What do you know about mid-life crisis?
You may not have reached this point yet, or you may be in the midst of it. There are a host of factors that contribute to this crisis, and a swarm of different ways in which it is expressed. At its heart, it is the realization there is more of life gone than left.
Here are two questions.
First, how long is your life span going to be? One person used the analogy of a roll of tickets under the counter. Each day a ticket pops up, but you have no idea how many are left on the roll.
Second, how much do you control the circumstances of your life?
These are the questions James is probing. At first, he seems to have some business people in mind, but his point applies to us all (James 4:13-14a):
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” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with what these people are doing. They have planned the time, the place, the duration, the activity, and their goal. This seems like a well-conceived plan – not unlike our projects.
Why does James condemn this approach?
Before providing you with six steps for better planning, let’s look at what James condemns.
What is the problem?
It’s not the fact of their planning – it’s the presumption in their preparation. They took for granted they were in control of the circumstances and future of their lives. How like us – and yet, we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.
James then reinforces his point (4:14-15):
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills [thelō], we will live and do this or that.”
First, he points out the frailty and brevity of our lives. Picture the mist rising in the morning, or a puff of smoke coming out a chimney that is whisked away by a breeze. How much substance does the mist have? How long does the smoke last?
Second, he uncovers a lack of concern for what God desires for their lives. Many do not consider what God wants or desires (thelō). Despite our professions of belief, many of us tend to live as pragmatic atheists – planning as if God does not exist.
Reflection: What differences would it make to your plans and decisions if you consider how fragile and short life is, and what God desires?
James next moves to unmasking the dysfunction and fragmentation that planning without God brings to our lives. He lays bare this tacit pride as arrogance (4:16):
As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
He is accusing us of arrogance or pretense in our planning. To some degree, whether consciously or unconsciously, we ignore God and imagine ourselves in control.
What is the way toward wholeness?
The antidote is stated in one sentence (4:17):
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
What does that mean? At first, this prescription seems to be out of place. It doesn't appear to be linked to what James has been uncovering about us and our planning.
What is the “right thing,” and how do we do it?
The context and structure of this section of James draw us to one conclusion. What is the one right or proper thing that is being omitted? Is it not the will or desire of God?
Bible scholars confirm this. For instance, Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “one should preface one’s endeavors with prayer and place one’s projects within the will of God (4:15). That is the only omission to which the oun [Greek for 'therefore' or 'so'] could refer.”
How do we do this?
Have you ever heard or read of George Müller (1805-1898)? His life is an amazing story of dependence upon God, and the experience of God in everyday life. Click here for a short pictorial history of his life.
Müller practiced the following six steps for making plans.
1. Not your will – come to the place where you have no will of your own in the matter. Ninety percent of the problem of ascertaining God’s will can be found here.
2. Ask God – ask God in earnest prayer to lead you in His will and keep you from being led astray.
3. Consult the Bible – seek the will of God in connection with the Word of God. The Word and the Spirit must agree.
4. Circumstances – take into account providential circumstances. Sometimes these clearly indicate the will of God.
5. Decision – come to a deliberate conclusion, according to the best of your ability and knowledge.
6. Peace – Action – with your mind at peace after several more [requests], proceed accordingly.
Reflection: What questions do you have regarding James’ advice? How can you implement Müller’s steps in your life?
You can listen to this as a podcast by clicking here.
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