Life involves many decisions. Some of these decisions are simple (“what will I eat?”) whereas others are significant (“where will I live?”). We are all faced with decisions every day. Sadly, the process of decision making has been complicated by many with some very bizarre and subjective approaches. What does the Bible say about plans, decision making and the will of God? The answer is – a lot! In this post I would like to look at this matter from the lens of James. James 4:13-17 is an important passage that deals with the matter of decision-making and the will of God. James describes two kinds of decision makers – the foolish planner and the wise planner. It says,
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James begins in verse 13 by addressing those who are making plans for the future (specifically business plans). The person in verse 13 makes a decision that involves five specific facets: (1) Time of departure “today or tomorrow“, (2) destination “such and such a town“, (3) duration “spend a year there“, (4) duties “trade“, and (5) desires “make a profit“.
He then goes on to reveal why this planning is foolish. However, the foolishness is not based on the five facets of planning, instead he observes a glaring omission in the plans of verse 13. He begins his argument by reminding his readers that their knowledge and lives are limited (“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” James 4:14). Then he reveals what was missing in the plans of verse 13: “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). His point is that the man in verse 13 is a foolish planner, whereas the person in verse 15 is the wise planner. What is the difference? Both make plans, but only one makes plans in recognition of who God is by submitting to His will.
In this passage, James does not condemn planning for the future. This is apparent because the wise planner in verse 15 still plans by saying “we will live and do this or that.” In addition to planning, the wise person says, “if the Lord wills“. This is not simply tacking a special formula to the end of a sentence, but rather this person rightly understands that they are limited in knowledge and ability (4:14) and that God is sovereign and knows all things. So in their planning they submit their plans to the will of God. Such an attitude prevents the believer from bragging about what their future accomplishments will be. In verse 16 James exposes what the attitude of the foolish planner is. Boasting in self and future plans is evil because it ignores who God is, and places self as sovereign. In this passage James has rebuked the individual who makes future plans without considering the will of God.
As the people of God, we have a responsibility in making plans and decisions by making use of biblical principles. However, we are to recognise that our understanding is limited and therefore we must entrust all our plans and decisions to the Lord. Whatever we do, it must be done for His glory.
Plan wisely and trust willingly.