James 4:13-17; Luke 12:13-21

You never know what a day will bring. You can’t be sure what might show up at the doorstep of your life. Some developments are more trivial inconveniences than life changing events. Computer glitches and fender benders are not going to alter your life much but natural catastrophes such as a tsunami or California mudslide will. Life will go on if you throw out your back but an emergency appendectomy is another story. And good fortune can come along too. You get an unanticipated promotion or some lawyer calls and informs you that when your rich uncle died, he left you a nice inheritance. You never know what a day will bring.

Just ask our friend in Luke 12. We don’t know a great deal about him. We don’t know whether he was young, in mid-life, or nearing retirement. We are uninformed if he had a family. We don’t know how he got his start in business. We don’t know if he was spiritually oriented, a member of a local synagogue. But his farm has produced a bumper crop. He asks himself: “What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for the harvest.” Then he answers himself. “This is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down what I have and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather my grain up and say, ‘You’ve done OK. You’ve got it made. Take life easy. Have a little fun!’” It was about this time that God showed up and said, “You silly fool! But don’t worry about your crops or barn being over-filled. It’s really not very important because tonight, you’re out of here!”

Let’s give the fellow some credit. From a business standpoint, he was astute, perhaps shrewd. If you had opportunity to trade places, you may not have done things any differently. But what displeased God was his attitude. He’s had a bumper crop and he is looking for more. It seems as if he’s gotten a little ahead of himself and left God a little too far behind. God says “enough.” You never know what a day will bring.

But how do we make plans? How do you and I prepare for our tomorrows? Do we really differ? My guess is probably not. So if we want to avoid hearing anything that sounds similar to what the fool heard, it would be good to listen up to James, the brother of Jesus, before taking even one more step into the future. (Read James 4:13-17.)

James shows us several faulty assumptions we can make about our tomorrows in James 4:13.

Faulty Assumption #1: We have an unlimited supply of time

James is thinking both short term and long term and writes of “today or tomorrow.” He mentions the possibility of “spend(ing) a year.” Fair enough. We should judiciously and wisely anticipate our futures, even leaving room for contingencies. Even Jesus made plans for His tomorrows. When some Pharisees came on behalf of Herod and told Him to leave, Jesus said He was going to continue His healing ministry “today, tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

But the problem is when we speak about today or tomorrow as if today or tomorrow are for sure or come with some type of guarantee. It does not happen that way. The truth is we don’t know what tomorrow will bring and honestly, this afternoon is up for grabs too. Life can be redefined in a matter of seconds. The psalmist was right when he said (Psalms 90:12): “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Faulty Assumption #2: You and I will end up where we want

James says, “we will go to this or that city.” We all make plans. My wife and I have a number of plans on this year’s calendar and some long-term dreams for twenty and thirty years from now. However, there is one not-so-small detail Deb and I need to remember – God may have plans that we never dreamed.

• Abraham. One day at age 75, God comes and tells him to leave the security of Haran for the insecurity of Canaan. He’s thinking retirement but God has a whole new career planned.

• Moses. After spending 40 years on the backside of a desert, God plops him down among his people (2,000,000) and he leads them through the wilderness for the next 40 years.

• Peter. He’s out fishing and Jesus calls him to follow. We’re impressed how he pulled his boat ashore but there is no inkling to suggest he had any idea that his fishing days were over.

• Paul and his companions in Acts 16 had made plans to take the gospel to Asia until one day he had a vision to enter the region of Macedonia.

You never know what a day will bring.

Faulty Assumption #3: Your plans will turn out as you hoped

Our 1st century counterpart figured that he would be a success . . “carry on business and make some money.“ It sounds good to me and it is far better than taking a financial beating. At times, the Lord does step in and your plans turn out not only as you hoped but exceeded your dreams.

Once again, consider Abraham. Not only is he leaving the security of Haran, he’s going to have to re-invent himself. In 21st century language, instead of making appointments to see his gerontologist, he and Sarah will be sitting in a pediatrician’s waiting room (and stopping at a grocery store on the way home to buy diapers) because of Isaac, that little child of promise.

In fact, at times things turn out in ways that exceed your wildest dreams. It did for a girl named Mary who like other young women in ancient Palestine was anticipating the arrival of a Messiah. But through her? The angel told her that she would be with child and the Savior would be born through her. Mary’s response was what anyone would expect from a teenage virgin, “How can this be?” But the again, you never know what a day will bring.

Yet with all the planning (“re-planning”), a pivotal truth remains. “What might that be?” you ask. Verse 14 says it all: “. . your life is but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” The psalmist David understood this idea and hundreds of years earlier wrote in Psalms 39:4-5: “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you . . .”

Do you know how long you have in this world? No. You don’t know. And you don’t have a clue as to what will happen during your limited time! You may think you have it figured out but you’re only deceiving yourself. Life is but a “mist” and the most thoughtful, well-constructed plans can vaporize before your eyes.

But why do we make plans like we do? We do we assume so much? How is it we can spend so much time dreaming about the future? And why do I think I have unlimited time, I’ll end up where I want, and things will turn out like I hope?

Why Do We Make Plans Like We Do?

Much has to do with we’ve not as1 Peter 1:13 states “set our hope fully on the grace to be given when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I’m not sure we’ve set our hope partially on it. Heaven may be coming but it isn’t necessarily the longing of our hearts. It is still a long way off yet and who knows what it will be like. So in the meantime, we’re getting as much as we can. And heaven? Oh it’s in the plan – the backup plan. It is for the tomorrow that comes after tomorrow that comes after tomorrow.

While living in Oregon, several times a year my wife, kids and I would make a 300-mile trip from Ashland to Portland. Inevitably, we would stop at a little restaurant called “Heaven on Earth.” They had sticky buns you would die for. They were out of this world. They were so good that after eating one, we were ready to head home. After all, why continue to Portland when we had already been to heaven!

That little indulgence reminds me so much of our lives. We’re filling our faces with sticky buns when we could be feasting at the banquet table of God.

But it is one thing to be eating sticky buns at “Heaven on Earth” and it is another matter to try to create a little heaven on earth for yourself, which I am afraid a lot of people are doing. They say they don’t want much – just a nice little job with a nice spouse with, perhaps, some nice little kids. They want a nice little house with a garage and a couple of nice cars in each half of that garage. They would like having some nice friends with whom to socialize and perhaps, find a nice church to attend as the spirit moves. They are working on that nice 401K plan for their golden years too. It sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?

But do you know the end of the story? Do you have any idea how things turn out? Probably! The story ends on a nice little hill overlooking a meandering river with a nice granite stone on the side of that hill. On that stone is your name with a few dates nicely inscribed on it. But do you know what will have happened if this nice little life has been your plan? Do you know what it means if this has been your goal? It means you will have pampered yourself into mediocrity when you could have been immersed in the greatness of God’s tomorrows.

So how are you to face tomorrow? What are you supposed to say and do?

What Are We to Say? What Are We to Do?

For sure, you’re not to do with a cocky spirit (James 4:16). “As it is, you boast and brag.” God doesn’t care for people with attitudes and labels them “evil.” So, how are you and I to walk into a future which we don’t know? James offers two suggestions as we look to the future and start planning.

First, take a look at your attitude. In James 4:15 we hear familiar words . . “Lord willing.” These words can be used as clichés. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Lord willing.” “We can meet again next week, Lord willing.” And they are appropriate if they reflect the attitudes of our hearts.

Paul demonstrated this attitude with the believers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 4:19 he writes: “I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing . . .” Then in 1 Corinthians 16:7 he again said: “I hope to spend some time with you as the Lord permits.”

“Lord willing” are words to be inscribed above, below and all over every plan you make. Why? Very simple! It’s not your life. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul writes: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. “ And if you’ve been bought with a price, then life isn’t about you. It’s not about me. It is all about the Lord Jesus.

Several years ago while in Colorado, I visited with my old seminary president, Vernon Grounds. Before leaving, I asked him: “How much longer are you going to keep this up?“ I’ll never forget his response: “As long as I can . . . Lord willing.”

But there’s a second issue. Our “Lord willing” is to lead to purposeful actions or engagements. So James challenges us (James 4:17) to be doing “the good.” He prompts us to move beyond words to godly actions, from “Lord willing” to “doing the good.”

I was in Colorado again several weeks ago and went to see if perhaps Dr. Grounds was around. He was. He welcomed me in and we talked for some time. Before leaving, he motioned to me with his outstretched arms and gave me a hug. It felt wonderful coming from a 90-year old man. He’s an amazing individual – still doing not just the good but the excellent in the name of Jesus.

You never know what a day will bring. But there is something you can do. You can rise up with holy abandonment. You never know what a day will bring so give God your best not only today but in all your tomorrows.


John Tornfelt is Professor of Pastoral Ministries at the Evangelical School of Theology in Myerstown, PA

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