fallen spirits only too happy to mislead people who are desperate for comfort and reassurance or eager to profit through "insider" knowledge. If you have been involved in any of these practices in the past, ask a trusted and experienced Christian friend to pray with you about them. You need to turn away from such things and actively renounce them. If necessary, burn all tarot cards, books and regalia you possess. Call on the Holy Spirit to fill you to over-flowing with His presence. (Luke 11:24-26)

We do not need to know the future - we just need to know Who holds our future!

Pride and boasting

James also reminds us that all forms of boasting are wrong. (James 4:16) this covers everything from straight bragging about what we have done, to the more subtle approach of apparent self-abasement, which indirectly ensures that people know all about what we have done! (1 John 2:16) This all amounts to pride in different forms. People cannot buy salvation - for themselves or others. We are all dependant on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. He alone was able to pay the price. (Psalm 49:7-9)

We can boast about Jesus and all that He's done for us. We can boast about the Father and His amazing love for us. We can boast about the Holy Spirit and His patient perseverance with us, but that's it. If we take for ourselves the praise that belongs to God, we sin against God. To give ourselves the praise for what God has done is a very great evil. In the very next verse, James warns about such sin, showing that God will judge us according to what we know. The more we know, the greater will be our punishment if we disobey God. (James 3:1) He also points out that sin is not just about doing things that are wrong; it is also about failing to do something that we ought to do. So, if we do not believe in Jesus, we sin against Him.

Let us choose to "humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may lift us up in due time." (1 Peter 5:6) Without Him we are nothing. If we live daily in close communication with Him, giving Him our all, then we can look forward to being part of His amazing plans and knowing that we can rejoice in everything He has in mind for us.

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