Every day we live is a profound gift. But because of affluence, excellent medical care, and relative ease, many American Christians today have not grappled with our own frailty. When “business is as usual,” we forget that every day is lived on the knife-edge of eternity. Christians of course should know this, and do believe this… in theory. But we are reminded of our own fragility when contemplating death, disease, loss, and human misery. Down the ages, believers (living by faith not sight), have looked past their circumstances to an incomparably more weighty, more joyful future communion with God. Romans 8:17 – “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.”
How then should we view tomorrow? How should we view our lives in light of the frailty, fragility, and uncertainty that we know theoretically, but that we also feel practically when our world is quickly changing around us? James, the half-brother of Jesus, provides a helpful answer in his epistle of wise practical teaching on the Christian life.
James 4:13-16 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
- Life is uncertain
While it is good and wise to plan (Prov 15:22; 16:1-3), James addresses presumptuous planning; It is planning without God in the picture. James 4:13 does not condemn planning itself, but the attitude of arrogance, autonomy, and self-sufficiency. Perhaps these attitudes have been expressed this past week behind our disappointment, inconvenience, or concern. I know that is true of my own heart. It is easy to forget that each present day is an immense gift from God. It is easy to selfishly worry or selfishly plan about the future. It is easy to presume that life will continue on as it always has.
Particularly striking, is just how pointedly the three specifics of James 4:13 map directly onto our current moment of struggle and crisis.
- Where we will go “we will go to such and such a city…”
- How long we will stay “and spend a year there…”
- How we will spend our money “and engage in business and make a profit…”
This last week has been full of government-sanctioned sheltering, limited commerce, and cancellations of all kinds of events and plans. March of 2020 has reminded Americans everywhere that we don’t have control over where we can go, how long we will stay, and business interactions we will or won’t engage in. We simply are not the ones in ultimate control.
- Life is short
Our future is unknown to us and our life is a vapor. The Greek word “vapor” (atmis) means steam or mist – like a puff of smoke that quickly disappears into the atmosphere. In a God-centered view of Christian reality, we gladly confess that we are here today and gone tomorrow; that only God’s greatness and majesty will matter in eternity. James’ words echo the Psalmist’s from generations prior: “As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer” (Ps 103:15-16). Man’s plans are always tentative because time is not our own, and life is not our own. This is true for travel, ministry, family, and business.
In my own worried sighs, and feelings of personal disappointment – however small – I am reminded that an autonomous attitude before my Lord is always wrong, my life is more temporary than I can ever fathom, and the future awaiting those who trust in Christ is infinitely glorious!