Summary: If you want to succeed ask God's what he wants you to do.

Planning And The Will Of God

Text: James 4:13-17


1. Illustration: On September 11, Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell watched the television in his boss’ office as a second hijacked airplane slammed into the World Trade Center. The Army officer had no idea that minutes later madmen would ram a Boeing 757 into the Pentagon, just three windows away from his own office in the outermost ring. At 9:40 a.m. Brian was stepping out of the men’s room as a massive explosion hurled him to the floor. Instantly a fireball engulfed him. He could not get to his feet and agonized that he would never again see his wife, Melanie, and 12-year-old son, Matthew. But within seconds, an overhead fire sprinkler water on his charred body. Brian stumbled down the hallway and fellow Pentagon workers carried him to safety. Meanwhile, both Mel and Matthew were watching TV and saw the damage to the Pentagon. "I knew right away Brian’s office could not have survived that impact," Melanie reflects. Mom and son tearfully prayed together for Brian to have been out of his office at the time of the crash. Burns seared 61 percent of Brian’s body - 41 percent third-degree (arms and hands); the rest second-degree, scorching much of his face, ears, legs and back. Heavily sedated and clinging to life, Brian didn’t open his eyes for two days. The same day President and Mrs. Bush visited Brian. When President Bush greeted the bed-ridden Brian with a salute, the soldier painstakingly attempted to raise his heavily bandaged arms in a return salute. No eye was dry in the room. The next 12 weeks were the longest of Brian’s 40 years. Infection gnawed away at the remaining flesh on both arms. He required nearly 20 surgeries to cleanse wounds and graft on fresh skin. But Brian is not focusing on what he lost through the attack, but what he has gained. "My living through all this is one of God’s many miracles," Brian states. Of those endless days and nights at her husband’s bedside, Melanie says, "Now I don’t take things for granted as much. Your priorities change. The things that used to bother you in life, you now see that they are really not that important. Life is so precious and is so fragile."

2. Perhaps you have heard the proverb that says, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!" While there is great wisdom in this proverb there is another proverb that should go with it, "If you fail to seek God's will your plans will fail!"

3. Psalm 14:2 (NLT)

2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God.

4. James tells us that the truly wise seek God's will before they make important decisions. He tells us...

A. Planning Is Good, But The Will Of God Is Better

B. Seeking God's Will First Is Wise

5. Let's stand together as we read James 4:13-17.

Proposition: If you want to succeed ask God's what he wants you to do.

Transition: First, James tells us that...

I. Planning Is Good, But The Will Of God Is Better (13-14).

A. How Do You Know?

1. "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." ? Dwight D. Eisenhower

2. "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

? Abraham Lincoln

3. Both of these men talked about the importance of planning. They were both President of the United States, and they were both successful.

4. Another man, Thomas A Kempis, someone you've probably never heard of, said, "Man proposes but God disposes. The quotation Man proposes but God disposes may come down to us as a direct translation from a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis. This work, his celebrated Of the Imitation of Christ, is the second most widely read Christian text after the Bible itself. It contains many sensitively and wisely expressed insights into spirituality and morals.

5. Planning is a good thing, as long as God is in it.

6. James says in v. 13, "Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”

A. The you who say is most likely businesspeople. Addressing this letter to scattered people presumes, at least in part, people moving to establish new lives in distant places. But its lessons apply to any situation that requires planning.

B. Business travel in the first century was very common, and Jews, especially, traveled widely for business purposes. Notice the well-laid plan: (1) "go to this or that city," (2) "spend a year there," (3) "carry on business." and (4) "make money." The starting time is arranged—"today or tomorrow." The city has been selected—the Greek text simply says "this city". But God has no place in the plans (The Expositor's Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation, 197).

C. Planning is not evil—in fact, businesspeople are wise to plan ahead. The problem that James addresses, however, is that God is not included in those plans.

D. The merchants plan with arrogance, thinking they can go wherever they like and stay for as long as they like.

E. Their way of planning, doing business, and using money may be honest, but it is really no different than the planning of any pagan businessperson.

F. These Christian business people ought to know better (Barton, 1088).

7. Look at what James tells them in v. 14, "How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone."

A. There is a problem with these well-made plans—no one can know what will happen tomorrow, to say nothing of a year in the future. These people were planning as if their future was guaranteed.

B. Proverbs 27:1 (NLT)

1 Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring.

C. James is not suggesting that they make no plans because of possible disaster, but to be realistic about the future as they trust God to guide them. Because the future is uncertain, it is even more important that we completely depend on God.

D. Our lives are uncertain, like the morning fog that covers the countryside in the morning and then is burned away by the sun.

E. Life is short no matter how long we live. We shouldn’t be deceived into thinking we have plenty of time left to live for Christ, to enjoy our loved ones, or to do what we know we should.

F. Today is the day to live for God! Then, no matter when our lives end, we will have fulfilled God’s plans for us.

(Barton, 1088).

8. It is good to have goals, but goals can disappoint us if we leave God out of them.

A. There is no point in making plans as though God does not exist because the future is in his hands.

B. The beginning of good planning is to ask: "What would I like to be doing ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow?

C. How will I react if God steps in and rearranges my plans?"

D. We can plan ahead, but we must hold on to our plans loosely. If we put God's desires at the center of our planning, he will never disappoint us (Life Application Study Bible, 2121).


1. Illustration: A fortune-teller gazes into crystal ball and says to a frog: "You are going to meet a beautiful young woman. From the moment she sets eyes on you, she will have an insatiable desire to know all about you. She will be compelled to get close to you - you'll fascinate her." The frog said, "Really? That's great! Where am I? At a singles club?" The fortune-teller answered, "Biology class."

2. Life is a journey and only God has the GPS!

A. Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

25 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

B. Trying to make plans without consulting God for His will is like trying to go some place you've never been without directions.

C. You might get lucky and find it, but chances are you are going to get lost and you may never get there at all.

D. Making plans is wise, but making them without God's direction is foolish.

E. None of us know what the future hold, only God knows the future.

F. None of us knows what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

G. But God knows the future and he knows you.

H. He has a plan for you, and it is a good plan. A plan that gives a future and a hope!

I. He hasn't left you out of His plan, so don't leave him out of yours!

Transition: If the will of God is better than our plan then it makes sense to be...

II. Seeking God's Will First Is Wise (15-17).

A. If The Lord Wants

1. Now that James has told these business people how foolish they have been, he know shows they what they should do.

2. He says, "What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

A. Believers cannot live independently of God; therefore, our plans cannot ignore him. We must make sure those plans include the clause, if the Lord wants us to.

B. We are to plan, but we are to recognize God’s higher will and divine sovereignty.

C. This means far more than simply saying, “If God wills,” whenever we speak about future plans, for that too can become meaningless.

D. It means planning with God as we make our plans. Our plans should be evaluated by God’s standards and goals, and they should be prayed over with time spent listening for God’s advice. Such planning pleases God (Barton, 1088).

E. Instead of saying, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city... and make money" (v. 13), the Christian businessman "ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will.."

F. No Christian can safely assume that he can live independently of God. For a believer to leave God out of his plans is an arrogant assumption of self-sufficiency, a implicit declaration of independence from God.

G. It is to overlook reality. Whether men recognize it or not, they "will live and do this or that" only "if it is the Lord's will."

H. A study of the use of this conditional clause in the NT makes it clear that we are not to repeat it mechanically in connection with every statement of future plans (The Expositor's Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation, 197).

I. But it ought to be a genuine desire of our hearts.

3. James says, "Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil."

A. Some of James's readers, rather than subjecting their plans to God's will, made it their practice to "boast and brag."

B. To make plans without considering God's plan is the same thing as arrogantly claiming to be in full command of the future.

C. The Greek text literally means "You are boasting in your arrogant pretentions".

D. It refers to proud confidence in one's own knowledge or cleverness, hence, arrogance.

E. It implies that these qualities are not really possessed. The businessmen addressed by James were proud of their arrogant assumption that they could foresee and control the future.

F. "Such boasting," says James, "is evil." It not only lacks the quality of being good, it is aggressively and viciously wicked (The Expositor's Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation, 197).

4. James concludes this discussion by saying, "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."

A. This verse sums up all of chapters 1–4 and the entire ethical problem in the whole book of James. He may be telling these merchants that they know what they should do—that is, honor God in their business practices. If they ignore that, they sin.

B. In a broader sense, James adds these words as an admonition for all his readers to do what he has written: it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. They have been told, so they have no excuse.

C. We tend to limit sins to specific acts—doing wrong. But James tells us that sin is also not doing what is right. (These two kinds of sin are sometimes called sins of commission and sins of omission.)

D. It is a sin to lie; it can also be a sin to know the truth and not tell it. It is a sin to speak evil of someone; it is also a sin to avoid that person when you know he needs your friendship.

E. We should be willing to help others as the Holy Spirit guides us. If God has directed you to do a kind act, to render a service to others, or to restore a relationship—do it. You will experience a renewed and refreshed vitality to your Christian faith (Barton, 1088-1089).

B. Seek First The Kingdom

1. Illustration: "As followers of Jesus, we should be seeking Gods perspective. Are you, like me, overwhelmed and losing perspective? We need to stop and climb the mast of the ship of faith, to see life from Gods perspective. It will change completely what we see."

2. Seeking God's will first causes everything else to fall into place.

A. Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT)

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’

32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

B. Colossians 1:18 (NLT)

18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.

C. He is first in everything.

D. That means he is first in the church.

E. That means he is first in our priorities.

F. That means he is first in our relationships.

G. That means he is first in our finances.

H. That means he is first in our calendars.

I. That means he is first in our planning.

J. And is he isn't first in all of those things we are committing idolatry, because if Jesus isn't Lord of all then he isn't Lord at all!!!


1. "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!" While there is great wisdom in this proverb there is another proverb that should go with it, "If you fail to seek God's will your plans will fail!"

2. James tells us that the truly wise seek God's will before they make important decisions. He tells us...

A. Planning Is Good, But The Will Of God Is Better

B. Seeking God's Will First Is Wise