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Reflection on James 4:13-17
Good morning, brothers and sisters. I pray that you are well, even though your daily life has been affected by COVID-19.
I’m sure the virus affected your plans. Some of you had to cancel your travels this year, whether it was a holiday, a business trip, or going to another prefecture.
This is especially true for foreign residents in Japan like me, since if we leave, we cannot reenter Japan due to a strict travel ban, even if we are permanent residents or married to Japanese spouses. So, I had to postpone my annual trip to Malaysia that usually happens every summer.
And it’s not just individuals like us who are affected but entire industries, like the travel industry. There are travel bans in many countries, so flights are canceled and entire airports have shut. Some pilots even lost their jobs, a career they trained so hard for.
In this time, the book of James feels especially true, in what James says about the future. So I’d like to share three reflections from James, chapter 4, verses 13-17:
1) First, life is uncertain.
2) Second, life is short.
3) Third, we should write our plans down in pencil rather than pen.
Let’s read from James:
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.” 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.
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. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (4:13-17)
Life is uncertain
The first lesson from the passage we read is: Life is uncertain.
One day, you can be doing well in your business; the next day, you could be hit with a major setback. I watched a poignant story on TV about one of America’s best chefs, named Grant Achatz who designed a very interesting restaurant. After achieving national-level success, he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at age of 33, and he temporarily lost his ability to taste.
What this tells us is that we are not in full control of life. Something so dramatic may not happen to you, but I’m sure there were times you were disappointed when events didn’t work out like you hoped.
Earlier I talked about travel plans being interrupted. I think of the Apostle Paul, who traveled to many places to share the good news about Jesus. In his letters, we learn that he really wanted to go to Rome and to Spain. But he never got to Spain. He did go to Rome, but in an unexpected way—as a prisoner in chains. That’s definitely not a holiday.
So isn’t it amazing that, in spite of him being arrested and persecuted and beaten, he experienced joy? In his letter to the Philippian church, he mentioned that he was in chains (Phil 1:12-14). But despite that, he was so happy that he was able to share about Jesus with the prison guard and that his boldness inspired other Christians to be bold as well!
The reality of Jesus was so powerful to him that being in prison and mistreated did not take away his joy. Paul anchored in his hopes not on things that can change but on the unchanging love of Jesus, his Savior and constant companion. In Romans 8:35, he writes: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
Life is uncertain, and we may be surprised by bad news. But we can have peace because Jesus’ love for us is certain and unchanging. Our future is secure in his hands. He proved to this us in a powerful way through his death and resurrection.
Life is short
Moving on, my second reflection from our passage is that life is short. James says in chapter 4:14, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (4:14)
Some of us feel that we still have many years left to live. But James advises that we take a posture of humility about life. Just as God gives life, he can take it away.
Let’s thank God that He has given each of us some time left to live—I’m sure of that, because you wouldn’t be listening to this sermon otherwise! But let’s also remember that this time will fly by quickly. After that, we will face eternity.
Our life on earth is just a few seconds long compared to eternity. And how we spend eternity depends on God, the judge of all mankind.
Knowing that, how do you plan to live? How will you spend your time? What will be most important in your life? If you are not sure how to live, ask God to show you. Also, I encourage you to search the Bible—even if you have done so before—while having these questions in mind.
Write your plans in pencil, not pen
Lastly, James tells us that we should say this: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live to do this or that.” If it is the Lord’s will. This means that we can make plans, but we should always be open to God’s plan.
An American preacher named Tim Chaddick put it this way: Write your plans in pencil, not in pen.
When you insist on things going your way, you are writing in pen. This could look like making your own plans, expecting them to succeed, and then being upset with God when it doesn’t happen. Who is boss, you or God?
In contrast, when you are flexible to changes in life, you are writing in pencil. Pencil marks can be erased more easily, and something new can be written in place. You are letting God write in your diary.
You are letting God be the captain of your life, because you recognize that He is wise, He is good, He really does care for you, and knows you better than you know yourself. He may take you through a storm, but he will bring you safely to the other side. You may get wet along the way. When the ship tosses, you might fall and bruise yourself everywhere. But God will not let the ship be destroyed; and his destination is a good place.
Let me read again from the words of Paul. Romans 8:28: “… we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
What is God’s purpose? God can use our disappointment and pain for something good. One of is to bring us closer to Him and shape us to be like Himself.
After all, the meaning of life is not to reach certain achievements. The meaning of life is relationships, above all a love relationship with God—which is why He created us in the first place. When the first man Adam sinned, sin entered our world and distorted everything—bringing pain, conflict, disease, and death. Sin also distorted our very human nature, making us un-loving and unlike God. That’s why Jesus came, to restore us and our world. This is God’s overarching plan, and our lives are part of this plan. God invites us to partner with him in the restoring of human lives, but to do that, we have to surrender self-centered control of our lives.
I pray that each of us will be able to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, I will do this or that.” May God reveal to you that he can be trusted with your life and your future.
Life is uncertain, but God promises that he will never abandon us. Let’s pray.