Planning versus Presumption

When I was a teenager, one of the abbreviations I saw quite frequently on correspondence from one of my friends was D.V. It's the Latin deo volante, which means, "Lord willing." And (whether we use DV or simply the English, Lord willing), it really ought to be an expression that we resurrect when we talk with each other, because it is a constant reminder that we are not sovereign, God is. In verses 11-12 we saw that man is not the sovereign who determines laws, God is. And in this section we will see that we are not the sovereign who determines time, God is. And yet, our language many times conveys to the world that we think we are sovereign over our future. The constant reminder that God can change our plans is a humbling thing in a good way. But before we look at God's sovereignty over our time, we have to unfortunately lay a few misconceptions to rest. Liberals are constantly pitting Paul against James. Don't think of Paul as the planner, the driver, the hard hitting businessman, and James as rather passive here in terms of his plans for the future. And part of the problem is that people still tend to pit divine sovereignty against human responsibility. Both must be affirmed.

Solid Planning Is Not Enough

James Is Not Against Time Management (v. 13a with v. 15; 5:7-10)

Starting Date ("tomorrow")

Target Date For Completion ("a year")

So before we look at what the text does mean, let's deal with what it does not mean. Some people have thought that James commands us not to plan for the future. And if you take it out of context, perhaps you could interpret it that way.

In verse 13 James alludes to time management (among other things). We see here long term and short term planning. We see a beginning date and an ending date, and an assumed process in between. Verse says, Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit." There's the plans, and then supposedly this next verse is an objection to such long term planning. Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. [Why do you bother to plan? They say. You don't even know what will happen to you tomorrow, let alone a year from now. Verse 14 goes on: For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. I have run across people who have been vigorously opposed to planning as if it was a lack of trust in God; a failure to submit to His sovereignty. And it's not just hyper-Calvinists. I have seen Arminians take this passive attitude as well. According to some, the spiritual thing is just to pray and to trust the Lord. Well, let me tell you that that is to guarantee that you will never be spiritually mature. Never put trust in opposition to human responsibility. Verses 14-17 are not in opposition to verse 13. Rather, they are intended to show that verse 13 is not enough.

Don't ever excuse your laziness and your poor planning with the words that you are trusting the Lord. That's an insult to God. My response to such a person would be, "How can you possibly be trusting the Lord when you disobey His commands to plan carefully." Disobedience is not trust. There are numerous commands in the Bible to be wise stewards of our time and resources; to plan for the future. In fact, it is only because God controls the future, that we have any basis for being able to make plans that God can bless. If chance ruled, there would be no point in planning. And I won't go into all of the Biblical mandates to engage in planning. Entire books have been written on time management, financial planning, planning for your children's education and other subjects that require us to make guesses about the future. In fact, according to the Bible, we need to make our plans so long-term, that what we do now will impact our grandchildren and our great grandchildren. Maturity requires detailed planning. Even in the context we can see that. Verse 15: "Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." "We shall do this or that" is a summary of the planning mentioned in verse 13. Are you able to say that you will do "this or that" (if the Lord wills) a year from today? Most Christians I talk to can't, because they don't have any long term plans. James expects you to be able to say, "If the Lord wills, I will do this in a month, and I will do that in two months, and I will do such and such in a year: DV (deo volante)." Such planning is a moral imperative. Verse 15 says, you ought to say… Planning is essential to maturity, and sometime you can read Christ's harsh words in Luke 14:28-32 to people who don't plan. They are a reproof to the shoddy planning of many Christians. So James is not against planning. He assumes we will be involved in it. In fact, he commands us to be involved in it. Hopefully I have repeated this enough times that there is no question in your minds about the fact that God's sovereignty over time enables and mandates good planning for the future.

James Is Not Against Strategic Planning (v. 13b with v. 15)

So the aspects of planning that James approves of in verse 15 include 1) the time management of verses 13 – that we have a starting and an ending date for each project. 2) They include approval of strategic planning. Targeting which city will make profits at this particular time and with this particular product is not being condemned at all. In fact, it is essential to have such plans. If you don't have strategic planning your company venture might be a major flop and you will have squandered some of the money God has entrusted into your stewardship. When I was in school I had one person tell me that it would be immoral for a store keeper in the inner city to move out of a deteriorating neighborhood just because customers don't come there anymore. That's foolishness. You've got to go where the customers are if you are a store, or you won't be a store very long, and in the process you will have squandered resources God has given. So James is in no way reproving a company's plans to target xyz country. James reproof is that they have failed to fit those plans within the kingdom framework of Scripture. And he gives an example in chapter 5:1-6 where James has to tongue lash rich people who sacrifice kingdom principles as they strategize for profit. He's not against capitalism. He is against unprincipled capitalism. So he is not against strategic planning. He is against a kind of planning that ignores God's sovereignty over time: that there is a time and a season for everything under heaven. Wonderful words from Ecclesiastes.

James Is Not Against Detailed Financial Strategy (v. 13c with 5:1-6)

In verse 13, James also alludes to financial strategy and to setting of goals. Well, verse 15 implies that those goals still ought to be done.

James Is Not Against Goals (v. 13d with v. 15)

James is Not Against Planning for a Profit (v. 13 e with v. 15; 5:7-8)

Even the mundane goal given here: "to make a profit" is quite spiritual. Isn't that what 3 John says is John's desires for Gaius? John sais, Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. Proverbs 14:23, says, In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty. He is saying that even the common laborer is a capitalist when you think about it. So the Bible is not against profit.

You've got socialists nowadays who say that James is against profit, and that is the reason for his harsh words. No. You will not find one word of disagreement with profit in this paragraph. Lord willing, we'll deal with chapter 5 next week. But His only disagreement is that they are not acknowledging God's sovereignty over their plans. These folks had turned their planning into self-centered; self-serving; this-worldly planning that left God and God's kingdom out of the picture. It is possible for us to do the same. It's not enough to ask God to bless our company at the end of the day or at the end of the week. God is not here to serve our company, or to serve our planning. Rather, we are to be stewards of God's resources, and we need to make God the reason for every stage of our planning; and we need to make sure that God is pleased with what we are doing. Do you do that?

All Such Planning Is Commanded (4:15; 5:7-10)

James Opposes Man-Centered Planning

Planning That Fails To Take Eternity Into Consideration (v. 14)

But let's look next at what James is against. First of all, James is against planning that fails to take eternity into consideration. That's the ultimate long term planning, isn't it? Let's start with verse 14. That says, "whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It s even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." Here James points out that we are all going to die in the not-too-distant future, and that it is foolishness to only live for the present. This present life is such a fleeting thing that James thinks it is foolish to fail to include in your planning the impact that your work will have on eternity. And that is true in terms of your plans for birth control or any other subject. You need to evaluate how your plans will affect God's kingdom short term and long term. Many plans on birth control, education, entertainment, and other things are so present-oriented that people regret them at the end of their life. But above all, I think this verse indicates that He wants you to develop an eternal perspective.

Someone once described eternity to me this way: He said, once every 100 years a bird comes and sharpens his beak on a rock the size of this planet. So once every hundred years there is a little bit of wear on that rock. And after billions of years this bird begins to wear the rock a little. When that bird has worn the rock completely away, one second of eternity will have finished." He was indicating that by comparison to eternity, our entire life down here does not last for even 1 trillionth of a second. And yet, here we are pouring all of our resources and all of our energies and time into succeeding in this life, receiving the fleeting praise of people in this life, only laying up resources for this life. It is so easy for us to forget about eternity in the rat race of life. And that is true even of a minister. A minister can get so busy in his ministry that he loses sight of the reason he is ministering. He's no longer people oriented; he's no longer kingdom oriented; he's no longer God oriented. He's just got to get his schedule done.

Well, if you have fallen into that trap and rarely look at life from an eternal perspective, James gives some remedies in verse 14. He encourages us to think about three things:

James Reminds Us That Life Is Unpredictable

He reminds us first of all that life is unpredictable. "Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow." And for those of you who have been following the forum discussion between Travis and Jonathan – here is a Scripture that puts a degree of uncertainty to induction, or trying to predict the future based on what has happened in the past. James says flat out – You do not know what will happen tomorrow. There are some things that the Scripture has told us – that the sun will keep coming up, that there will be seasons, that the world won't be destroyed completely by another flood, etc. But you can't count on your pay check coming in tomorrow to pay off your loan, and yet how many of us have presumed upon the future by getting into debt? Would you be in deep trouble if you were disabled next week and couldn't work for the rest of your life? Do you have disability insurance or have you in some way acknowledge the fact that you are not invincible, and you are not sovereign over time. You don't know that you will be healthy next month, and yet how many Christians do not have a health insurance policy? We simply cannot count on tomorrow as if it is predictable. I talked with a friend before y2k who thought there was no reason to pay off a mortgage on a house in a time of economic collapse. He said it was inconceivable that the government would let the banks seize everybody's houses since there would be anarchy. He said that it was a good reason to take on more debt. Well, it didn't take an economic collapse for him to lose his house. He lost his job and couldn't find another one for a long time. We can't know the future, and that ought to make us dependent upon God and doing things God's way. God in His Word has told us to take precautions because of this unpredictability. He has also called us to make sure that the present counts for eternity - to plan as if you had a long time, but to live each day as if it was your last.

Jay Adams has a clever way of reminding himself of this fact. His wife writes a letter to his children every three years that includes all the past plans they had made, how they had turned out and their plans for the next three years. He said, "We seal them, put them away for three years, then open and read them. How differently things turn out from what we expect! Indeed, we usually exclaim over those few plans that actually do pan out as we anticipated because they are the exception rather than the rule." I thought that was good. As you in one way or another remind yourself that life is unpredictable, it will give you a sense of dependence upon God and help you to focus more on making what you do accomplish count for eternity.

James Reminds Us That Life Is Feeble

A second thing that James reminds us of is that life is feeble. And that can help us to have an eternal perspective. "For what is your life. It is even a vapor..." The vapor that you see coming out of a tea kettle is fleeting. Now you see it. Now you don't. Down in verse 15 he says, "If the Lord wills, we shall live [notice those words: "If the Lord wills, we shall live"] and do this or that." None of us knows whether we will live tomorrow. And before you start saying, "Oh, Kayser, let's not get so morose," I want to remind you that Scripture wants us to think about death. Solomon says "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting" (Eccl. 7:2). Why? Because in the funeral parlor we are more likely to be reminded of eternity. We tend to insulate ourselves from this fact nowadays because we only go to the funerals of close friends and relatives. Out in Ethiopia everyone got in on everyone's funeral. And that meant there were funerals happening all the time. The frailty of life was constantly before their minds. Constantly before there minds was a realization that we could get sick at any time and get laid off from work, or our crop could be wiped out in one storm. Our lives are frail whether we insulate ourselves from that fact or not. And the more we think of that, the more we will focus on making what little time we do have down here to count for time and eternity.

James Reminds Us That Life Is Short

A third reminder James gives logically flows from this. He says, "It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." - emphasis on "a little time." If you are prone to getting caught up in a present oriented perspective, then read Matthew 6 sometime where He asks us to not lay up treasures on earth but to lay them up in heaven.

So James is first of all against planning that fails to take eternity into consideration.

Therefore, Planning Restricted To This Life Is Foolish

Planning That Fails To Acknowledge God's Sovereignty (v. 15)

But secondly, James is also opposed to planning that fails to acknowledge God's sovereignty. James goes on in verse 15 and talks about the sovereignty of God overruling our plans. "Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." Notice that planning is consistent with sovereignty. If the Lord wills - that's sovereignty; we shall do this or that - that's planning and human action. And I think Paul is a great example of someone who brings those two things together. HE acknowledged God's sovereignty over his plans. Paul said in Romans 1:13, "Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now)." He is saying that he often had his plans fail. Man proposes, God disposes. Paul was continually open to God blue-penciling in his plans. He didn't get frustrated. Instead, he took up new opportunities as they came along while he postponed his other plans until they were achievable. Two verses earlier he said, "making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you." (1:10) He was sensitive to the fact that God is always changing our plans. Even Christ experienced the same blue-penciling of his plans by God's sovereign hand. Scripture says that He desired to take His disciples off to a quiet place by themselves,but the crowds found Him. Rather than getting bent out of shape,He revised His plans. God has sovereignly brought a great opportunity along here.

And I am convinced that many entrepreneurs lose opportunity after opportunity to make a profit because they are so rigidly focused on their plans that they fail to snatch up new opportunities that God sovereignly brings to them. Don't get legalistic with your planning. Yes planning needs to be done, but the doctrine of God's sovereignty makes us flexible and quickly able to adapt to change. In contrast, if we are sovereign (or at least pretend to be), we tend to be rigid, don't we? We feel compelled to continue with the plan, because to fail to do so is to admit we were wrong in our predictions – which inevitably leads to bad business decisions. The sovereignty of God is a key to good business decisions.

When we develop such an "if the Lord wills" attitude, we will not get bent out of shape by plan changes. But neither will we be passive and give up on planning. Rather we will develop an expectation that God, who in His infinite wisdom is working all things together for my good, will change my plans for my earthly and heavenly good. And those kind of plan changes can be exciting. Praise God that He does it. I want Him to bluepencil. And this will also keep us from getting arrogant and overly confident in our planning.

In fact, it is interesting - in studying the plans of Paul I found that very few plans of Paul were a direct revelation from God, and consequently there was no certainty. He made most of his plans the way that we should. Just as one example, in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 Paul says, "Now I will come to you when I pass through Macedonia .. but it may be [note the iffiness there] that I will remain, or even spend the winter with you, that you may send me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits. But I will tarry in Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."

Do you see the "iffiness" of His planning. "If the Lord wills." And interestingly, even that last statement was subject to change because Scripture says that he moved on despite the open door. There is more to guidance than open doors. In fact, as I am fond of saying, "Some open doors lead to elevator shafts with a rude awakening at the bottom." Don't walk through every open door. Many of those are excuses for sin. When Jonah was running from God, there was a perfect open door of escape with a ship waiting to take him. So we must acknowledge and be sensitive to God's sovereign disposition of our time. To fail to do so is to miss wonderful opportunities.

Planning That Is Self-Sufficient ("Boasting")

A third thing that James opposes is self-sufficient planning or boastful planning. In verse 16 James says, "But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." James wants us to have humility in our planning. These people boasted about their business plans, but we can boast in many different ways as well. We can be certain about the number of children that we are going to have, and the Lord gives us a little surprise. And boasting can take on different forms. For example, when we are prayerless we are making a strong statement to God that we can carry out our plans on our own. You may not think of it as boasting, but by failing to pray you are leaving God out of the picture and letting Him know that you don't need Him. When you set up your budget for 2004, did you pray about it and ask for God's wisdom? When you made vacation plans, did you pray about it? J.C. Ryle complained about the prayerlessness of his people:

Bibles read without prayer; sermons heard without prayer; marriages contracted without prayer; journeys undertaken without prayer; residences chosen without prayer; friendships formed without prayer; the daily act of private prayer itself hurried over, or gone through without heart: these are the kind of downward steps by which many a Christian descends to a condition of spiritual palsy, or reaches the point where God allows him to have a tremendous fall. . . You may be very sure men fall in private long before they fall in public. They are backsliders on their knees long before they backslide openly in the eyes of the world.

When we think we can plan on our own, it creates apathy about prayer. John MacArthur said, "The primary motivator of prayer is a sense of dependency on God...It is difficult to force yourself to pray when you think that you have a human solution to every problem and a natural resource for every need. [And t]he problem is compounded in our [affluent] society..."1 This is what James is talking about. There are many forms of boasting. He's against that. It fails to submit to God's sovereignty over time.

Planning That Fails To Study God's Word

Finally James is opposed to planning that fails to study God Word. Verse 17 says, "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." What defines good? The Scripture does. And we have seen in every other area in James that there can be no maturity unless we start with the Word. And the same is true of planning. You can pray all you want to, and get all the advice you want to, but if you are not first and foremost Word-oriented, you lack maturity in planning. Peter tells us that God's Word has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness. It gives us a slant, and perspective, and priorities, and guidelines that help our decision making to be realistic and godly. Paul tells Timothy that the Word of God is sufficient to thoroughly equip us for every good work. The Bible says much about planning.

So those are ways we can acknowledge God's sovereignty over our schedules.


And so, let me end by reviewing James' points here. 1) First, make sure that you plan carefully (verses 13 & 15). Obviously you can't be mature in planning if you don't plan, right? So verse 13 is a starting point. And I would encourage you to study books on biblical time management and biblical planning. 2) Second, do all of your planning with eternity in mind and asking God how to lay up treasures in heaven. And remind yourself of eternity by keeping in mind the unpredictability, feebleness and shortness of life. Only what's done for Christ will last. So keep eternity in mind (v. 14) 3) Third, have expectations that God in His providence will continually work in your life, and don't get frustrated by these changes, but see them as God's improvements and revisions of your plans to enable you to have better dividends in time and eternity (and that's verse 15). And that point can give you a certain excitement about life. It's almost like opening Christmas packages. When a change comes along, you can open it up and say, "I wonder what good thing the Lord has for me in this change. Thank you Lord for your control!" 4) Fourth, continually acknowledge yourself to be in need of God's grace by bathing everything in prayer and by refusing to boast or think you have life all sown up. We are not sufficient unto ourselves and God has a way of ruining our plans when we think that way, or sometimes worse yet, by letting our plans happen and showing us how messed up our plans can be. Prayer is critical in planning. So avoid the self-sufficiency syndrome of verse 16. 5) Fifth, we need to be students of God's Word with an ability to apply wisdom to current situations, and we need to ask God to enable us to be willing to follow that wisdom. This is what it means to plan under God's sovereignty. May we do so to His glory. Amen

Children of God, I charge you to plan for your future, and to do so in a way that acknowledges and depends upon His sovereignty. Amen.


  1. John MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1991), pp. 157-158.

Planning versus Presumption is part of the James series published on February 15, 2004

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