And planning for the future is wise. Proverbs 6:6-8 praises the little ant who plans ahead for his future.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. The apostle James, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke to the person going about it the wrong way:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
This first-century individual James describes has many counterparts in the 21st century. By most standards, they would be called a successful in any century. But let me give you a definition of failure:
Failure is succeeding at the wrong thing.
Everybody may be calling you a success, but you may be an abysmal failure.
The planner described in James 4 made three major mistakes, and I don’t want you to make them. As you plan for the coming year, three warnings from James will be helpful.
Beware of self-centered planning
Our planner is mapping out a period of time, a place, and a procedure (v. 13). His calendar is out, his pencil sharp, he circles the day, draws a line through the year and says, “That’s where I’m going to invest my time this coming year.” On the map he puts a circle around the city. On the calendar he has dates underlined. He’s going to buy and sell. Evidently he has some marketing scheme. Maybe he has a degree in marketing from the University of Jerusalem. He’s been running the numbers and says, “I can buy the product for this and sell it for that. I’m gonna make a bundle this year.”
So far it sounds good to me. It doesn’t look like he’s doing anything wrong. The Bible certainly doesn’t condemn business or planning or oppose making a profit; it encourages all of those. These things are not wrong.
But if you look at our planner, you’ll see he left God out of his plans altogether. He’s not consulting with God or seeking His will. He’s like so many today. Your worship life is one thing, your business life another—separated into the secular and sacred. You come to worship, and then plan as if there were no God.
The biggest fool is not the man who says there’s no God, but the man who says there is a God, then doesn’t live like it. Have you taken God into your plans? James warns,
15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
There’s a big “if” in verse 15. Our planner didn’t ask, “Oh God, show me Your will.” He says, “I’m doing…I’m going….” He’s not seeking to bring God into his plans.
Are you asking, “Lord, bless what I’m doing,” rather than “Lord, help me do what You’re blessing”? Are you seeking first the will of God? God wants to show you His will as you look into your future.
God promises to guide us.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” Psalm 32:8.
To be guided with God’s eye means you have a close relationship with Him. Have you ever been guided by someone’s eye? Your spouse or maybe a parent has given you a certain look, and you stop right away and straighten up. That’s the kind of intimate relationship we need with the Lord.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21.
It’s a sort of heavenly sonar. God is saying, “Don’t go this way; don’t go that. This is the way; walk in it.”
Would you like God to guide you this way in the coming year? Jesus promises that in John 16:13.
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.”
We have a Heavenly Guide, the Holy Spirit, to lead us.
“As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14.
How wonderful to have God guiding us with His eye, to hear the voice of God saying: “This is the way; walk in it.” How wonderful to be led by the Spirit of God. We don’t need to be floundering around and come to the end of life, saying, “Well, my youth was a mistake, my adulthood a struggle, and my old age a regret.”
God has a plan for every area of your life: your education, your business, your marriage—not just your church life. If you want His plan, you can find it. How? Use the three “C”’s.
Confession. Get your heart right with God.
“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Psalm 66:18.
Do you want God to lead you? You’re wasting your breath if you pray with unconfessed, unrepented-of sin in your heart and life.
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” First John 1:6.
If there is sin in our lives, rather than walking in the light, we’re stumbling in the dark.
Consecration. It’s not enough just to be clean; you need to be consecrated.
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” Proverbs 3:6.
Have you acknowledged Him in all of your ways, not some of your ways? Do you really want to know the will of God, or do you just want God to help you in your plans? Acknowledge Him. Don’t say, “Listen, Lord, your servant is speaking.” Say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
Concentration. The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a gentle dove and a still, small voice. This is why you need quiet time alone with God. You say, “God never speaks to me.” You’d be foolish to deny that there’s no music in the air just because you have your radio turned off. God is speaking. Are you listening?
Beware of self-confident presumption
14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
Our lives are like that—just a vapor—like that foggy breath you saw on this crisp, cold day. It’s there for a little while, then vanishes. Don’t boast carelessly about the future. We don’t know what it holds.
Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1
We think, “I’m in good health, I’m young.” This may be your final year. Say, “Lord God, I don’t know what the future holds or how much more time I have. So Lord, help me not to waste time. Help me to apply my days unto wisdom. And Lord, may I live out the rest of my days, whether they be few or many, for You.” Don’t presume upon the time you have.
16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Remember the rich farmer in Luke 12—the one with such an abundant crop, he planned to build bigger barns to hold it all? Confidently he said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Eat, drink, and be merry.” God replied, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’”
You may look at your bank account and say, “I’ve got enough squared away. I’m all right.” You may not have 24 hours. The fool said, “Many years.” God said, “Tonight.” Beware of self-confident presumption.
Beware of self-complacent procrastination
Notice what comes next.
17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Our planner is aware of God’s will but doesn’t want to do it. Boasting in himself and all he’s done, he’s complacent. It’s not that he says, “I will never do it.” He just doesn’t do it—self-complacent procrastination.
Procrastination may be the biggest problem you have. It’s so deceptive. Other sins—hate, violence, drunkenness, stealing—are obvious. If we don’t commit these flagrant sins, we think we’re doing well. Most of us don’t see procrastination as a sin.
Procrastination is the same as the sin of omission. It’s a dangerous, deceptive sin. It’s the reason people are lost. They’ve failed to do what they must do:
“He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed.” John 3:18.
As you plan your future,
How should you face your future? By giving your heart to Jesus Christ, letting the Holy Spirit guide you and give you a hope that is wonderful and glorious.
When we come to Him in repentance and faith, we are empowered-and expected-to live the Christian life not by trying, but by trusting. Faith is not only how we receive salvation, it is how we walk, day by day, in grace. Only by faith can we extend forgiveness to others, share God's truth, and leave a godly legacy. As the tapestry of your life unfolds, may you begin to see the wonders of living each day, moment by moment, a life of faith and forgiveness.