There are very few guarantees in life. Businesses guarantee satisfaction or your money back. The things you buy come with guarantees that they will last a certain amount of time. Politicians make all sorts of promises that this or that will happen if the people elect them. Marriage is supposed to be a relational guarantee that is to last a lifetime. The diamond that represents so many marriages are to last forever. Professional athletes have been known, to their embarrassment, to guarantee championships. Health insurance companies guarantee great coverage. All kinds of promises are made to friends, children, coworkers, bosses, and family.
Guarantees suggest that somehow life is predictable. And this is just not true. Guarantees and promises fail often in life and maybe with greater regularity than the accomplishing of the promise. Many products and services do not satisfy as advertised. Merchandise breaks. Politicians…need I say more. Marriage vows are broken. Championships are lost. Health insurance sometimes does not cover what you need covered the most. Friends, children, coworkers, bosses, and family have been known to disappoint.
The truth is that there are very few guarantees in life, and dare I say it, this is a guarantee.
James 4:13-14 says,
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.”
James here talks about our propensity for control of our own life. We want to control the when, where, how long, what, and why of our lives. We plan our lives. We make arrangements. We go to work. We go to school. We go to the grocery store. The daily routine is filled with thoughts about tomorrow. Plans for the future. We do this because we want control over the course of our lives.
I don’t think James or Jesus were anti-planning. God does not hate you packing your lunch, having a savings account, or getting a college degree. But what I do see in Scripture is God communicating to us his desire for us to make our plans under the umbrella of God’s providence. There is a difference between planning and controlling. You can plan with humility, but is humble control possible?
James just got done teaching them earlier in this chapter that:
“‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” Submit yourselves, then, to God.” (James 4:7-8)
For some reason, we like to try and control things that are not ours to control. We have a word for this- arrogance. An arrogant employee can forget that the business does not belong to him. An arrogant child can forget that they do not rule over their parents. An arrogant spouse can force their will on the other. The arrogant American wants to force their vision for America on all other citizens. The arrogant government wants to control world markets to the detriment of others. The arrogant Christian can force their preferences on other brothers and sisters. All of this arrogance is displayed in our desire to control our lives and many times to control the lives of others.
Once again, there is nothing wrong with planning. It’s quite good and wise really. But what is not recommended is a tight grip. A tight grip holds on to whatever it wants to control.
When I walk my dog I have a tight grip on my dog’s leach. Why? Because I know my dog and he would never come back if he got away. Also, when I cross a dangerous street with my children, I have a tight grip on their hands. While a tight grip can ensure the safety of a dog on a leach or of my children crossing the street, it can cause hurt and destruction in other of life’s cases.
Our plans, our tasks, and our goals need to be handled gently and humbly with care not to crush them with a desire for control. When you tightly grip that which does not belong to you, you hurt both those things under your control, yourself, and your relationship to the one whom it does belong, namely God.
In order to make the point that there really are no guarantees in life James says,
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. (James 4:14)
Those with a tight grip on the world along with what they want to become, what they want to earn, and where they want to go, can forget the fleeting nature of life. What is life really? When we stop all our activity, planning, going, running from one place to another, we can ask what this is all about? How lasting is all that we see and experience?
The answer is: You are a mist. It’s here and then it’s gone.
That’s not very encouraging is it? Well, not if your goal is now. What you can get a firm grip on. Not if your goal is control over the when, where, and how. None of it lasts. Who would want control over something that is fleeting?
But all of this is actually very encouraging. The good news in this is you are not in control.
I will say it again: you are not in control.
So stop trying to be. Your life is a mist. Here today gone tomorrow. Relax, submit to God, hand control to the one who creates the mist, and enjoy your life. We worry so much about our plans and our business and our activity that we don’t enjoy life too much. Trying to control life can be exhausting. The perspective of mist can free us from the pride of control and should help us to rely more on God.
Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:15-16)
I have run in circles in the past where people thought that this literally needed to be said as any plan was being made. “I’ll be at church Sunday, if the Lord wills.” I don’t think that James is making that kind of command here although having this in our language wouldn’t hurt. Our mouth reveals what is in our heart.
I have been preaching on James and I have emphasized wisdom a lot. Living in godly wisdom is so important to him. I have defined wisdom as “acting out what you know to be God’s best for your life.”
It’s not good enough to just know what you ought to do, you have to have the courage do it. James says that if you don’t do the good that you know you need to do, you sin. If you know what you need to loosen your grip on and don’t do it, you sin. This would not be wise.
Do yourself a favor. Listen to James. Loosen your grip on your plans while taking responsibility for them. Proactively and humbly seek to act out wisdom in your life and you will find a peace that a tight grip cannot provide. This, I can guarantee.