February 5, 2019
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 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. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Through the years some commentators on James have opined that this is an anti-business or money making text. Others have tried to argue that James somehow pits human planning against the will of God. Neither of these interpretations has merit. James is not dealing with money and commerce here. He is not making a statement that human planning is somehow incongruent with following the will of God. James is dealing with the pervasive problem of human pride and presumption.
James is taking on the mentality that would say: “I am in charge. I am the captain of my own ship. I control my destiny. I can do what I want, when I want, however I want and for how long I want with whomever I want.” Watch for it in the text: “Today or tomorrow [WHENEVER I WANT] we [WITH WHOEVER I WANT] will go to this or that city [WHEREVER I WANT], spend a year there [FOR HOWEVER LONG I WANT], carry on business [DOING WHATEVER I WANT] and make money. [FOR WHAT PURPOSE I WANT]”
This kind of rhetoric sounds strikingly familiar to the kinds of claims a candidate for political office might make, or a billionaire business man. ;0) Making plans is good. Making money is good. Making yourself the captain of your own ship . . . . not so much. At least this is not the way for the followers of Jesus. The “world” will be the world. We can predict it and expect it, we just can’t imitate it. Our options are arrogance or humility, and there’s nothing worse than arrogance. James brings us back around to the core dynamic of the disciple of Jesus: Humility.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself. It means having a proper estimation of yourself. It does not come from self abnegation; but rather from keen self awareness. It’s one of the great gifts of Ash Wednesday each year for those who observe it. We kneel at the altar, a cross is traced on our forehead in ashes and oil and these gift words are spoken into us: “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return, repent and believe the Gospel.”
This is a call to humility; which means to embrace the frailty, fragility and finitude of our existence. We are glorious dust. I am glorious dust. You are glorious dust. To repent means to renounce arrogance and presumption and proud self-determination over and over and over again until they have lost their foothold in our lives. If we can come to own the the truth about our life, our life will become an ever-increasing glorious expression of the truth of the love of God.
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
“DEO VALENTE!” If the Lord wills. More than the utterance of words, this is a cultivated disposition of the disciples deepest self. It is a happy declaration that God sees all and knows all and holds our very best interest in all things and that “he is able to do abundantly above and beyond anything we could think, ask or even imagine.” (rough paraphrase of Ephesians 3:20)
Let us seek the Holy Spirit’s intervention in our “spirit” to help us become brilliantly unassuming and patiently submissive while we go about our wise planning, holding everything in joyful trust before the God who has entrusted himself to us.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
Ok, I know its a cheesy cliche—but it’s true. Write it down. “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.”
God, our Father, I want to be a real Christian. I know that means humility. I struggle here in ways beyond my awareness. Reveal to me the subtleties of my pride. Show me the arrogance I am unaware of. Forgive me for presuming on your will. Come Holy Spirit and teach me submission to Jesus. In Jesus name, amen.
1. Arrogance comes from pride, and pride comes from insecurity, which comes from the deep seated need to cover over an internal brokenness or wound by projecting a false self. Interact with that statement.
2. What keeps you in an anxious state about the future and causes you to need to be in control? What would you have to believe about God in your deepest self in order to release control?
3. What would it mean to ask God to inspire your planning from the beginning instead of asking God to bless the plans you have come up with in the end? How can you move in that direction today?
4. What would repentance from self determination and self will look like for you? Will you reckon with it?
For the Awakening,