Sermon for Sunday, May 8th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Pro 27:1-10 ESV] 1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. 2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. 3 A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both. 4 Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? 5 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. 7 One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet. 8 Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home. 9 Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. 10 Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.
New Testament reading:
[Jas 4:13-17 ESV] 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.
[Mat 26:36-39 ESV] 36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Do your plans always go to plan?
Or I might ask,
Do your plans EVER go to plan?
People tend, naturally, to remember their own failed planning and struggle to forgive themselves even long after everyone else has forgotten about whatever ordeal it was. But some historically bad plans are remembered even decades later or even centuries later. Napoleon’s plan to invade Russia in the winter resulted in a great failure. Less than 20% of his army survived the campaign. Then there was decision to fill the Hindenburg with Hydrogen gas which didn’t go very well, to put things lightly.
But perhaps my favorite historical example of “things not going to plan” is from the 1970s when, in Oregon the state highway engineers decided to dispose of a washed up whale carcass by blowing it up with dynamite. The theory seemed to be that the explosives would send the whale—bit by bit—back into the ocean. When word got out about this peculiar event some onlookers gathered to view the spectacle. And because of failed planning, both on the part of the explosives engineers and on the part of the onlookers choosing to be so close to the scene, they were treated, as one article says, to “rotten blubber rain.” [REPEAT: Rotten blubber rain]
Well, I suppose MY plans haven’t usually gone quite that bad. At least I haven’t often so immediately realized my mistakes.
Well indeed people make a lot of plans. And some of these have a short-term focus and some have a long-term focus, like the “5-year business plan.”
And, you should know, no one ever goes back to look at those 5-year plans. If they did, they’d almost always see that things did not go as projected. And earning projections can be completely ridiculous. Often financial projections assume the “hockey stick” growth pattern; an upward curve pointing to infinity and beyond.
More of our plans, however, are short-term. They pertain to our daily affairs. We schedule out time hour by hour, specifying the task at hand. We teach this first in the schools where you have First Period Math, Second Period English, etc. etc. But even when we’ve graduated once and for all from school, we still find it valuable to plan out our time.
And planning, in itself, is not a bad thing.
We are to be good stewards of our finances, our health, our church, our household, and the environment. And this requires good planning.
We hear about the importance of planning if the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. You recall, a man went on a journey and entrusted his property to his servants. He gave one of them Five Talents, another Two, and another One. [And, for reference, a talent of gold is something like 72 lbs, and easily over 1 million dollars in value.] The man given five talents made five talents more, and the man given two talents made two talents more. But the man given one talent merely buried it in the ground and made nothing. To the first two servants, when the master returned, he said “Well done my good and faithful servants.” But the to the third he said “You wicked and slothful servant.”
So it is that we must be good stewards and that requires good planning. So James is not opposed to planning in itself. Rather, James tells us NOT TO EXPECT OUR PLANS TO ALWAYS WORK OUT but to realize that we depend on the mercy of God.
I. Our plans may not work out.
This is the first point of the sermon. Our plans may not work out.
James says: 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.
Great Expectations promise great disappointments.
I’ve changed my idea of vacationing over the years. Once I had everything planned out. I had to see this and do that and travel here and drive there. Well, then I changed my approach when I was traveling with a college friend on the south Island of New Zealand, did I realize the great benefit of only planning lightly, of leaving room open in plans, and being flexible when unexpected changes come up.
The thing is, I’ve found, when you have everything planned and if ANYTHING doesn’t go to plan, then you are disappointed. But if you are flexible and have few expectations you’ll almost always be happy with whatever occurs.
And this applies not only to vacationing but to our daily schedule. It is good to leave flexible space in our schedules – for our own sanity and to help out others who may be in need, and to adjust for the unexpected. As they say, expect the unexpected.
II. The Lord Reigneth
But James is not really saying “Don’t plan so much.” Rather he is saying “Understand WHO is in charge.” It is NOT YOU, but it is GOD who is in control of all things that comes to pass. The Lord Reigneth.
Therefore, don’t say “I WILL do this, or I WILL do that” but say “LORD WILLING, I will do this, and LORD WILLING I will do that.”
Whether in daily plans or life goals, say “Lord Willing.”
This doesn’t mean you literally need to affix the phrase “Lord willing” to every statement you make, though it doesn’t hurt to say it occasionally. But what we should strive for is to have the mental state of always keeping in mind that God is in control and remembering that all our plans have that caveat – “Lord Willing.”
Proverbs 19:21 says “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”
The Lord Reigneth and his purposes stand. So we must trust in the Lord who’s plans are certainly greater than our plans!
The Lord Reigneth. It is not us who is in control.
And, in the Scriptures this is a celebrated thing:
1 Chronicles 16:31 – Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let men say among the nations, the Lord reigneth.
Palm 97:1 – The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.
I mentioned last week that there is a popular Latin phrase for “Lord Willing.” They say “Deo Volente” or just D.V. in shorthand. And you’ll find this acronym in old writings. The Christians of ages past especially knew that all things were D.V., according to God’s will. They, in many ways, had less control over things than we do in our modern world with the benefit of medicines, and communication, and speedy travel. Death came suddenly in ages past and news arrived only slowly. Our great-great grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers knew that they had to depend on the Lord.
But to think that we have changed so much today is to make a mistake. We can still die in an instant. We don’t have control over the weather or over the crops. No matter how much you plan your wedding, you can’t stop the possibility of rain. And regardless of how well the crops are coming along, a single storm or infestation can quickly destroy it all. So it is said “Do not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust may destroy it.”
III. Away with pride.
Another point in our text is to do away with pride.
First we see that “our lives a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” We are finite. We are not in control; neither of the world nor of our very lives.
So it is prideful to claim that we are in control.
Then the text says that, without recognizing God, people are “boasting” and that this is evil.
So rather than saying “I did this” or “I did that” we should say “The Lord blessed me with the skills to do this or that.” Let us boast in the Lord. Say not, I have bought this car or I have built this house, but say “The Lord has blessed me to be able to afford this car or this house” knowing that all things come from Him.
Then, with all that with which you’ve been entrusted, use it not for your glory, but use it to honor the Lord. God has given you skills, money, and time to work for His glory. We are like the servants in the parable of the Talents. We work for the Lord.
So there are many applications from our passage here. I’ve limited it to just three, and then perhaps a fourth application in the conclusion.
Application 1: Trust in the Lord
Our first application is “trust in the Lord.” Especially we have in mind here trusting God when it comes to plans.
Whenever anything doesn’t go per our pre-arranged mental schedule we must trust in what the Lord is doing.
He works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
We must realize that he has a greater plan and so trust in it.
It is odd, isn’t it, that we so often want to trust in our plans, when our plans have failed so many times! We constantly go back to trusting in ourselves, pretending that we have control over the world, when we should be saying “Lord Willing” and “Thy will be done.”
We pray that every time we pray the Lord’s pray. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Not my will Lord, but thine.
When the rain comes, or even the snow, and our daily plans are thwarted, let us think “God has somewhere else for me to be.” And while a change of plans may be a disappointment, let it not change our countenance. We shouldn’t be joyful based on the extent to which our plans come to fruition, but we should always be joyful in the Lord, whether in times of plenty or in times of want.
Trusting in the Lord brings such great peace and such great joy.
Application 2: The Lord is Teaching us patience.
Then, let us consider what the Lord is teaching us when our plans change.
He is perhaps teaching us patience. [REPEAT: The Lord is teaching us patience]
It is of no benefit to be angry or bothered when things don’t go per our plans. And, in fact, we’d almost always then be angry or bothered because things almost always do not work out precisely as we have anticipated.
Rather, when a sudden change in our daily plan comes about, we should think “Let’s see what the Lord is doing here.”
Patience certainly is a Christian virtue. We want others to be patient with us. We expect it. And so we must be patient with others. The funny thing about patience is that usually the one receiving it doesn’t know that he is receiving it. He thinks his demands are normal. Whether on a service call with a company or at the drive thru window, he expects the workers to patiently listen to him. Patience is viewed a good, even necessary thing. So we must cultivate it in ourselves as well. The Lord certainly is patient with us. If you feel frustrated with other people, think of what the Lord has gone through with us! Sinning AGAIN?! The Lord forgives us again and again. So must we be patient and forgive others.
Perhaps on a certain day you have perhaps 10 things you wish to accomplish. And its all going swell until something else comes up and you have to drop what you were doing, even postponing most of those 10 until another day. JUST REMEMBER, the Lord knows what He is doing. All things are worked out according to the counsel of His will. (Ephesians 1:11)
There is sinful pride in the those 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.” This is a statement complete devoid of God, which pretends that man is in charge.
The Lord’s will for us is great. We oppose Him when we do not embrace it.
Application 3: Saying “Lord Willing” and living it.
Then, a third application. We should say “Lord willing” and we should live it out.
It is not to be an empty phrase or a rote repetition. But it is to constantly remind us of the reality of this world and the nature of our God who is sovereign.
As we say “Lord willing” we understand that other things may “intrude” in our schedule, and when such changes occur, we are less effected, less devastated by them.
We remember: Proverbs 16:9 – [Pro 16:9 ESV] 9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
So then, is there any consideration of God in your plans? [REPEAT: Is there any consideration of God in your plans?]
Is your goal your own happiness or His glory?
And here’s a secret – the only true happiness you’ll find coincides with God’s glory. The chief end of man is to glorify God AND enjoy Him forever. This is one and the same thing.
The main theme of James is that of a warning against with friendship with the world, which is enmity against God. Such friendship with the world has been spoken of in various ways in James. Now we find it in one more way – it is enmity against God when the actions of man ignore God, having their minds solely on affairs of the world and disregarding God sovereignty.
Selfishness reigns among sinful men. People set themselves above God ignoring Him who is truly in control. They fall to remember that He who made the world also, in His good providence, SUSTAINS the world.
We started with this question: Do your plans always go to plan?
Well, everything goes to plan. Just not your plan. All things go according to the counsel of the Lord. All things go to the Lord’s plan.
Let us take comfort in that. And if you are disappointed in where life has taken you, know that God has you exactly where He wants you to be. He plan is carried out day by day.
Let us trust in the Lord, embracing His will where it may be known, and throwing out anxiety and stress and doubt, for the Lord has all things in control. Praise by to the Lord.