“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.’ 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. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:13-17).
Christians speak in platitudes and clichés: “Be blessed,” “Praying for you,” “God love you,” “In Jesus’ name,” “Lord willing.” There are biblical grounds for many of our expressions, but they can become trivialities that convey little more than religious sentimentality.
In the text above, James told the displaced believers to couch their plans in terms of, “If the Lord wills,” but we aren’t to cite the phrase simply like knocking on wood or rubbing a rabbit’s foot. We don’t say, “If the Lord wills,” for good luck. Instead, the phrase has everything to do with building our faith.
Today, we hear expressions like, “Just do it” or “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” The idea is to take matters into your own hands and do whatever you please. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate nature of such self-indulgent wisdom lies back of much of the world’s ills, as abortion, genocide, and a host of other evils.
Some preachers today tell us that God wants to give us all greens lights and cupcakes and fairy dust. They’d have us believe that anything negative is of the devil and God only wants our happiness – always. The help-yourself, do-it-your-way gospel has gained much ground among religious folk.
To think “if the Lord wills” teaches us to put our plans in proper perspective. Instead of pursuing our own ends, “if the Lord wills,” or “as the Lord allows,” expresses faith in God’s providence. It confesses confidence in God’s provision and guidance. James’ instruction corresponds to Jesus’ counsel to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and Paul’s advice to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1). So, we who confess faith in Christ must rest in His wisdom and leadership. We learn to respond in faith to God’s direction and instruction to us.
Resting and trusting in God’s will also produces patience. At times, God’s providence can seem rather dark, as when He leads us “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). Many of the saints in both Testaments walked faithfully through devastating valleys because they were obedient to the Lord’s providence. Scripture, though, is rife with examples of God’s finest disciples following Christ into the mouth of death itself. God’s Word teaches us to wait upon the Lord and to trust His timing.
In learning to wait on the Lord and to rest in His providence, we discover that God is always right. His timing and provision are impeccable. He always gives us what we need the way we need it. We may not grasp the significance of His timing and manner of granting our request, but He’s always right and His ways are always good and glorious.