Planning for the Future

13 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”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  All such boasting is evil.  17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.  (James 4; ESV)

Good morning ECA Class of 2020.  What a strange ending to your High School career, huh?  I still remember a few students asking me before Spring Break, “Is this COVID thing going to be a big deal?”  And drumming up all of my knowledge about medicine, science, government, etc… I replied “Nah.”  And unless you are Bill Gates, you didn’t see this coming either!

But I have good news.  God saw it coming.  I have better news.  God saw it coming because God is sovereign.  This didn’t take him by surprise.  That right there is enough to give every Christian some hope during times of uncertainty.

What has been your response to this interruption (should I call it a divine interruption) on your lives?  What have you noticed about your parents?  Teachers?  Church leaders?  Governing officials?  I’ll bet you have seen frustration, complaints, accusations, conspiracy theories.  You’ve heard it all. This is what happens when life gets dramatically changed.  It impacts us.  How can it not?

In these few moments that I have, I want to give you some good news about the future and your place in it.  But before I do that I have to tell you that this message can only apply directly to Christians.  If you are trusting in Jesus as your Savior; if you are relying on him for your righteousness; if your dependence upon standing before a holy God is in Christ alone, then what I am about to say is for you. 

If you are not a believer in Christ, let me urge you to look to Jesus right now.  Today is the day of salvation.  If you have learned nothing else from the past couple of months, it is that life can change on a dime.  You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  Actually you don’t even know what your next breath will bring.  Believe in the Lord Jesus right now and you will be saved.  There is no other name under heaven by which men might be saved, said Peter.

Okay, what is this good news (beyond the Gospel I just presented?).  Here it is.  Until Jesus returns, you still have a future on this planet.  You still have decisions to make.  You still have a life to live.  Yes some of those decisions are harder to make.  Some of you had planned to go to college away from home which means you would live on campus and then suddenly you saw campuses closed and students shipped back home to finish online.  What do you do now?  Colleges are reopening but with the caveat that if there is a spike in COVID 19 cases, they could shut down again.  Well, do you change your plans?  Do you find a college closer to home?  Do you skip college altogether and find a trade to work in?  Did your career interest suddenly change because this pandemic declared that job nonessential (what a horrible word to use for workers, by the way!).  Have you had to shift your plans? For most of you the answer is probably yes.

And I am here to tell you that that is okay.  In fact, what you are seeing on a worldwide level happens all the time on personal levels.  My family had many unexpected changes in the last year (I won’t go into that here) and we had to make adjustments.  Those things happen all the time.  Even if there was no pandemic, at least a few of you would have life-altering events that would get in the way of your plans. 

What does God’s Word say about this?  I want to read for you a short passage from James.  It’s a powerful passage and while it’s always appropriate, it seems more so in a time like this.

13 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”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4; ESV)

Please notice what James is not saying.  He is not saying “don’t make plans.” There is a saying “Let go and let God.”  That sounds more like New Spirituality (remember Worldviews) than Christianity.  We aren’t to be passive in life, letting the wind blow us here and there.  No, we are to be active.  You have to make plans.  And if your plan sounds like verse 13: I am going to St. Louis to study Engineering so that I can work in Australia and make money, then by all means pursue that, but with a very important addition: “IF GOD WILLS IT.”

That statement is James’ reminder that we are not Sovereign, God is.  We are not in control, God is.  Life is not primarily about us but about the Lord. When our focus is on doing what the Lord wills for us, then the idea of life as a mist isn’t disconcerting.  It’s no less true and believe me as you get older life seems to move so much faster.  But we can know that what we are doing now is somehow preparing us for eternity (Seniors, think of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity). 

But if your focus is on your will and not God’s will, that is what James calls arrogance and boasting.  Those attributes should never have a foothold in the Christian (though they do!).  Because arrogance means you attribute your gifts and talents to you; as if God had nothing to do with it.  If you make plans but leave God out, he may even allow you to prosper in this life.  But what about eternity?  This life is a mist; it’s over before you know it.  The mentality of “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is the motto of the unbelieving world.  This is all you have.  That’s kind of depressing, if you ask me.

But for the believer; the one who is looking to Jesus alone, you can know that if you make plans and those plans get changed, that’s okay.  Yeah you might be frustrated; you might question God as to why he allowed this to happen.  And if your mindset is pure, there’s nothing wrong with asking God that.  But you can know that because God is not only Sovereign but he is Good, that whatever happens will be for his glory and your benefit.

Seniors, what did Jesus do in his life?  38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. (John 6).  And he did this perfectly, did he not?  Even in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was faced with the horrors of death on the cross and undergoing God’s wrath in our place, remember what Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22).  Every decision of Jesus was in accordance with his Father’s will.

Seniors, it is my hope and prayer that you will have this mindset.  Make your plans but ask that the Lord’s will be done.  Choose a college (or not) and ask that the Lord’s will be done.  Choose a spouse (or not) and ask that the Lord’s will be done.  These things are true whether or not the world is functioning smoothly.  If everything got back to normal next year and I was asked to speak to the Seniors, I could say the same thing.  That’s just one of the reasons I live God’s Word; it is always relevant.

Thank you again for the honor of speaking to you today.  May God richly bless you as you seek to do his will.

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