David Jeremiah - What is Your Life?
You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Here we are again, on the threshold of a new year, when it seems most natural to make plans for the future. Maybe you call them resolutions, and if you've made yours already, did you include God in your plans? As Christians, we undoubtedly agree that it is wise to invite God into our plans, but how often do we make our plans and then ask God to bless our efforts rather than earnestly seeking his will beforehand? The difference between the two approaches is as dramatic as it is dangerous. In today's program, I'd like to usher in the new year with some encouragement from James, who vividly illustrates the difference between doing life with God and without him. So join me as we consider the question: what is your life?
As we begin this new year together, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it really seriously. This year, are you going to follow Jesus or are you going to ask Jesus to follow you? You say, "Why would anybody ever think of asking Jesus to follow them"? We do it all the time. We make our plans, and then we say, "Lord Jesus, would you bless this? This is what I'm going to do, and it would sure be nice if you'd smile on it. This is what I've set out for the new year, and I'd like for your favor, if that's all right". In essence, we're saying, "Jesus, I'm going to do what I want to do, and I want you to follow me with your blessing". We have a choice every day, but especially at the beginning of a new year, to decide: am I gonna follow Jesus or am I gonna ask Jesus to follow me?
James is writing to what theologians call the "Diaspora," the scattered Jews. Now, these Jews who had become Christians were scattered throughout the whole area, and James writes this letter, the book of James, to them. And in this letter, he's going to deal with an issue that has become apparent to him, and that is that many of these believers who have come out of judaism into Christianity have started to live their lives as if God did not exist. They were going on with their plans, doing their business, doing their thing, and God wasn't in the picture. Now, most of us do not know what the future is going to hold, and it's a good thing, but there's a part of us that wants to knows a the future. There's a part of us that wants to be able to kind of be ahead of the game, if you will, but God does not allow that. God does not reveal the future to us, and according to saint Augustine, we're blessed because of it. He said, "God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come. For if he had awareness of his prosperity, he would be careless, and understanding his adversity, he would be senseless".
God veils the future from our eyes and asks us to trust him. And here in the fourth chapter of James, the author is reminding his readers that while they cannot predict the future, they must learn how to plan for it. They should not plan their lives without taking God into consideration or presume upon a future that they cannot control. They must not convince themselves that they are sufficient to face life in their own wisdom and in their own strength. James warns his readers about three things they do that will get them into trouble with God. There's some kind of in-your-face grace from James, some exhortation, some warning. But don't allow those warnings to discourage you, because James puts it all together for us at the end. He tells us that if we're not careful, even as followers of Christ, as were the scattered Jewish Christians to whom he wrote his letter, if we're not careful, we can just do life as if God wasn't in the process. The first thing we can do, if we're not careful, is to do life without God.
James 4:13:. This whole fourth chapter of James is about believers trying to live their own lives in their own sufficiency and not trust in God. James is excoriating these Jewish businesspeople for doing their own thing and divorcing God from the whole process. While these merchants are to be blamed for leaving God out of their plans, they are never faulted for planning. There's nothing in the Bible that says we shouldn't plan. Nothing it said that would lead us to believe there's anything wrong with planning. In fact, in many ways, if we look at what we're going to examine today, this is kind of like a model business plan. The problem wasn't in what the merchants did: it's in what they didn't do. Their wrongdoing was a sin of omission. They omitted God from the process, and they stepped out to do their own thing, like we do sometimes. We do what we want to do and then we ask God to bless it.
Notice what you can do without God. Sometimes, we say, "Well, doesn't the Bible say, 'without me you can do nothing'"? Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean you can't get up in the morning, you can't go to bed at night, you can't eat your dinner. Obviously, you can do some things without Christ. That verse simply means without Christ, you can't do anything that has any eternal perspective. But you can do some things without God, even as a believer, and here are some things you can do without God, according to James: you can make plans without God. "'today or tomorrow,' they said, 'we will do this.'" we will do our thing today or tomorrow. A good business plan needs to have some flexibility, and they've built some in. They're either gonna do it today or tomorrow. And then you can not only make plans without God, but you can mark places without God. "We will go to such and such a city". They sat down: they said, "Today or tomorrow, we're gonna go to such and such a city".
It's an interesting time for these Jewish businesspeople, because it was the time of the founding of cities. Cities were being founded all over the empire and they way they founded 'em was, they would have some patriots who would do it and they would put together incentive plans to bring businesses and people to the city so that they city could grow. You can make plans without God, and you can mark out places without God. You can even do something better than that. You can decide when you're gonna go and where you're gonna go, and then you can decide how long you're gonna stay there. You can manipulate periods without God. Notice the next phrase in the verse is "Spend a year there". These Christians, these businesspeople, these new followers of Jesus Christ, had decided that they could complete their business in a year, and they assumed that they would be able to stay the course and when the year was done, they were gonna come home.
Now, this is pretty specific. On such and such a day, we're gonna go to such and such a place and we're gonna stay for such and such a time. Notice, number four, they could manufacture purposes without God. We're gonna buy and sell. Interesting little phrase from the Greek language: it's the word "Emporeumai," from which we get the word "Emporium," and an emporium is a word that means to travel to a place for the purpose of doing business. So they were gonna go to this city, they were gonna set up their business, they were gonna stay for a year. All of this is in their plan. And notice they're not done yet. They're even gonna measure their profit without God: "And we're gonna make a profit". These merchants were passionate about profit-making. I mean, that's the whole reason why they traveled, why they traded, the reason why they lived, and James is not saying he shouldn't try to make money if you're in business. He's not against the desire to make money. What he is saying is that planning that leaves God out is planning on human ingenuity alone, and it will fall short of everything God intended for your life.
Vince Vicente has written a book that I read recently called, "The Age of speed". That book will kind of scare you if you read it because it reminds us of how fast life has gotten in our generation. Where it was when we all started out and how it has sped up to where we are right now. In this he talks about how our culture has been changed. How we have been exposed to the boom in technology which enables us to achieve speed in almost every imaginable way. Through e-mail, PDA, self check out, downloadable music, real time news, ATMs, digital cameras. Technology has driven speed into every part of our life. The ceiling has been lifted, our options for going fast seem unlimited.
And as I read that book I couldn't help but think about what we're studying here today. How do you put God in your plans when your plans are unfolding at lightning speed every hour of at every day? It's not like you get to go and sit down for a whole day at the beginning of the week knowing everything that's going to happen, ask God about it all, and then lay it out and say, "Okay, Lord. Here we go". You can't do what God wants you to do in our culture today if you have a year-to-year plan with him or a month-to-month plan or if you are many who say, "Well, I get what I need spiritually on Sunday, and then I do my own thing during the week". You can't even do this day-to- day: this is a moment-to-moment thing we're living with, is it not?
So we have to ask God every day, "Lord, I want to submit my life to you today. My plans are your plans. Your plans are mine. Help me to be sensitive to every influence that comes into my life throughout the 24 hours that are before me. When I get an e-mail or a text message or I see Facebook or somebody puts a note in front of me, give me a sense of your presence in all of this so that together, we can do life". That's hard to do. It's hard enough to do it month by month, week by week, day by day. God, I think, is asking of us, in this generation even more, to have a relationship with him that's like he was sitting next to you at your desk or beside you in your car and you're partners in this whole thing and you keep your relationship that fresh so that you have a sense of his presence in your life when you're doing life. If we don't do that, we're gonna get caught doing our own thing, and it may not be the wrong thing and it may not keep us from doing something but it will keep us from doing the thing that God wants in our life.
So we have to be careful that we don't do life without God. Now, these merchants did one other thing. They determined life without God. They had sort of a mind-set that's pretty interesting and pretty arrogant, if you want to know the truth. Notice what they said in verse 14: in planning their lives, these businesspeople had taken a lot for granted. They had made a lot of assumptions. Perhaps we should call them presumptions. First of all, they failed to comprehend the complexity of life. At this time each year, we're exposed to hours and hours of people telling us what to expect in the future, and we always smile at that because it's such a futile thing. We can't tell you, I mean, let's just face it.
One day, we were going along having a normal year and 9/11 happened, and everything changed in our whole world, not just in our own life, but in our whole world. We've never recovered from that. That doesn't mean we should live in fear that some major thing like that's gonna happen. What I'm saying is, life is complex, and we do not have any way to know how life is going to happen. Look at how many things these merchants in James' story counted on accomplishing, taking for granted that they could make it happen. I wrote these words down right out of the text: "Today, tomorrow, spend a year, buy and sell, make a profit". Those were assumptions, on their part, that did not take into consideration that they were not in control of their own context or environment.
In his book, "Thriving on chaos" Tom Peters sums up our problem trying to understand the future and this is what he said, "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention". Amen, isn't that true? "If you're not confused, you're not paying attention". Most of us will admit our ability to assess life situation correctly is average at best. Even as Christians, we often misinterpret life as we see it. Second thing they did, the second assumption they made or presumption was, they failed to comprehend the uncertainty of life. These merchants could not possibly have known what they needed to know to make so bold a prediction. Their statement was raw arrogance. They said, "We will go. We will stay. We will trade. We will make a profit". And the mention of a year's stay suggests both deliberate and calculated arrogance. They were going to go where they liked for as long as they liked. They were gonna do what they did for as long as they wanted to do it. Their resolve, together with their refusal to reckon with death, has a very modern ring.
The answer to life's uncertainties is not to pretend that we have all the answers nor is it to become discouraged or cynical because it feels like we have none of the answers. No, the answer is to trust in the goodness of the one who does have all the answers. How foolish to trust in our own human abilities and not trust in the God who created us and knows the future like it was the present, because for him, it is. And then, of course, the last thing they failed to comprehend was the brevity of life. In verse 14, James introduces one of the most profound questions of the Bible when he asks: now, when he asks that question, he's not asking, "What is your life made up of"? Or "What is the consistency or context of your life"? He's asking a question about the duration of your life. How long does your life last?
Someone has said, "He's asking about the dash between the date of your birth and the date of your death". What is your life? And then he answers it. He says: now, this can be depressing if we don't deal with it correctly, especially for some of us who are looking down the road at less time than we've already lived, but it's not meant to be depressing. It's meant to make a point. Listen carefully. Life is short. It really is. I mean, when we are young and we start living life, it seems like life is so slow, and it drags out. We can't wait till our next birthday. How many of you know that stops somewhere about halfway through? And then we think, "Oh, my goodness, we got another birthday coming? You got to be kidding me. Didn't I just have one? I'm not gonna count this one. Let's just get on past it and get to the next one".
Life goes quickly. The reason I know this is important for us to think about is because Almighty God has placed it in the scripture in so many places with metaphors to help us understand it. This is how God's word tells us to think about life. Listen carefully. It tells us that life is very short, and in order for us to understand that, it gives us these pictures. 1 Chronicles 29:15: job 7:6: job 7: job 9: job 14: Psalm 39: Psalm 102:3: Psalm 103:15-16: an old southern pastor preached a sermon on those verses, and here were his point: "Life is like grass. It is sown, it is grown, it is mown, and it is gone". What he's asking is, how long does it last? Why would he ask that question in this context? Well, if you go off on a business trip that's your own doing and you leave God out of it, you can lose a whole bunch of your life in the process. Can I get a witness?
And some of you have been on that journey, have you not? You've been on those detours that you get on when you don't reflect on how God wants to lead you, and you lose a whole bunch of that little dash that God has given you. What is your life? But the reason it's in the text here is because these businesspeople were assuming that they had forever to do whatever they wanted to do and they could plan their future as if it was in their control. How many of you know we don't control life? Not any of us, not one of us.
Finally, there's one last thing we can do without God. I told you there were three of them: we can do life without God, we can determine life without God, but here at the end of this text, we find these businesspeople are describing life without God. Notice: now, the key to understanding why these Christian merchants were proud and arrogant is found in verse 16. They planned without God because they thought they were the masters of their fate. They presumed about tomorrow because they thought that nothing could happen outside of their control. They procrastinated because they assumed that they would be able to do tomorrow what they did not do today.
In the Greek text, the word "Arrogance" is in the plural so that the sentence really reads like this: "You boast in your arrogances". You are so proud of the fact of what you've done. "I did it my way. I did it with nobody helping me. And in many cases, I did it without God". James does not stop there. He tells us how not to do life, and then he tells us how to do life. And the key to it is one little word. And if you ever Mark in your Bible, this would be a good one to circle. It's the word "Instead". Instead. It's the crowning point of the text. "Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this. Instead" notice verse 15: is that not what Jesus was teaching us in the Lord's prayer? Is that not what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said: if you study the New Testament, you will discover in the New Testament that there are many illustrations of living life like that.
I went through the Book of Acts and some of the epistles that Paul wrote, and I found, to my surprise, this little phrase kind of everywhere. For instance, Paul told the Jews at Ephesus that he would return for a renewed ministry among them if God wills. Acts 18:21. He wrote to the Corinthians that he planned another visit to them, if the Lord wills. 1 Corinthians 4:19. And that he would remain with them a considerate time if the Lord permits. 1 Corinthians 16:7. And he inferred in his statement that he wanted to go to Philippi. He said he hoped in the Lord to go to Philippi. Over and over again, you get this little phrase. What was Paul doing? Here's one of the strongest, greatest leaders you will ever study in history, especially in Christian history. He's always conditioning his plans and his purposes on the will of God. "I want to come to you if it's in the will of God. I want to stay with you if it's in the will of God. I want you to grow in your faith and be mature", according to Hebrews 6:3, "If God permits".
So we should pray that way. Instead of being arrogant and jamming our own plans in the face of God with a bold and arrogant request, "Lord, this is what I'm gonna do, and I'd appreciate it if you'd smile on it", we're to come to God humbly and say, "Lord God, I want to do your will. I want to do what you want me to do. I want to know in my heart, every day when I get up, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That's one of the things I'm absolutely certain about. I don't have a lot of knowledge about it, I just know one thing: I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That's a great, great comfort and encouragement. And every one of us can know that if we will submit our lives to the will of God.
We won't all be preachers or teachers or singers or leaders in a church. God doesn't call us to do that, but he calls each of us to do something, and when we submit our lives to the will of God, we end up doing what we're supposed to do. And let me tell you something I've discovered. What these businessmen had planned to do for a year and make profit was nothing compared to what God wanted to do for them if they would have just submitted their will to him. Do you know what's wrong with our plans? They're too skinny. Our plans are too inadequate. The plan that God has for my life is far beyond anything I could ever dream for my life, and the same is true for you.
So why would you enter into the new year and say, "Lord God, this is what I'm going to do, and I'd appreciate your help in doing it" instead of saying, "Lord God, I know you have something great that you want to do in my life this year, and I'm willing to do it: just show me what it is, and together, we're gonna have an incredible year"? I encourage you to put God in the planning process and to recognize that his plan for you is above and beyond anything you could ever ask or think. So I'm gonna ask you again: this year, are you gonna follow Jesus, or are you gonna ask Jesus to follow you?