Tony Evans - Connecting Your Plans with God's Providence
Here we have in James chapter 4, some folks who opened up their mouth, and God has something about what they had to say. James initiates his complaint by saying, "Come now". When he says, "Come now," putting it into today's colloquial language, he's literally saying, "Com on, man. You've got to be kidding me". You see, the problem with these folks that James wants to talk to them about and talk to us about was their desire and design to plan their future independently of God. And so he wants to say to them, "Come on, man. You've got to be kidding me". First of all, you have to understand that God encourages us to plan. The Bible is filled with planning. First of all, God is a planner.
The Bible says, "He's planned things before the creation of the world". God talks about his plan for our redemption in Christ Jesus so that at the right time, Jesus was born under the law. God is a planning kind of God, and so God, who is a planner, encourages his people to plan. Jesus said in Luke chapter 14, verses 28 to 32: "'What man goes into a battle who doesn't first count the cost to make sure he has a plan for victory? What construction worker builds a house without a plan?'" His point is planning is necessary in terms of doing what is needed and thinking through what ought be thought through in light of what you hope to happen in the future. Proverbs chapter 6, verse 6 and 7 says: "Look at the ant, you sluggard"! Says the ants know how to plan. They know when the bad weather's coming, and they store up for it, and the ants even know it's a good thing to plan.
Proverbs chapter 16, verse 9 tells you to commit your plans to the Lord. So, God, all through the Bible, encourages you to plan. So, as you go into the new year, you should go into the new year with a plan, and these folk in James chapter 4 had a plan. Let's look at the specificity of their plan. Their plan involved time. They said, "Today or tomorrow," that's time. In fact, it not only discussed the fact of time, they went into the length of time, for they said, "We will spend a year". So they had a annual plan. These men had a plan. These people had a plan. They said, "And we're gonna start the plan today or tomorrow". So they weren't wasting any time with their plan, because planning involves time. Not only did their plan involve time, their plan involved location. 'Cause they said, "We will go into such and such a city," verse 13. So they not only had the timing of a plan, they had the location of a plan.
One of the things that you plan in advance is your vacation, and you may decide, "I'm gonna go to such and such a city, or take such and such a cruise to such and such a place". And so you have planned a location, a place to carry out your plan. So, not only had they planned time, and not only had they planned location, they had also planned purpose. Because it goes on to say that "we will engage in business". So these folk had a plan and a program in mind. They were gonna do some business. Everybody in here is doing business, whether it's buying or selling. Whether it's saving or investing, you're doing some kind of business, for business is merely the medium of exchange of goods and services form one person to another or from one entity to another, and they had a business plan. And business, that's what we call it, a business plan, a plan whereby we want our business to either be established, either to be developed or to grow. There is a business plan. "We will go, and our purpose is to do some business".
So they had a plan that involved time. They had a plan that involved location. They had a plan that involved purpose to engage in business. And finally, they had a plan for their outcome, because it says in verse 13: "And we will make a profit". So, they were anticipating an outcome. They were gonna say, "We gonna make some money out of this deal". I mean, nobody makes a business plan to go broke. Nobody makes a business plan for the plan to fail. You make a business plan for it to be productive. So, as you think about new year, you're not planning to be miserable. You're not planning to be defeated. You're not planning for life to fall apart. That's not part of your plan, because your plan, when you plan it, is to be profitable, beneficial, helpful, desirable. You want something that's gonna work for you, not against you. And so they had it all worked out. And it wasn't a problem that they had planned. The problem was they did not allow for divine contingency, for providence.
Let's review the meaning of providence. Providence is God's way of working things out in life. God is sovereign. He rules over all. One of the methods by which he rules is by steering events toward a particular outcome. Now, the problem with providence is that we don't control it. Providence is God's movement that's out of our hands. These people had made a plan for the year without consideration of God's providential intervention into their plans. Most of us have been alive long enough to know that the world is booby-trapped, it's rigged with disappointments, that life oftentimes has a bad aftertaste, and that it's sorta like some of your kids when they opened up their Christmas presents and what they wanted to know, "Is this all there is"? 'Cause no matter what you bought, it just wasn't all they had hoped for.
These people had made a plan, but listen to the complaint. "Come on, man". Verse 14 says: "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow". In other words, you made a plan about tomorrow, and you ain't been there yet. You're planning about a location you have not arrived as though you're gonna control what happens when tomorrow comes. He says you can't plan your life as though it will work out just like you planned it. He says you oughta plan it with contingencies. You oughta plan it, but don't plan it like you control it. Don't plan it like you gonna have the last say so over it. Don't plan it like you are sovereign related to it. He says, "Come on, man. Don't talk about the future like you own it. Plan it, prepare for it, but you're not guarantee it".
He says, "You talking about what you gonna do over a year when you can't even talk about what's gonna happen tomorrow". Because he says, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow". And most of us have lived long enough to know that tomorrow can shatter the rest of your year. If one thing goes wrong tomorrow and it's bad enough, deep enough, long enough, your whole year is messed up. You see, James goes on to say, "The reason you can't brag about tomorrow is your life is like a vapor". That's what he says, it's a vapor. A vapor is a puff of smoke. Says your life is like vapor. He's not saying don't plan. The Bible is full of planning. He says when you plan, don't plan like you control all the elements. Only God does that. He is sovereign, and his sovereignty providentially steers things in the way he determines that they will go.
And so he says, verse 15: "Instead," instead of talking like you gonna make it happen, that you're in final say so and final control of your life, he says what you ought to say: instead. They were saying, "Come now, today, tomorrow, all year, we're going to this and that city. We're gonna engage in business. We gonna make us some money. We got our plan". He says, "Shut up, shut up, shut up. What you oughta say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'" I love the order here. He says, "First of all, if you gonna talk, talk right. When you plan, put a prefix or a suffix on it, 'If the Lord wills.'" Lord, here's my plan. This is what I'd like to happen with my life, my time, my resources, my family, my career, my emotions, my health, whatever it is. This is my plan, if the Lord wills.
In other words, allow God space to adjust plans. Throughout the Bible, you'll read the word suddenly. That means something just zoom, came out of nowhere. Something was unexpected. He brings a situation, a person, a problem, a trial, a success. He brings something that you didn't anticipate. But if you locked into your will, your way, your plan. That's why the Bible says commit your plans to the Lord, so that he can make 'em his plans, his will. He says, "If the Lord wills". Paul says in Acts chapter 18, verse 21, when talking to some saints, he says: "'I will return to you if it's the Lord's will.'" He says, "This is not just something you think. This is something you need to say". He says, "Instead, you oughta say".
So, people oughta hear you say, "Well, this is what I'm gonna do if it's the Lord's will," or, "Lord willing". In other words, that's not a tag-on line. That line says I have already given God permission to tweak the plan, adjust the plan, and if necessary reverse the plan. So, let me tell you about the will of God. It's not always pretty. It involves sometimes negative things. It involves sometimes things you don't prefer. But if you are submitting your plans to his will, even those things are part of where he's taking you. And that's why I love the book of Esther so much, where God's name is nowhere found in the book, just his fingerprints are everywhere.
And as you know, the whole book turns on the fact that the king couldn't go to sleep. I mean, God used insomnia to save a nation. Because the king couldn't go to sleep. He had somebody read a book to him so that the book would make him sleepy. And when the guy was reading the book 'cause he couldn't go to sleep, they came across the name Mordecai, who had saved the king's life. The king said, "Who's this guy"? "Well, he's the guy who saved your life many years ago". "Well, we oughta do something for that guy". And so now they decide to do something for Mordecai, the man that Haman was gonna kill. So what God did was he intervened. He kept the king from going to sleep, and then he let the king come in at the right time to see Haman pleading with his wife to save his life, and the king thought he was messing with his wife, so the king had him killed.
You see, when God wants to move, he can let people misinterpret stuff to overrule the most powerful people. What I'm telling you is plan. Plan for today, tomorrow, and for the year, but with providence in mind, that God has freedom to audiblize the play. He has freedom to audiblize your life. And so he says, "But as it is, you boast in your arrogance, and all such boasting is sin". What kind of boasting is sin? He's talking about the boasting that makes sound like you are in charge of your future. Now, let me tell you the problem. Here's the problem. We're all gonna face it. We all have faced it. When your plans and his will clash. When your plans, what you plan for this new year, you've got it all down, and you should plan it, and then you get real spiritual and you say, Lord, here's my plan for my job. Here's my plan for my health. Here's my plan for my career. Here's my plan for my relationship. Here's my plan. This is my plan. Here's my plan, Lord. You told me to plan. Here it is.
You're doing what the Bible says. The Bible says commit your plan to the Lord. Proverbs chapter 16, verse 3, verse 16: "Commit your plan to the Lord". So you are, "God, I have planned this thing 'cause you told me to plan". And out of nowhere, God changes it. He lets something happen to you, through you, in you, from you, that something happens. You had this big plan for your job, and then you get a pink slip. You know, you buy a new car. It broke down. You thought it was the Lord's provision, and you were praising him one day, and you gotta catch a bus the next, and it's just stuff not working out, whatever it is. And his will clashes with your plan. I can guarantee you that's gonna happen.
And the reason it's gonna happen is he knows tomorrow and you don't. And that's when you have to make the decision who you love. Am I gonna be God over my own life, or is God gonna be God over my life when he makes his will clear, even if it's against my will? Are we going to do like Jesus, where it clashed in the garden of Gethsemane, and he said, "Take this cup from me, but not my will but thy will be done"? That's what God is calling us to, because he is the only one who has all the data about tomorrow. Proverbs 27, verse 1 says: "Boast not of tomorrow". To fail to consider God in your plan he calls sin. Come on, man. You don't control the future. I don't control the future. God controls the future. I give him a plan to work with and to adjust.
You and I must allow God to be part of the plan. Give him a plan. Commit your way to the Lord. Do not go into this year without a plan. Give God something to bless. Give him something to answer. Give him prayer requests to respond to. Failure to do that is to block what he may want to do. The Bible says, "You have not," James 4, "because you ask not". So give him something to work with. And listen, be as specific as possible, but then you put a prefix on it or a suffix added to it, "If it's your will". Because as good as this plan feels, and as nice as it looks, I choose you over my plan. I want this plan. I desire this plan. I'm asking for this plan, but I want you more. And I will submit my will to your plan if they clash. And when that happens, now you're ready for a new year 'cause you got God all up in it.
As Proverbs 3:5 and 6 says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path". He will intervene in your circumstances. Sometimes it's gonna be fun. Sometimes it's not. But it's all gonna be purposeful. Because when you marry planning with providence by saying, "Your will, not mine, but this is my plan," then you become workers together with God for God's glory and your good. James chapter 4 wants you to know that you oughta commit your plans to providence.
God is the God of planning. He loves to plan. He does things before the foundation of the world to cover all of the world and all of human history. I call that pretty big-time planning. And therefore, he invites us to plan as long as we submit our plans to him. In other words, God does not want us to plan independently of him. He wants the right to manipulate our plans. He wants to see our plans. But like an good Architect, he's always tweaking the lines so that what we plan turns out to be the best plan that he had in mind.
So, that's why you must say about any plan you have, and you ought to have plans for your life, "If God wills. God, here's my plan, my plan for my career, my plan for my family, my plan for my job, my plan for my education, my plan for my finances. Here are my plans. I sit them before you, and now tweak them as you will so that when my plans have been readjusted by your plans, I come out with the best plan for my life. Lord, you know better about me, because I have been made by you, and therefore, take what you know about me that even I don't understand about myself and give me a plan, a plan that takes into account what you've asked me to do, present you one, but also that recognizes my limited scope, understanding, and knowledge based in experiences can't compete with your architectural expertise for my existence. So, Father", your prayer and my prayer should be to him, "here's my plan, now give me your purpose in my plan so that the plan turns out to be the best plan for me".