Saturday, December 26, 2015

Successful God-centered planning for the upcoming New Year - James 4:1-17

James 4:13-16 "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.” 14 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. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil."

As our attention turns to the upcoming New Year, the subject of planning takes center stage. Many people will be acquiring New Calendars or making plans as to what goals they want to achieve. Oftentimes discussions of such activities will include the vowing of New Years' resolutions. It is important to understand what is entailed in good planning - and more specifically - God-centered planning. 

There are obviously details and choices that must be done and certain principles that must be avoided when it comes to how we relate to the future. James and the rest of scripture gives not merely good advice for effective God-centered planning, but also the power for the carrying forth of such an effort. Today's post is all about considering what God-centered planning requires, why we fail, and how we can avoid such failure.

1. What God-centered planning requires (and why we fail) 4:1-5
The Bible testifies that there are at least three elements in godly planning. First, prioritization. Matthew 6:33 notes - "
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." The second element in godly planning entails prayer as seen in Philippians 4:6-7  "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." So, in addition to prioritization and prayer, we find a third element for making godly plans, namely passion, as seen in Proverbs 16:3,7 - 3. "Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established" ; 7. "When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord,
He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."

So then we have three clear components to solid, godly planning: prioritization, prayer and passion. The three elements are traits we know we ought to have and need to have if our planning is going to be God centered. However, knowing what we ought to do and observing what is typically done by Christians entails two different things.

In short - when I look at how I make plans, I find inconsistency and failure to prioritize correctly. Other times, I may forget to pray or not have passion. James 4:1-5 explains why we fail in what we know we ought to do: our selfish ambition and love of the world more than God can skew how we prioritize (compare James 4:1-2a). Second, in knowing that we ought to pray, we either pray with the wrong motives or fail to pray all-together. Either appproach to prayer will yield no results (compare James 4:2b-3). Then of course, all of the best-laid planning in the world will fall short if there is no passion for God (compare James 4:4-5). Distraction. Worry. Anxiousness. The opinions of others. Distorted self-perceptions. The spiritual warfare of the enemy. Whatever else we can typically name in explaining why we fail oftentimes in trying to orientate ourselves and planning around God is described in James 4:1-5. James 4:17 defines this failure most accurately - "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

So God-centered planning requires prioritization, prayer and passion. However, how can you and I avoid the failure that often accompanies such efforts? 

2. Who planning requires (and how you can succeed)
All efforts of planning aim at success. However, when it comes to a Biblically defined sucess, by what do we mean? Success is more so focused on Jesus and faithfulness to His word than pleasing people and controlling outcomes (compare Joshua 1:8; Psalm 118:8; Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 4:1-6). In worldly conceptions of success, the first two parts of this definition are absent - with success only concerned with pleasing people or trying to control outcomes. Certainly if our planning can include making people happy or producing given results - all the merrier. However, such aims are not the main definition of success in scriptural terms. There will be those times when we find that unpredicable variables enter into our lives for which we had no control. Furthermore, there may be those times when we attempt to center our plans on God, either someone will be displeased or we ourselves may find it difficult to remain happy! Apart from Jesus Christ, it is impossible to make God-centered plans in the manner we are talking about.

Consider James 4:6-10. James 4:6 clues us in on the fact that there is a way in which to experience and move in what is called "greater grace". James 4:6 states - "But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humility. But not just any sort of humility. If for a moment we conceive of the humility spoken of here as a grit-your-teeth-and-try-harder moralism, we miss James' point. 

James' layout of the humility described in James 4:7-10 lines up remarkably with what Paul would later write in Philippians 2:1-11 concerning Christ-like humility. We won't take the time to expound on the scriptures associated with this point - but rather list them in summary and comparison to the highpoints of Jesus' own life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension:

a. Jesus' incarnation, virgin birth, early childhood (James 4:6-7; Phil 2:5-11)

b. Jesus resisted devil at beginning of public ministry (James 4:8a; Matthew 4)

c. Jesus drew near to God in prayer (James 4:8a; Mark 1:35; Lk 11:1-13)

d. Jesus was sinless (James 4:8b; John 7:53-8:11)

e. Jesus empathize (James 4:9; 4:14-15)

f. Jesus died, raised, ascended (James 4:10; 1 Cor 15:1-4 ; Phil 2:5-11).

Now why list these highpoints of Jesus' life and ministry? Because not only are Christians defined by how Jesus lived, but also by how He lives in them by the Holy Spirit - as well as how they live in Him (Ephesians 2:6-8). In other words, there is only One Person, Who as a man succeeded in living His life flawlessly before the Heavenly Father - namely Jesus Christ. Moreover, this same Person, being God at the same time - is able to make His power and Person available to the Christian by the Holy Spirit (see John 16:12-13; Colossians 1:27).

The question is - are you and I yielded to Jesus? Jesus prioritized His life perfectly, and thus by Him we can learn progressively how to prioritize our lives around God's kingdom. Focusing on Jesus is commanded of us in scripture (Hebrews 12:1-2), and thankfully the grace of the barren cross is available to ensure we don't get discouraged in such efforts (Hebrews 12:3). 

Jesus Christ is not hermetically sealed-off in history or in the pages of scripture. By the Spirit-filled life, His power and Person is available to every Christian who yields in daily submission to Him. The passion to serve God was never question in Jesus. Throughout the four Gospels we will see statements about Jesus limiting His activites due to it "not being His hour". Jesus was obsessed with doing the Father's will. To know that He did so with precision, and to know that in terms of His humanity, means Christians can plug into His power by the Holy Spirit ought to encourage us greatly. 

In short, we as Christians can succeed in this upcoming year because Jesus is in us, and we in Him! (Eph 2:6-7; Col 1:27; 1 Cor 2:16)

3. How you live out Christ - centered planning (depending on Jesus) James 4:11-12 & 4:13-17
Today we looked at what is necessary for God-centered planning (and why we fail) as well as Who is required for such planning (and thus, how to succeed). Having considered these two points, how is it we can live out such planning. To put it another way - what areas require us to apply these truths?

a. In your Relationships. We know the importance of loving your neighbor James 4:11-12; Mt 22:37-39). When you and I yield to Jesus' Lordship and live in Him and He in us, we will avoid the misjudging of others that so-often characterizes the carrying out of our plans. Planning is never done in isolation from others. What we plan around the Lord includes other people. Getting to know one another, praying for each other, listening to one another is how we will curb this. 

Remember, Jesus lives in you believer, and you in Him. He did this already, and by His Spirit desires to live it through you. So we apply God-centered planning around our relationships, but notice a second area...

b. With your Time. James 4:13-16 was quoted at the beginning of today's post. We must understand that on the one hand, failure to plan is planning to fail. With that said, too often we presume and worry about tomorrow while ignoring the fact that God has given us "greater grace" for today (see James 4:6; Lamentations 3:23-27). When Jesus is at the center of our planning, how we steward our time will change. We won't presume, but operate in faith. That is, we won't live on the basis of our five senses only, but also with that sixth sense, faith (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 Corinthians 5:7). 

In conclusion
Successful God-centered planning cannot be done in the flesh. Jesus Christ is required for successful God-centered planning. James gives us the command to be careful in how we consider our plans for the future, with the implication being that without Jesus - such planning cannot be achieved. May we as Christians plug into Jesus' Lordship by His Spirit and live out life around the glory of God in the upcoming year. 

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