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"Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure." (Job 14:1-2)
"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath." (Ps. 39:3-5)
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)
This is the third and final article in a series concerning the frailty of life. This article deals with the context of the last verse cited above, James 4:14.
13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (James 4:13-17)
In this section of verses, James speaks on the control that we have over the events of our lives. We all feel at times that we ourselves are in control. We think that our destiny is in our own hands. We proclaim (as has been cited in these pages before): "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul."[Footnote #3] We think that our life is our own. It isn't. James wants to make this very clear, so he begins emphatically: "Now listen".
The target audience for James' exhortation is those who have their whole future planned out and decided. They say: "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money". Of note is the fact that there is no room for God in any of their plans. They will travel; they will work; they will "make money", but apparently accomplishing the work of God is not any part of their ambition.
James tries to bring them back to reality by informing them: "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow". This passage in James is reminiscent of the parable that Jesus told concerning a rich landowner whose ground produced a good crop. The rich man, seeing his prosperity, planned to build bigger and better barns to store all of his goods and grain. He fantasized about the time when his big barn would be built: "And I'll say to myself, `You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.' " (Luke 12:19). His fantasy was short-lived, however, for God said to him: "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" (Luke 12:20). Then Jesus remarked, concerning this parable: "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21). Those who live for themselves, with no thought toward God's purpose in their lives, can never be certain about their future; however, if you live for God, if your desire is to fulfill His purpose in your life, you can be assured that you will attain your goal.
We must realize the frailty of our lives, and how little control that we have over them, as James says: "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." Man's life is fleeting. With all the distractions in this world, one could easily live his whole life and not achieve any worthwhile goal. So many people chase after the things of this world, as the one in James' example, whose goal is to "go to this or that city,...carry on business and make money". To what end? So that he can "eat, drink and be merry". What if the Lord came to you this evening and said, "This very night your life will be demanded of you"? Is that a terrifying thought?
It shouldn't be. If you are living for Him, you can say what James advises us to say concerning the future: "If it is the Lord's will, we will live". Whether we acknowledge it or not, our lives are in His hands. He controls our destiny. We only continue to live because it is His will that we continue to live. Yes, in His will, He has given us the choice of how to live our lives, as long as we live that is. We can choose to seek to fulfill His purpose for our lives, or we can seek to fulfill our own pleasures. However, if we seek to fulfill our own pleasures, we must ever be looking over our shoulders, anxious that God too will visit us in the night demanding our lives. On the other hand, if we live for Him, we already realize that our lives are in His hands, and, indeed, we even look forward to the day when we will join Him in Him kingdom.
When we presumptuously plan out our future with no consideration for God's will, as James says, "we boast and brag". We are, in effect, rejecting the fact that God controls our lives. We are boasting that we are sovereign over the events in our future. As James states: "All such boasting is evil". Now, it is not the planning itself that is evil, it is the lack of consideration for God's will that is evil. Yes, we can plan to buy a new car, we can plan to take a vacation, we can plan to move to another area and start a new career, but as we are planning, we must seek the Lord's will in these matters. Again, we should say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that".
And if we seek His will, His will be revealed to us. Now, it may turn out that His will does not agree with what we planned. At this point, again we can choose to obey His will, or to continue on with our plans. If we continue on with our plans, we are rejecting God's will for us, and thus, rejecting the good that we ought to do. So, James concludes, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins". Since our lives are a "mist", we do not have time to ignore God's will. We always say, "Oh, next year I will do this or that for the Lord." However, the reason that we don't have time to do God's work is usually because we are too busy fulfilling our own goals for our lives. In doing so, we often do not realize that we are sinning, but James states, in no uncertain terms, again: "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins".
Our lives are a "mist" (James 4:14); they are like a "fleeting shadow" (Job 14:2); our days are a "mere handbreadth" (Psalm 39:5). It is time that we seek to do the "good we ought to do"; it is time that we give our lives entirely to the Lord and seek to fulfill His purpose for them. Christ is our example in this. In His short earthly life, He accomplished much, always doing "the good he ought to do", the will of His Father.
So Father, put the desire in our hearts to seek to fulfill Your purpose for our lives and to always seek to do Your will. Lessen our desires for worldly pursuits and increase our desire to do that which will have eternal significance. Give us an acute awareness that You are in control of our lives, that we are alive only because it is Your Sovereign will that we remain so. May we live as Jesus did, in whose name we pray these things, Amen.
3. From "Invictus", William Ernest Henley.
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