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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC Evening Svc, 2011-07-10

Text: James 4:13-17

The topic for this evening's sermon is 'God's Plans Versus Our Plans.' This is a subject that is relevant to every one of us since all of us need to do some planning at one time or other. Planning can be defined very simply as thinking ahead, and make decisions to do certain things in the light of anticipated future events. Planning is a very good habit to cultivate and it helps us to make more efficient use of our time and resources. It was Winston Churchill who said, 'He who fails to plan, plans to fail.' If we live without planning at all, we would accomplish very little. 

For instance, if you are a student, and you have exams coming, you should make plans to study and revise well for each paper. If you are a housewife, you will probably plan the meals your family will have for a few days so that you know what groceries you need to buy at the market. If you are working, you probably will need to plan your work schedule so that you can complete your projects by the given deadlines. And when you make an overseas trip, it is always wise to plan your itinerary or route you will take, so that you will know where you will lodge and eat and can estimate how much money you need to bring for the trip.

In the Scriptures there are some examples of godly people making plans. We know for instance, that the apostle Paul was a firm believer in making plans. At the end of his second missionary trip, when he was about to leave Ephesus for Jerusalem, he told the believers there, 'I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will.' Paul was evidently planning to return to Ephesus. In the third epistle that the Apostle John wrote to Gaius, 'I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face.' John was evidently planning to visit Gaius soon. These two examples I think, are quite sufficient to demonstrate that there is nothing wrong with making our own plans for the future.

What we are going to see, as we study an important passage in the book of James is that God has nothing against our making of plans. What He is against is the making of our plans with a wrong attitude: an attitude of self-sufficiency. This is an attitude that leaves no room for contingencies, an attitude that makes us think that we are really in full control of the outcome. 

And this kind of planning is very popular in the world today, judging from the number of books, courses and seminars with titles like 'How to Plan and Make Money,' 'How to Plan Your Estate,' 'How to Plan Your Career Path,' and 'How to Plan Your Future.' These titles seem to promise people some kind of winning method or formula that will guarantee good success. And as we live in a competitive environment, we may easily get caught up with this worldly wisdom and spirit of ambitious, self-promoting kind of planning that utterly excludes God.

As early as 19 centuries ago, there were Christians who were already getting caught up in this kind of planning. Even in the first century it was very common for people in the Roman Empire to travel on business. The Jews, especially, traveled widely for business purposes. Of course, travel was very much slower and more dangerous then, as people sailed in ships and took weeks or months to travel. 

But despite the risks involved many were still engaged in traveling on business, to buy and sell. There were even banking firms existing from as early as 25 centuries ago. These firms provided loans for those who needed capital to do business. This is the background of our text in James 4:13-17. In this passage, James the writer, was speaking primarily to those who engaged in business. 

Look at v.13 and notice how some businessmen made their plans without God: 'To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:' I want you to notice how detailed these plans were. The businessmen included 4 actions in their plan: (1) Going into a certain city, (2) Spending a year there, (3) Doing business by buying and selling, (4) Making a good profit. Even the starting time has already been fixed 'today or tomorrow'

Is this a good way for us to plan? Not at all. Why? We are going to find out now from this text that there are three important reasons why we must never make plans this way: The first reason is that:

I. We are not in control, but God is. (vv.13,15)

Notice whose will is being done in this whole plan: 'WE will go' This assumes that we are independently in full control of our own lives. That is an arrogant assumption to make. There have been many times in history, when God deliberately overturned the most well-laid plans of arrogant and proud men. 

In the Book of Esther, Haman, the evil Persian prime minister, thought that nothing could ever stop his plan to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire destroyed and slaughtered, because it was guaranteed by the sealed decree of the Persian king which is irreversible. But God saw to it that his plan would fail and that Haman instead would be executed.

One of the most memorable wars ever fought in ancient history was the attempted conquest of Greece by the Persian Empire, which took place about 480 years before Christ. King Xerxes was then ruler of the most powerful empire in the world, which spanned from Egypt, all the way to India. And he thought that he could easily annex the territories of Greece which was at that time just a disunited federation of city states. Xerxes planned very thoroughly before he launched his campaign. For 6 whole months he and all his generals and admirals planned all the maneuvers together to the smallest detail. 

With over 100,000 soldiers and hundreds of warships, excellent logistics, and the most well-laid battle plans Xerxes was extremely confident that Greece was already his. But his arrogant confidence was shattered. Everything that could go wrong went wrong! When his campaign began he lost 400 ships in a severe storm at sea. Upon landing in Greece, his proud Persian troops were stopped at a mountainous pass. Here 300 brave Spartan soldiers led by Leonidas held back his forces for twenty-four hours, inflicting heavy losses on the Persians.

Xerxes eventually broke through and captured the city of Athens. Then he set sail for the island of Salamis, for the final battle. He set up his throne on a high vantage point overlooking the sea where the battle was to take place, confident that he would win, because he outnumbered his enemy at least three to one. But the smaller and swifter Greek fighting boats had mastered the art of ramming. Soon, before his horrified eyes, Xerxes viewed the slaughter of his whole proud navy. He returned home to Persia a very broken and defeated man. A year later all the remaining troops of Xerxes were wiped out by the Greeks. All his well-laid plans availed nothing. In fact he lost everything.

And this shows us how careful we must be, not to assume that we will succeed in doing whatever we want, by making the best plans we can make. And this assumption actually overlooks reality. Whether we recognize it or not, we can only do the things we do because God wills it. If something is not included in God's sovereign will, no amount of willing or planning on our part can ever force it to happen. We can do anything that we want to do, only as far as God's will allows it. So God alone has the prerogative and sovereign right to say, 'I will do this or that' and fully expect that His will, will be done. 

And so we really have no right at all to say, like those businessmen in v.13 said, 'Tomorrow we will go into such a city, stay for a year, do business, and we will make a huge profit.' According to v.15 what they should have said is, 'IF The Lord will, we shall go' In other words, all our plans must be conditioned upon the will of God. And we should always be careful to acknowledge that our plans are conditioned on the will of God. 

Now this does not mean that every time we make any statement about something future we must keep on attaching this phrase. If we use this phrase 'God-willing' or 'if God wills' too often it loses its real meaning. A study of this phrase in the New Testament will show that it is not to be used mechanically in connection with every statement of future plans. Paul, for example employs it in Acts 18:21 and 1 Corinthians 4:19, but he does not use it in Acts 19:21; Romans 15:28 or 1 Corinthians 16:5,8. Yet it is obvious that whether Paul explicitly stated it or not, he always conditioned his plans on the will of God.

Let us always condition our plans on God's will and not be like the businessmen whom James rebuked, who made their plans as if they were in control, and had all the ability to carry out whatever they planned to do. Please remember that we are not in control, God is. We are now going to take another look at what these businessmen planned. They said, 'To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:'

Here we observe that they were much too confident that everything would happen exactly the way they had planned. This kind of confidence is very dangerous as it mistakenly claims to know the future. This then, is another reason why we should not follow them:

II. We Do Not Know the Future, But God Does (v.14)

Let us look at v14: 'Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.' The fact is that no one knows the future, except God and the prophets of God to whom He specially reveals glimpses of the future. If we were in the shoes of these businessmen, how would we know if we would really be able to get into such a city today or tomorrow? Something may crop up and prevent us from going. 

And how would we know if we could continue to stay in that city for a whole year? We might only be able to stay for a few months. And how would we know whether or not we would make a good profit in our business there? A whole host of factors may affect our business, like competition from rival businesses, or a collapse in the economy, or simply a lack of demand. It is too early to tell what the outcome of our venture will be. If we were to tell people, from the very time we set out, that we will succeed, then we have made ourselves prophets who claim to know the future.

In the world today there are many businessmen who make such plans, with supreme confidence that they would be a great success. They think that their future is in their hands, and it is whatever they will make out of it. But all their well-laid plans and confidence fall apart when unexpected things happen. The business deal that they needed, fell through, or perhaps some other businessman cut in and clinched the deal first, ahead of them. One recent example is Toyota, It was the world's leading car maker in the last 3 years. But with the earthquake, tsunami and damaged nuclear reactor in March this year, Toyota's profits have declined sharply, by USD1.6 billion. It is likely to lose its position as the world's best-selling car brand and may even go down to 3rd place. 

Many shrewd businessmen have enjoyed some success in speculating on the trends of the market and gained great profits by making very timely purchases and sales. And if you are like that, then you need to be especially careful about this. Please, do not ever let this success lead you into thinking that you possess some special sense that others do not have, some natural intuitive power, that enables you to reliably foretell or prognosticate the movements within the market. Remember that any success you have in making a good deal, is due not to your own power, but to God's blessing. If God does not bless you, all your speculations would be wrong!

It would be a very grave mistake to think that you know what the future holds for you. The future is known only to God. You must therefore be careful not to be too confident about carrying out the plans you make. If you are overconfident about your future plans, you actually make yourself like God, who sees what lies ahead. And that would be a very foolish thing to do, because in trying to be like God Himself, you forget that you are merely a frail mortal being. Please look at the latter part of v.14 'For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.' This verse brings our third reason why it is wrong to plan without God: The reason is that:

III. We may die at any time (v.14b)

The point here is that we do not even have control over our own life. We have absolutely no control on when our life begins and ends, and so how can we plan as if we have full control over the future? 

One of the parables that Jesus told was the Parable of the Rich Fool (in Luke 12). And this parable is an excellent illustration of this third reason. According the parable, a rich man had such a great harvest that he planned to build new barns to accommodate his harvested grain. And this rich man made one very great mistake. He said to himself: 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.' (v.19). This man mistakenly assumed that he would have many more years to live. But God had other plans for him - he died on that very night and never had the chance to carry out his plans and enjoy his success.

It is quite frightening to see the way that some people plan - they plan as if they will go on living forever. They assume that they will not die and then take big loans, mortgage their houses and become indebted to venture out into some big investment. And when death comes unexpectedly before they can carry out their plans, they leave their families with the awful burden of paying off the huge debt. 

Dearly beloved, let us be careful not to make this mistake. Every time you make your plans, always remind yourself that you are only a mortal creature. Never assume that you will have many more years to live. You may die at any time. You may even have the cleanest bill of health from your doctor and eat only the healthiest food, and get plenty of exercise. You may be the safest driver in the world, and take every possible precaution to avoid accidents. But all these measures still do not remove the possibility that you may die at any time. Ultimately, it is God who determines when your life will end, not you. 

When God says to you, as He said to the rich man, 'this night thy soul shall be required of thee:' you will not be able to say, 'No, please wait, I need to carry out all my plans first. I cannot die now.' Your life will end whether you like it or not. In v.14 James describes your life as a vapour that appears for a time and then disappears. The word vapour here refers to the mist that covers a grass field early in the morning. This mist is there just for a passing glorious, moment, and then when the sun comes up, it is gone! And that is a realistic way of looking at our own life. 

We live on this earth only for a passing glorious moment, and then shortly, we too are gone! Therefore if you know that your life on earth is transient, like a mist or vapour, please do not plan as if it is not transient.

We have just seen three reasons why we should never plan without God. Firstly, We are not in control, but God is. Secondly, We do not know the future, but God does, and thirdly, We may die at any time. Now that we have studied this passage from the book of James and the danger of planning without God, we need to ask the question: How then should we plan and not leave God out of it? How do we include God in our plans? Please listen carefully, as I would like to give you five guidelines to follow:

1. Plan prayerfully, asking God for His guidance. Here, we can learn from the life of King David. David was a very successful king, partly because he developed one very good habit in all his ventures - he always made it a point to consult God first about every decision he made. If you are doing business, you should regard God as being the owner of your company while you are His chief executive officer. You are a steward of God's resources, not your own. Therefore, you must be careful to consult Him, as you plan your use of His resources. Let us go on to the second guideline:

2. Plan without making any boastful assumptions. Never assume that things must turn out exactly the way you planned it. Always make allowances for unforeseen circumstances. Do not take unecessary risks, hoping and assuming that things will always go well in your favour. Please be wise and realistic in your planning. The third guideline is:

3. Do not include anything ungodly or unethical in your plans. If someone presents you with a proposal that is guaranteed to succeed and make big gains, but it involves doing something illegal or unethical, please do not agree to it. Your plans will not at all receive God's blessing if they include any schemes that involve sinful practices which He hates. Always make your plans with Psalm 119:101 in mind 'I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.' The fourth guideline is:

4. Plan with eternity's values in view. It is well known that long term plans are better than short term plans. And this means that the best plans are those that take eternity's values in view. It would be very short-sighted planning just to attain glory and success in this world and nothing more. So be sure that your plans look far beyond your life in this world. In order to do that you must turn to Christ and make Him your Saviour and Lord. The 5th and final guideline is:

5. Submit your plans to God, and allow Him to make changes to your plans. God may order our circumstances in such a way that they force us to take a different path from what we had planned to take. And if that happens, we must be ready to accept it. It would be wrong for us to feel disappointed if God does change our plans. We should just accept it and say, 'O Lord, Thy will be done. Thy ways are higher than my ways.'

One biblical example of the way God changed a person's plans is found in the account of Paul's second missionary journey. Paul and Silas planned to go into a place called Bithynia in the north-eastern part of Asia Minor (Acts 16:7), but God changed their plans and led them instead to Macedonia, and through this the gospel eventually reached the whole of Europe. 

Another change of plan took place at the end of Paul's third missionary journey. Paul planned to visit Rome after going to Jerusalem. His plans were not carried out, however, because he was arrested in Jerusalem and had to stay at Caesarea for a few years. But he did go to Rome in the end, on a trip for which he did not even have to pay a single cent, because he was taken there to appear before Caesar to answer charges that were made against him by the Jews. God's plan always turns out to be much better than ours.

So these are five guidelines you should apply in your planning, and they can be applied to anything that you make plans for, like your career, your children, your earthly assets, and also your service to God. Let me summarize them for you, We must include God in our plans by: 1. Planning prayerfully, 2. Planning without making any boastful assumptions, 3. Not Including Anything Ungodly or Unethical in your plans, 4. Planning with eternity's values in view, and 5. Submitting your plans to God. And now that you know them, it is my prayer that you will always apply them, for as James aptly puts it in v.17 'Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.' Let us not just be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25