Summary: It is good to have goals, but goals will disappoint us if we leave God out of them. There is no point in making plans as though God did not exist, because the future is in His hands. That man walks most safely who has the least confidence in himself.
Opening illustration: Fortuneteller, gazing into crystal ball, to 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." Frog: "Where am I? At a singles club?" Fortuneteller: "Biology class." [Personal story about palm reading]
Let us look into God’s Word and see whether He wants us to plan our tomorrows and if so how should we go about it. Should we even try to look into our future from ungodly sources? Let’s turn in our Bibles to James 4: 13 – 17.
Introduction: James beautifully nails the contemporary worldview of how apt worldly and contriving men are to leave God out of their plans! How vain it is to look for any thing good without God’s blessing and guidance! The frailty, shortness, and uncertainty of life, ought to check the vanity and presumptuous confidence of all projects for futurity. We can fix the hour and minute of the sun’s rising and setting to-morrow, but we cannot fix the certain time of a vapor being scattered. So short, unreal, and fading is human life, and all the prosperity or enjoyment that attends it; though bliss or woe for ever must be according to our conduct during this fleeting moment. We are always to depend on the will of God. Our times are not in our own hands, but at the disposal of God. Our heads may be filled with cares and contrivances for ourselves, or our families, or our friends; but Providence often throws our plans into confusion. All we design, and all we do, should be with submissive dependence on God. It is foolish, and it is hurtful, to boast of worldly things and aspiring projects; it will bring great disappointment, and will prove destruction in the end. Omissions are sins which will be brought into judgment, as well as commissions. He that does not the good he knows should be done, as well as he who does the evil he knows should not be done will be condemned. Oh that we were as careful not to omit prayer, and not to neglect to meditate and examine our consciences, as we are not to commit gross outward vices against light!
Our opportunities to obey God’s promptings are also fleeting. James warned against an arrogance that assumes endless days will be available to carry out our good intentions. “You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. . . . Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:14, 17).
How to plan for the future?
1. Designs for future planning [vs. 13 – 14]:
Here is a contemporary picture which James’s readers would recognize, and in which they might see their own portrait. The Jews were the great traders of the ancient world; and in many ways the ancient world gave them every opportunity to practice their commercial abilities. This was an age of the founding of cities; and often when cities were founded and when their founders were looking for citizens to occupy them, citizenship was offered freely to the Jews, for where the Jews came there came money and trade. So the picture is the picture of a man looking at a map. He points at a certain spot on it, and says, “Here is a new city where there are great trade chances. I’ll go there; and I’ll get in on the ground floor: and I’ll trade for a year or so; and I’ll make my fortune, and come back rich.” James’s answer is that no man has a right to make constant and confident plans for the future, for no man knows what even a day may bring forth. Man may propose, but God may dispose, for the future is in the hands of God. The essential uncertainty of the future is a fact which was deeply impressed on the minds of men of all nations.