Planning for the Future – James 4:13-14

James offers one final example of the arrogance of the tongue: making plans for the future and the flippant use of the phrase “if the Lord wills.” Even today, this is quite similar to saying “sure, I will pray for you.” Christians tend to add this to prayers as if we are giving the Lord an option out of responding positively to our prayers (“give so-and-so healing, if it be your will.”)

Who is James addressing in this passage? Are they “international business men” who travel the Empire making profits? If so, the problem is not travel or business, but rather their arrogance that they are building up reliable wealth for the future. The arrogance of some business owners is their assumption they can go anywhere and make a profit without giving a thought to the Lord’s will.

Jewish businessmen traveled throughout the Empire managing all sorts of businesses. In the New Testament, Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers in Rome who relocated to Corinth and were active in Ephesus as well. In Acts 16, Lydia is a business woman (a seller of purple) from Thyatira now living in Philippi. Even Paul could be considered a travelling business person since he was able to work in the tent trade any city he happened to visit.

In the Second Temple Period, international business “was seen as a way to obtain the fortune needed to purchase the estates on which the “good life” might be lived” (Davids, James, 172). Ralph Martin says “there is also a fairly well documented background about Jewish traveling merchants in the period, among whom the aristocratic Sadducees, who gained part of their wealth by foreign trade and commercial endeavor” (Martin, James, 169). Jewish entrepreneurs were not the only ones to make huge sums of money. Ralph Martin offers the example of Ananias, the High Priest A.D. 47–55. Josephus called him “a great procurer of money” (Josephus, Ant. 20.205).

The problem these business people plan for the future without acknowledging the Lord. There is nothing unusual or sinful about their business plans, but they are made without any reference to God. “We will go, we will spend time, we will trade and we will make a profit.” McKnight points out this is a claim that they control time (today or tomorrow), place (such and such a city), duration (a year or two), and their goals (profits) (McKnight, James, 370).

The problem is not their planning or the making of profits, but rather the arrogance of claiming control of every aspect of their lives without considering God’s hand in their business activity. Proverbs 27:1 warns against boasting about tomorrow; Job 14:1, a person’s life is short and full of trouble. 1 Enoch 97. 8 has a similar warning:

1 Enoch 97.8 Woe unto you who gain silver and gold by unjust means; you will then say, ‘We have grown rich and accumulated goods, we have acquired everything that we have desired.

Even Stoicism warned against the folly of planning for the future: “no one has any right to draw for himself upon the future” (Seneca, Ep. ci. 5).

James is perhaps aware of Jesus’s parables of the rich fools and the dangers of being anxious over the future. In Luke 12:16-21 a rich fool makes plans to expand his business without any account of the Lord’s will and dies without enjoying his wealth. The parable-like story in Luke 16:19-31 describes a foolish rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus. In Matthew 6:34 Jesus says “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” and in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he

Although there is nothing wrong with doing business and making a profit, it is dangerous to rely on that wealth since the future is uncertain. But how does the modern, western (especially American) Christian live this ideal out in a culture which is completely inundated with relying on one’s own wealth and savings for the future? Can we really plan wisely for the future yet hold loosely to that plan since we cannot really know what will happen tomorrow?

Can we really avoid planning for the future in order to “let go and let God”? Where is the balance?

 

15 thoughts on “Planning for the Future – James 4:13-14

  1. I’m going to reply from a business stand-point. Being an international business major, this is tremendously interesting to read and look at. More so because of the fact and statements made about business’ generally going out of their domestic homeland to another country to acquire wealth. While this may be a mindset that some people have, this is something that is overly generalized. In the complex business world today, most business’ indeed go internationally because of which markets are trending and where their business will foster. There is no such thing of going into another country to “just acquire wealth and make as much money as possible”. There is so much more to expanding globally than just the amount of money. Moreover, companies typically want to expand to gain an edge over their competition in another market or create a barrier to entry for existing competitors. While the motive may be to make money, their are other motives in fostering another countries economy, building relations, and providing jobs for those who don’t have the opportunity. Most business’ may not have their core competencies as “Christian” their moral standards are indeed for the good of the economy and the people who live in it. I agree with your statement on “uncertainty”, however, the level uncertainty can also become certain from certain market projections and using formulas to come up with market trends. The reason business’ have uncertainty is because they don’t take the time to look at market trends and where the existing market is going. While being a young Christian in business, it is difficult to balance between the Christian aspect and the business aspect. Holding true to the concepts of the Bible is a necessity, but I don’t have an answer on how to balance the two with God and business.

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    • Trent, I think that you make a good point; there is so much more for a business to expand globally. They company’s values, itself, may desire to reach out to foreign countries in order to help them out of poverty or help improve the environment. However, that is not all companies’ goal to provide more jobs, like you stated it could be selfish reasons such as gaining a competitive advantage in order to make more money. I think that the point that was being conveyed in this post though was that those businessmen and women were not necessarily relying on God, they were more so relying on themselves and the money that they made. Luke 16:13 says, “…He will hate the one and love the other, …You cannot serve God and wealth.” I think that there is a balance of making wise decisions so that you are prepared for the future, but also realizing and trusting that God already knows and holds the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

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  2. I guess the thing to learn from this all is: “Do not worry about tomorrow.” Planning is fine, with the Lord in mind, but constantly agonizing over it will do no good. This is something The Lord has talked to me about recently. Thank you so much for sharing. Especially insight about making financial plans…we need to really take consideration and think wisely about this. We should not move ahead of God and assume–nor can we be lazy and not make any moves toward making intelligent buisness moves for the future. Thank you again for your words. God bless you.

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  3. I think with how the world is today we cannot completely avoid planning for the future. Because in order to live in this world we need to save money for our future so that we can provide for our future families. After reading this post I now know it is dangerous to do this but I think if we still save for our future without entirely thinking about it and being greedy we will be fine. I look at it as saving for our possible future rather than thinking this is what I am going to do with the wealth that time and place. Our future is not promised and God has made that apparent in His Word. James 4:14 states, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” This shows our future is not promised and that we are only here for a short while and then we leave. But being prepared for our possible future I do not think is wrong. According to Jobes, “Most people have a very shortsighted view of the future that might extend to living now in a way that will afford a comfortable retirement, but biblical writers want us to see how we live now…related to our afterlife and to choose to live accordingly” (Jobes, 225). From this, I still seeing as saving for our possible future is not bad but it can still decide our afterlife. So, I am still a little conflicted but I am the type of person that wants to save for his possible future.

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  4. As a senior in college, I get asked all the time “what are your plans for after graduation?”. Hearing this question constantly can be stressful, as I wrack my brain for an answer. My usual answer is “I don’t know” and then a list of possible options for me- some that interest me and some that aren’t my first choice. After reading this article and reflecting on these conversations, I don’t know that I’ve even once answered the question in a way that even mention God, or his plan for my life. What a waste opportunity to reveal to someone that I trust my entire future to God. “There is probably no greater self-revealing way we can present tousles to the world through what we say”. (Jobes, p.223) Each time someone asks me what I am doing after graduation, I should be taking that opportunity to say “I don’t know, but God does”, hopefully sparking a conversation about my trust in God and his plan. In one of my many meltdowns about the future to my mom, she quotes Philippians 4:6-7 every time. We may not know what the future holds, but we can go to God in prayer for his guidance with full confidence that he does have a plan.

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  5. As humans, we like to plan for our future, it is something we like to do, but what we want is totally different from what God wants. I can relate to this because I thought I had my whole life planned out, I thought I was going to get a job working in airport security, and I was going to make a career out of it and God slammed that door in my face and I did not get the job. I feel like when we make plans for our lives there is no way to hold on loosely to them, we tend to grip them so hard where it hurts when they are ripped away from us. The only way we can really “let go and let God” is through praying for every move we want to make in our lives. “For how we live today depends largely on what we believe about the future, for those beliefs shape our priorities and motivations” (Jobes p.225) if we believe God holds our future we are going to shape our life around that and we will be content with letting go of our own wants and giving it up to God.

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  6. For me I see this problem among believers and non-believers. There is a certain amount of stress that comes from worrying all the time about every little single thing that one can control. As humans with a fallen nature we tend to want thee best things and only seem to plan to get those. So at what extent as Christians do we let go? As it is mentioned above these businessmen are not consulting God for anything, but yet expect to have everything. I think the balance is found daily in the word and in the struggle. Our lives as Christians are meant to be guided by the Word and the Spirit. Proverbs 16:9 states, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Our hearts are to be guarded by our Lord and nothing else including what we want should get in the way. God will direct our path if we let Him. I think the letting Him is finding what He has for you in your specific walk with Christ through the study of His word.

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  7. I enjoyed reading this post. My degree is sales and marketing so the conversation of business and faith can be a unique balance. I like what Mark said above, the key is to find the balance of your own path. Everyone has a different path and that is the beauty of life; and the beauty of a Christians journey. Proverbs 3:5-6 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths”. Although the business people mentioned in the above post were “successful” in terms of profit they were not successful with giving thanks to the Lord. There is no shame in making profit. The shame comes in the arrogance of not giving thanks to the Lord when doing so. Ultimately, hopefully that profit can be used to give back in ways God would intend. So when thinking about it, the balance is being able to stay humble. To understand that success has a major part to do with God’s plan. Thus, we should plan for the future, as that is the way of the world (especially in today’s era); yet, we should understand God has complete control and without him profit/success/wealth is meaningless.

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  8. The older I get, the more I get asked what do you have planned for your life, and since I was in the military, I get asked quite a bit about what am I gonna do with a free education. Yes, I do have a set idea as to what I want to doing with my life, hence being a youth ministry major, but I still do not know what specific aspect of youth ministry I will inevitably end up in. All the time, I get people telling me you should’t do youth ministry. As sad as it is to say, the reason I get the majority of the time is that going into youth ministry won’t make you a lot of money. I am under this realization, but for me I don’t care that I won’t make as much money as some others will. That is because I trust and want to seek out the plan that God has laid out for me and my life. Matthew 7:7-8 NIV says that, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” If we all just did something as simple as this, there would be less worry in the world today.

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  9. I think that this is a topic that a lot of Christians struggle to find an answer to. I don’t particularly like the phrase “let go and let God” because it sounds a little like a Hallmark greeting card phrase. However, I think that ultimately we are called to live a Spirit-led life. Maybe a more popular wording of this would be a Spirit-empowered life. We cannot do anything apart from God if we are in Christ. If we buy into the mindset that Christ is merely a portion of our lives then are we really surrender to Him as a Savior whom we adore? I think that the balance comes in with discipline in the Spirit. Should we avoid planning the future entirely? No, of course not! But we must look at the future with the fact in mind that, God is already in the future. I think that it is a matter of disciplining ourselves to have the patience to hear the voice of God guiding us and helping us as we approach the future.

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  10. I believe personally that there is a difference between a calling and a plan. Personally, I know that I have a calling to go into youth ministry, and that there is a path for me to go down that path, but I need to gameplan how I’m going to get there, and have proper strategy for how I am going to be put in a position to glorify God’s calling for me. In my personal opinion, John 15:16 gives a great and clear definition of what a calling is. it says “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” We have the responsibility to live out the calling that we were given by God, and we do need to have a clear plan of how we intend to do so.

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  11. The phrase “let go and let God” just translates to me as “sit back and let God do his thing”. Truly, as James illustrates, while we may have plans for our future we should be less physically concerned about them, because God has a plan for us. Sometimes it’s not what we expect it to be, much like the man in the parable who doesn’t get to enjoy his wealth. I agree with Jobes when she points out that the biblical authors try to illustrate for us the importance of putting our faith in the future in God — we shouldn’t throw caution to the wind, no, but it’s important to keep an open mind to whatever surprising roads God carves out for us. Follow where God leads you, and ultimately things will work out under his plan. Let God do his thang.

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  12. We have been discussing the phrase, “let go, let God,” in my Formation and Service class. There are two extremes relying completely on God to get the work we need down or relying solely on ourselves to do the work. There has to be a balance. We do not know the future or what it holds, but God does. God lays out stepping stones for us to take. We have to continually choose which path we are going to take. God will guide us, but we have to do the work to get God’s plan done. The difference is dependency and discipline. You need to rely on God for strength, but you need to have the discipline to get God’s plan accomplished. The key is balance, which is hard to come by. Especially in different seasons of our lives. “For how we live today depends largely on what we believe about the future, for those beliefs shape our priorities and motivations” (Jobes p.225). We need to live each day like Jesus did, humbly without arrogance and with discipline. We are going to need to be humble and ask God for strength, Jesus even had to do that and he is all God! We need to continue to rely on God and still put our best foot forward.

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