“Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain, whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord will, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’ “ James 4:13-15
Here is the crux of the Christian life. We can either run ahead of God trying to live on our own, or we can put our trust in God. The reality is that we cannot have it both ways. The person who makes plans based upon their own desires and wants without taking into consideration that they are spiritual beings, run the risk of missing out on God’s plan for their life.
James, in the above passage, is addressing Christian merchants who are scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The law and order that the Romans enacted throughout their Empire made trade and commerce both profitable and desirable for merchants and tradespeople. As a result, merchants scattered throughout the Empire trading and purchasing goods that would be passed on to relatives and kinsmen who resided in other cities thus making a vast network of interconnected commerce throughout the Empire.
James is not presenting an anti-capitalist diatribe in these verses, but instead is presenting the reality of the Christian life. These merchants had become arrogant in their wealth and ability to run their lives without God. James is simply reminding them that life on this planet is short and death certain, and what should be utmost in their thinking is not how much money they can make, but what is the will of God.
When the Ephesians asked Paul to stay longer in their city and continue his preaching he answered, “I will return to you if God wills.” Acts 18:21a When writing to the Corinthians he tells them, “but I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.” 1 Corinthians 4:19 And in the book of Romans he tells the Christians in Rome, “so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (15:32)
Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when facing the weight of carrying the sins of the world to the Cross prays, “My Father if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” Matthew 26:42 Peter writes, “For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.” 1 Peter 3:17
It is not enough for us to understand that our lives are transitory. What we must also understand is that our lives are in the hands of God. All the great Bible writers knew that the secret of life does not revolve around spending our time focused on externals, but instead learning to trust in God’s will for us.
So, how do we learn to understand the will of God for our lives? First of all let’s be clear that James, nor any of the other Bible writers, believes there is any magical formula in saying the words, “if the Lord wills.” How often we hear that little phrase thrown around in conversation without any concept of what is being implied by the utterance of those words. James isn’t interested in his readers simply mouthing the words whenever they make a decision. Instead, he wishes for the underlying power of the surrender of the will to God’s will to be the guiding force in their lives.
If we would be people who desire to grow in discipleship it is imperative to become students of the Bible. It is good to read the Bible, but even better to study the Bible. Do a quick scan through the concordance in your Bible looking up words like, scripture and study to get a feel on how important Bible study really is. I recently read that Bible study is down amongst Christians and that we are rapidly becoming illiterate in regards to the message of the Bible. Please give yourself at least a half hour a day of study. You say that you are too busy? Well, I would suggest that you make the time. We will never discern the will of God in our life if we don’t use the Bible as a guideline for understanding how God worked in people’s lives throughout the Scripture and what the underlying principles are for knowing His will.
We must also become people of prayer. Remember the key in regards to the Lord’s Prayer is, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Matthew 6:10 Our prayers shouldn’t be about getting “stuff”, but instead about discerning God’s will and asking for God to give us strength and power to carry out His will. We have written numerous times in these posts that many of our disappointments in prayer are because our wants don’t work out the way we wish. We find it difficult to pray “God’s will be done” when we really want that new job, or our sick friend to recover, or the girl down the street to fall in love with us.
We can learn God’s will when we are open to other people’s suggestions and insights. The Holy Spirit gives us direction and guidance from other people’s experiences who have gone through similar circumstances. Sitting down with trusted friends and talking over the decision that needs to be made in your life can give valuable direction and open up new avenues you may not have thought of before. Of course, the final decision is yours and relies upon prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit often works through well meaning friends and colleagues who have experience as well as your best interest at heart.
Remember, you are not alone in your struggles and needs. God intends on you to come to Him for help and guidance. His will is always right and won’t let you down. And for any of us who seek to know His will, He WILL make it known.