James 4:15

‘“If the Lord wills”’
(James 4:15)

We don’t control our lives as much as we’d like to think. We might well say, ‘“tomorrow let’s go”’(James 4:13) here or there and ‘“do this or that”’(James 4:15) but, as James points out in this passage, we can’t be sure what ‘life will be like tomorrow’(James 4:14) – or whether God will even permit us to ‘“live”’(James 4:15)! We must be humble and recognise who’s really in charge, ‘“the Lord”’. As the book of Proverbs puts it: ‘A man’s heart plans his course, but Yahweh [the Lord God] directs his steps’(Proverbs 16:9), i.e. there ‘are many plans in a man’s heart, but Yahweh’s counsel will prevail’(Proverbs 19:21), so don’t ‘boast about tomorrow; for you don’t know what a day may bring’(Proverbs 27:1) – as James put’s it here, all ‘such boasting is evil’(James 4:16).

It’s amazing how much control God exercises, although this shouldn’t surprise us! The very nature of things means that God orchestrates ‘whatever He pleases’(Psalm 115:3), ‘“from the beginning, [to the]… things that are not yet”’(Isaiah 46:10). We must recognise His sovereignty: ‘“Surely, as I have thought, so shall it happen; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand”’(Isaiah 14:24); ‘“my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me void, but it will accomplish that which I please, and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do”’(Isaiah 55:11), ‘“like fire… and like a hammer”’(Jeremiah 23:29), i.e. with unstoppable power and authority. We should reflect on this, in humble adoration, like David in Psalm 139: ‘In your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there were none of them’(Psalm 139:16). God’s oversight and control is that detailed – it’s profound – ‘Oh the depth…’(Romans 11:33ff.)!

To deepen this mystery further, we’re all given human wills and charged with responsibility for making appropriate plans. We’re ‘to do good’(James 4:17) as James writes next, having first ascertained ‘the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God’(Romans 12:2). With such minds, conformed to His ways, we’ll find our ‘paths straight’(Proverbs 3:6), doing the ‘good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in’(Ephesians 2:10), as those ‘predestined’(Ephesians 1:5 & Romans 8:29&30) to do so!

This will obviously involve prayer for discernment and right ‘motives’(James 4:3), before making any requests. All prayers are best opened with the attitude ‘“your will be done”’(Matthew 6:10ff.) anyway, then qualified by ‘“If the Lord wills”’ to close. We can helpfully echo Paul’s prayer for the Colossians when trying to make our plans, that we might be ‘filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, that [we] may walk worthily of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work’(Colossians 1:9-10) – likely things such as scattering, planting and watering to ‘increase’(1 Corinthians 3:6&7) His kingdom, not worldly plans and ‘pleasures’(James 4:3), and ‘to act justly… love mercy, and… walk humbly’(Micah 6:8) with Him.

However, even though we’re charged with discerning and making the right, well-motivated plans, which God has mysteriously determined in advance anyway, we rarely know the finer details very far ahead. We might perceive the general plan though, and can certainly know His promises, like ‘“I am with you always, even to the end of the age”’(Matthew 28:20) and the ‘“Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come”’(Matthew 24:14). Abraham experienced this towards the start of God’s grand plan, hearing the call: ‘“go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation… All the families of the earth will be blessed through you”’(Genesis 12:1-3), yet going ‘out, not knowing where he went’(Hebrews 11:8). Further along in God’s plan, Paul knew to spread the Good News to ‘“‘the Gentiles’”’(Acts 26:17ff.), but had to feel his way forward, often day by day, attentive to ‘the Holy Spirit… the Lord’(Acts 16:6-10). It will be the same for us.

We might fear missing or accidentally thwarting God’s plan, but obviously that’s not really possible, under His mysterious providence. Careful diligence is called for, but somehow ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose’(Romans 8:28ff.). Joseph’s brothers’ bad mistake, even ‘“evil… God meant… for good, to save many”’(Genesis 50:20), including themselves, including Judah (the ancestral tribe Jesus)! So God’s unstoppable plan rolled on, according to His will. As His people, we too can be confident that nothing will ‘separate us from God’s love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’(Romans 8:39)

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