HOPES & DREAMS
What are you looking forward to, hoping for, dreaming about? See, the way life works is we have a vision for a future, a hope, a dream, a longing, and then we start to plan so that we can have our life going in that direction. And for some of you that’s, “I want to graduate and finally start to make some money to pay off those school loans.” For others of you, it’s, “I’m single. I’d like to get married.” For others of you, “We are married, and we’d like to start having kids.” For some of you, it’s time to buy a home. It’s time to pay off debt. It’s time to downsize ’cause you’re empty nesters and the kids have already grown. For some of you, it’s moving up in your career. For others of you, it’s expanding and growing your company. For some of you, your visions, your hopes, your goals, your dreams, your longings are more relational. It’s reconnecting with people, reconciling with people.
I don’t know what your vision is, but here’s what happens: We get a vision, a dream, a longing, a hope, and then we start to plan for it. And this is how you can know what’s really important in your life, the things that are most important are the things that get a plan. They get a plan. And if you want to figure out how to put together a plan, you start considering your options for counsel. “Where am I gonna figure out how to organize my life and my energy, my time, my resources, and my money so that I could lean into that future hope that I have?”
If we pursue the options set before us, almost all of them are in the realm of business. All the management, budgeting, scheduling, planning, coaching is in the realm of business. And what we do then is we tend to go to those areas and then fish out some principles to help us get our life together for the vision that we have for our tomorrow.
As you do that, you’ll find that some of the counsel you’ll get is really ungodly. The principles are actually completely opposed to a lot of the big ideas of Scripture. Some of the counsel you’ll get is “Godless,” meaning it doesn’t say anything negative about God. It just doesn’t say anything about God; it’s your life, your dreams, your hopes, your goals,your vision for your destiny. No reference to God at all. Ecclesiastes calls this life under the sun as if there’s no one above the sun that we come from and give an answer to.
Some of the counsel you’ll get is “God-light.” It’s sort of best business practices, tips, and tricks with vague, general, spiritual references like, “Don’t overlook your soul. Make sure to include your spiritual life.” Maybe a quote from a religious leader, something of that nature. And the result is that we can have a vision for our future, and we can have plans that really don’t include the Lord.
It can happen very, very easily and very, very subtly, and it’s nothing new. It’s nothing new. In fact, Pastor James in James 4:13–17, this is exactly what he’s talking about to his people a few thousand years ago. And he’s talking about Jesus’ life and your life, and he’s gonna talk about how to see your life.
LIFE IS UNCERTAIN
Here’s the problem: if you don’t know where you come from, if you don’t know why you’re here and you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what to do. And subsequently, you don’t know how to plan. And so he’s gonna address this, and he’s gonna talk about life.
The first thing he’s gonna teach us is that life is uncertain. This is gonna be a super practical sermon. Here’s what Jesus’ little brother James has to say: James 4:13–16, life is uncertain—“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow’”—OK, so let me ask you, what are you planning on doing tomorrow? What do you have planned for the rest of the day? What’s your next week look like? What’s your next month look like? What’s your next year look like? How far out do your plans go?
Question, is it a sin to have plans, yes or no? No. The Bible talks a lot about planning. Proverbs talks a ton about how wise it is to seek good counsel and make a wise plan. Is it a problem to have a schedule and to have things organized in advance, yes or no? No. It’s why you’re here. You made it on time. Congratulations, OK? You had a plan and you executed it. Welcome. It’s not a sin to have a vision. It’s not a sin to make a plan. It’s not a sin to be organized.
So what’s the problem? “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.’” These are their business plans. “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” There’s the issue. We’ll skip one little verse and come back to it in just a moment.
He continues, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills’.” See what they have said is, “We will do this.” And he’s saying, “Well, what about the Lord?” It’d be better to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
The problem is not when we have a vision, hope, a dream, a plan; the problem is when it doesn’t include the Lord. The problem is when it’s out of arrogance and not humility; it’s seeking our will, not God’s will. That’s the problem.
What he’s talking about here is hubris, and this can refer to any and every aspect of life, but here he’s speaking specifically in regards to business because a lot of hubris tends to be connected to business. A lot of boasting and promising and planning tends to be in relation to business. “Our company’s gonna do this. And our portfolio’s gonna do that. And our stock is gonna perform at this level.”
He says, “Nobody knows the future. That’s sort of a big assumption, and it lacks humility,” which means it lacks integrity. But we can do this in any aspect of our life. “Next year I’m gonna graduate. Next year I’m gonna get married. Next year I’m gonna get a job. Next year we’re gonna start our family. Next year we’re gonna pay off our debt. Next year, next year, next year, next year.” And he says, “Be careful. Be careful. You need to remember if the Lord wills.”
SOVEREIGNTY & SEPARATION
What he’s really attacking here are two awful assumptions and presumptions. One is in regards to sovereignty; the other is in regards to separation. The problem here is that it is easy for us to behave or believe as if we were sovereign over our lives and our future. And if you find someone who’s a visionary, leader, organized, driver—I know a guy like this—they can—we can—talk with great certainty. “We’re gonna do this, and we’re gonna do that. And it’s gonna be like this, and it’s gonna go like that.”
The impression can be given that you’re sovereign, that you’re in charge, that you’re all-knowing, that you’re in God’s seat, that you see tomorrow and you know exactly what tomorrow’s gonna bring. But we’re not sovereign. We don’t know what the future holds. This struck me early in ministry. There was a lovely, young, godly couple. They fell in love. They loved Jesus. They were planning their wedding. He got cancer and died before they ever made it to the altar.
See, their vision for their future was, get married, start a family, grow old together. But that’s not what happened ’cause life is uncertain. The issue of sovereignty and the issue of separation, and what they’ve done here is they’ve separated their life. They’ve separated their life into that which is secular like work and that which is spiritual like church.
What’s secular is about facts like business, government, and law? Well, what’s secular—that’s about faith, experiences, your personal relationship with God—doesn’t affect the rest of your life. That which is secular is a public issue. This is how you behave in business. This is how you behave as a citizen. But the spiritual, the faith—it’s private. It’s internal; it’s not external. You don’t share it with anyone. It doesn’t affect the rest of your life.
What they’ve done is they’ve created a firewall in their life between their relationship with God and all of their other relationships. Our culture has not moved from this fatal flaw. Today people will say, “Well, that’s religion, and it shouldn’t affect business, and it shouldn’t affect politics, and it shouldn’t affect sexuality, and it shouldn’t affect morality. It should not be in the public arena.”
As a Christian we say, “No, this is an old problem. Our relationship with Jesus affects everything—how we do business, how we vote, how we behave, how we interact with others, how we see the world, how we spend our money, how we organize our days, what we consider our priorities because we’re not sovereign—Jesus is.”
We don’t know tomorrow; Jesus does. And our life is not separated into things that involve Jesus and things that don’t. As sovereign Lord, he rules over all of history, all the nations, all the cultures, all the races, and all of our life.
So what James is saying is, don’t live your life like an atheist while attending church, and that’s what they’re doing. Their language and their goal setting and their planning is exactly the same as the atheists. God doesn’t factor into it at all, just predict the future, best estimation, organizational alignment, goal setting, and march forward. James says, “It would be far better if you realized these things will only happen if the Lord wills.”
How many of you are drivers—you’re active, you’re planners, you’re get-stuff-done people? OK, how many of you are like that? OK, you’re glad to raise your hand. I gave you something to do. You’re welcome, OK. Is he saying, because you don’t know tomorrow, don’t plan anything, don’t pursue anything? Is that what he’s saying?
No. He’s saying, pursue it humbly. Write it in pencil. Put it not in a closed hand but in an open hand. Otherwise you’ll do this; you’ll make promises that you can’t deliver on because the Lord will change the future.
Now, how many of you are more passive, you’re easygoing? You’re like, “Hey, the Lord is sovereign, that’s why I don’t make a plan, I just trust him,” OK? And if you are married, I apologize—and we have Redemption Groups for you guys. Anyway, so let’s say you’re the more passive. You’re like, “You know what? Planning, writing things down, I trust the Lord. He’s got a plan. Glad one of us does.” OK, you’re more that way.
How many of you are more that way? OK, I’m gonna make you do something: raise your hand, OK? It’s a start. It’s a humble start but at least we got you doing something. OK, good job. OK, for those of you who are like that, does it say planning is bad? Some of you will really be like, “Yay, an anti-planning verse, finally, a life verse for me. I don’t need a schedule. I don’t need a budget. I don’t need a plan. Yay.” That’s not what it says. That’s not what it says.
IF THE LORD WILLS
What does it mean when he says, “If we consider if the Lord wills, if the Lord desires, if the Lord decrees”? Now, truly this can be a Christian cliché, right? Actually, this can be a Muslim cliché. Lots of different religions, “Oh, if Allah wills, if the Lord wills, if God wills,” and it just gets thrown out there. For how many of you, there’s somebody in your life who’s really religious and they’ll just throw this out all the time? “Oh, Lord willing, Lord willing. If the Lord wills.” You’re at dinner and you’re like, “Hey, could you pass the salad?” “Well, Lord willing I will pass the salad.” Well, you know, Lord willing, I won’t stab you with a salad fork for saying ‘Lord willing.’ You don’t need to say it all the time for everything, right? ’Cause it can become a Christian cliché, and we don’t need more Christian clichés.
The goal is not to have this, “the Lord wills,” “if the Lord wills,” “Lord willing” be a cliché but a conviction, OK, a conviction. And to say, “If the Lord wills,” it is saying, “I have sought the Lord and wise counsel, and I’ve prayed and planned. And I believe to the best of my understanding what I’m planning on doing is right in the sight of the Lord and what the Lord has for me to do, but I could be wrong. Therefore, the Lord is welcome to change my plans because his will overrides my will, and I trust that his will is glorious for him and good for me.”
What that allows for those of you who are more active is humility. For those of you who are passive, it will allow you to have more confidence. Some of us get ourselves in trouble saying, “The Lord said let’s do it,” and then he changes the circumstances. And you’re stuck in a quandary. It’s like, “Well, do I lose credibility by saying that we’re going to change the plan, or do I march forward without the Lord?” The way out of that is humility and to say, “I believe this is best, and the Lord can change his plan for us. But as of now, this is what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
For those of you who are more passive, you may lack confidence. You may say, “I don’t want to, you know, say the Lord told me, and I need to do this because I could be wrong. And I know that I make mistakes, and sometimes I’m out of the Lord’s will.” And you could say, “The Lord wills me to do this, and the Lord wills to change that, perhaps, and when he does, I will yield to that.”
What that allows you to have is more confidence because you don’t need to say, “I know exactly.” You say, “You know what? I think this is right and if it’s not, I’m inviting the Lord to redirect my steps.” More humility for the confident, more confidence for the humble to proceed together into the will of God. If the Lord wills, if the Lord wills. His first principle is that life is uncertain.
LIFE IS BRIEF
His second is that life is brief. We’ll come back to this verse, James 4:14, the second half. Here’s the question—James is filled with a lot of great questions.
Here’s another one: What is your life? What a question. Where do you come from? Do you know? Where are you going? Do you know? Why are you here on earth? Do you know? What is your life? What are you supposed to do with it? Massive question.
This is almost the entirety of philosophy, orbits around various answers to this question. Sir Arnold Toynbee is a great historian and makes this amazing observation that the Western world in which we live is, perhaps, the first civilization that doesn’t tell its citizens why they exist. We don’t know. We don’t have an answer to this question.
How many of you didn’t get this in school: What Is Your Life 101. What Is Your Life 201. What Is Your Life 301? Nobody knows. We get confused. We get disorganized. We get depressed. We get overwhelmed. We get exhausted. We get discouraged. We get suicidal because we don’t know the answer to this question. And once we answer this question, that really helps answer all the other questions. All the little questions orbit around the big question, What is your life? What is your life? “For you are a”—what’s the word? A mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Now, let me do a little bit of Bible work for you. That question, what is your life?—really is the entirety of the book of Ecclesiastes. The Bible has a genre of literature called wisdom literature, and wisdom literature is really about the very intense, personal, practical stuff of life. What do you do with your marriage relationships, your dating relationships, your finances, your work, your kids, your sexuality, your diet, your enemies? What do you do with the stuff in your life really practical?
In the Old Testament, this would be Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Job, Proverbs, wisdom literature. There’s far less wisdom literature in the New Testament. James is wisdom literature—reads a lot like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. And the question that’s posed in Ecclesiastes—one of my favorite books of the Bible. I’ve taught it twiceThe question that Ecclesiastes considers is this: What is your life? And here James is picking up a theme from Ecclesiastes, a very important theme. And James is here echoing. He’s a Bible teacher. He’s a Bible student.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, it starts with this word hebel. It’s a Hebrew word. It appears about 38 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is about 12 chapters long. Ecclesiastes is a book written by Solomon who was the wisest man in the world, other than Jesus, the richest man who’s ever lived, the most successful man who’s ever lived. And he lived his life filled with political conquest and financial excess and, like, a thousand wives, girlfriends, and harems and literally ships of gold and stables filled with horses. It was unbelievable—people would travel from around the world just for a few minutes to ask him a question. And at the end of his life as an older man, he sits down to write Ecclesiastes, and it’s a book of remorse. It’s a book of regret. It’s a book of repentance. And he’s writing to those who are young, and he’s trying to discourage them from following the life course that he did.
He starts his book, Ecclesiastes, with the word hebel. “Hebel, hebel,” says the teacher, “everything is hebel.” And as I told you, 38 times it shows up in 12 chapters. Life is hebel. You say, “Well, what is that?” He boils life down to one word. Some of your translations will say “meaningless.” “Meaningless, meaningless, says the teacher, everything is meaningless.” First existentialist nihilist, I guess. Sounds like he lived in Seattle during the ‘90s and played in a band. Life doesn’t have to be meaningless, but it can. Some of your translations will say, “vanity.” “Vanity, vanity, life is vanity.”
Life doesn’t have to be lived in vain, but it can be. You can have a wasted life instead of an invested life. Others prefer this word, and I believe James gives us a great clue for what life ultimately is. That word hebel—it has a lot of meanings because life is complex. But ultimately, I believe James here gets the best interpretation of that word hebel. What is life? Life is a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
LIFE MOVES FASTER WHEN YOU’RE OLDER
For how many of you, as you get older, it feels like time is moving faster? It’s true, right? Remember when you were a little kid you’d have that crazy aunt she’d come up and say, “Oh, you’re getting so big. It moves so fast.” You’re like, “Why does she say that?” And now you go up to little kids you’re like, “Oh, you’re getting so big, and time moves so fast.” You’re like, “Oh, my gosh. I’m the crazy uncle, and I’m echoing my crazy aunt.” It does, right? Because when you’re little, you want time to go faster. “I want to be done with this grade. I want to be graduated. I want to get my license. I want to start my career. I want to get married. I want to—”
Then as you get older, you’re looking for the break in life. Slow it down. Slow it down. It’s going too fast because life is a mist. I’ll give you an illustration of this: For us, it’s the beginning of baseball season. We figured it out. We’ve got about a hundred games for our three sons, plus practices and our daughter runs track. So about this time of year, Grace and I start a side business that consists of air traffic controller and cab company, OK? Just trying to get everyone organized.
So yesterday, two of the boys, Calvin, who’s twelve and Gideon who’s eight, they had their jamborees. Gideon had two games, Calvin had two games, and it was freezing out. I mean only in Seattle do you have your first games in 36-degree weather. Most people call that spring skiing. We call it “baseball season.”
So I’m sitting at Gideon’s game early in the morning, and it’s so cold out that I take a deep breath and I breathe out. What do I see? I see the mist of my breath but just for a fleeting instance, and then it’s gone forever. Your life is like that. Later in the day, and we finished all of our games and we came home and we’re freezing—we started a fire. That’s what Gideon and I like to do. It’s our little routine on a cold day. We chop wood. We stack wood. We put the paper underneath, Giddy loves to start the fire. And then he’ll blow on it. What usually emerges is a puff of smoke. And there it is, and then it’s gone forever.
Your life is like that. It’s like that. That’s what he’s saying. That’s what Ecclesiastes is declaring. That’s what the Holy Spirit wants us to be remembering, that our life is like that.
When you’re young, you don’t really think about this. I can still remember as a kid, I didn’t think about death ever. And then I was ten years of age and my parents showed up at my Boy Scout troop. We were at a kid’s house doing our Boy Scout whatever stuff, and my mom and dad showed up early, which was very unusual.
As they got out of the car, I could see my mom sobbing, weeping, and devastated, and my dad comforting her and walking with her toward me. And I could just tell, something’s wrong. And my mom said, “Grandpa George just died.” I love my grandpa with all my heart. I would go to his house, and we would eat caramel apples, stay up late, and watch wrestling, right? And then we’d work in his garage. He’d teach me how to use a bandsaw, a router, and a tablesaw, and we’d build stuff. He taught me how to ride a bike. I loved my Grandpa George. I was ten. I adored him, and he was gone. He was gone forever.
I remember the first time I knew someone who was young that died—a friend of mine, his sister died. She was like eight or ten or something—little, young, a child. And I remember she died, and I went to the funeral. And all I remember as a kid sitting in the funeral—and I was still in elementary school at the time—was just thinking you don’t have to be old to die. Young people can die, too. That had never really entered my mind.
Recently Gideon has been asking me questions about heaven. I don’t know what’s going on in his little mind, but he’s very intrigued by the kingdom of God and eternal life. We were driving to baseball practice the other day, and he’s in the backseat. “Hey, dad.” “Yeah, buddy.” “How old will we be in heaven?” “I don’t know, man, good question.” I said, “I hope we’re young so we can do stuff.” “Me too, that’s for sure.” He asked me, he said, “Do you think your Grandpa George and my Grandpa Gibb are hanging out right now with Jesus?” “I don’t know, Giddy, maybe so.” It’s starting to dawn on Gideon even at the age of 8 that life is a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
You can take this one of two ways, as a great discouragement or a great encouragement to not waste any time. Everyone’s going to die and most die with a lot of regrets. If you’ve had the honor of being with someone in their dying, life gets very clear. Here’s what people don’t say: “Bring me all my trophies. I want to see them one last time.” “Bring me my grade point average.” “Bring me my résumé.” “Bring me my performance review.” “Bring me the org chart one more time. I just want to see where I fall in the pecking order.” Life gets very clear when time is very short. It’s ultimately people and memories that matter, and we take those with us to the kingdom of God.
ED & FLOREEN
There’s a story that illustrates this. A friend sent it to me. I found it tremendously clarifying, so I want to share it with you. (Refer to Snejana Farberov, “Together to the end: Husband holds hands with his beloved wife of 60 years as they died hours apart,” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2564088/Together-end-Husband-holds-hands-beloved-wife-60-years-died-hours-apart.html ). I’m gonna introduce you to two people in this story, Ed and Floreen. If the guys would be so kind, we’ll show a photo of Ed and Floreen.
Here’s their story. If you’re married, this is where you hold hands. If you don’t want to hold hands with the person you’re married to, this is where you really need to hold hands. If you’re here with your child, you can hold their hand, too. If you’re engaged to be married, you can hold hands. Floreen and Ed’s love story began more than 60 years ago when the two met at a party. When the young engineer went to Floreen’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage, they refused because the young woman was recovering at that time from a horrific car accident which claimed the life of her first husband whom she had married only three months earlier.
OK, here’s Floreen’s story: She’s young. She’s in love. She gets married. She and her husband have plans, and in a car crash, he dies three months later. Breathes his last breath, and life is a breath that’s here today and gone tomorrow. Somehow this shaped Floreen—I don’t want to read too much into the story, but she planned her future to enjoy it.
The story continues. But Ed was determined to be with Floreen and would not take no for an answer declaring to his future in-laws that he was willing to carry his beloved in his arms every day. The couple said, “I do” May 12, 1953, and settled in Batavia, New York, in a home designed by Mr. Hale. The Hales have two surviving children, Renee and Ricky. A third baby died in infancy. Life is a mist here today, gone tomorrow.
Ed’s greatest joy in life was pampering his wife and spoiling her with little tokens of affection. At a time when she worked as a telephone operator at a local hospital, Ed would bring Floreen her dinner and dessert. Ed did most of the grocery shopping for the house, and every time he went to the store, he picked up some sweet treat or flowers for Floreen. In the winter, Ed would clear his wife’s car of snow and warm it up for her to drive home from work earning him the nickname Saint Edward from their relatives. When Floreen’s family and friends would tease her about her adoring husband asking her what she would do without him, Floreen would reply that he was not allowed to go before her.
After an active, full life, Mr. Hale was diagnosed with kidney disease a little over five years ago requiring dialysis, regular treatments. He also suffered severe heart attacks and had diabetes, but that didn’t stop him from taking his wife out almost every day. Mrs. Hale, known for her irrepressible sense of humor, chattiness, and a pension for colorful adornments, also had a laundry list of ailments, from asthma to heart disease. Still she would dress up to go to the doctor, with Ed always by her side. Floreen’s precarious health took a turn for the worst this month when her lungs filled with fluid, landing her in a hospital in grave condition.
At the same time, her husband was in Unity Hospital in Rochester with kidney failure. We were handed two death sentences. Floreen’s sister, Marlene DeCarlo told this blog. The 83-year-old man, Ed, was semi-conscious and appeared to be at death’s door, but two days after his wife’s hospitalization, Ed woke up and told his daughter, “I need to see Floreen.”
See, Ed had a plan to take care of his wife for the duration of her life. That was his plan. What followed next was a series of negotiations between the hospitals in Rochester and Batavia helped along by a social worker whose job it was to convince United to admit Mr. Hale. The Batavia Hospital agreed to accept the dying patient but only if he was strong enough to make the 35-mile trip. She’s in the hospital dying. He’s in the hospital dying. They’ve been together for 60 years, and now they’re separated by thirty-five miles.
Ed wakes up and is determined. His plan is to get to Floreen. As if by miracle, Ed rallied sufficiently for the short ambulance ride arriving at United in the afternoon of February 6. His sole request was to see Floreen. The hospital prepared a room for the couple where the two beds were pushed together so that they could lie next to one another and hold hands as Floreen faded away. You notice she’s still got a bow in her hair? She had a plan, too.
The 82-year-old woman was pronounced dead the morning after Ed’s arrival. Ed made it there in time. He got to walk his wife home. Surrounded by dozens of friends and family, her husband followed her a day later. The most important day of your life is the last day. There are enumerable things that could distract you from living for that last day. Do you know Jesus? Have you confessed your sin to Jesus? Have you received forgiveness and eternal life from Jesus? Are you ready to stand before Jesus?
That’s the most important thing. You could go at any time, and you’ll all go at some time. What about the people and things in your life? Are you allowing other people and things that may not even be bad but are not best to take your time and life energy from the people and things that really are most valuable, that if right now you were told you have 48 hours to live, what would come off of your schedule? What would go out of your life? What would be absolutely erased from your to-do list?
If the Lord wills, you’ll live into your eighties, but you don’t know. Pastor James says it’s arrogance to have a sense of entitlement and presumption, that the plan that we have is the plan that God has. We don’t know.
LIFE SHOULD BE URGENT
See, we make our plans and we seek to make our plans his plans for our life. Life is uncertain. Life is brief. And as a result, Pastor James tells us in chapter 4, verse 17, life should be urgent. Life should be urgent, that unimportant things should not crowd out important things.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, Pastor James says, for him, it is. Here’s what he’s saying: You don’t know how much time you have. You can’t control the future. Now, you can influence it. If you eat better, maybe you’ll live longer. But you can’t control the future. What you can control are the decisions you make starting right now.
What he’s saying is, if you know you’re supposed to be doing something and you’re not doing that, that’s sin. And if you know you’re not supposed to be doing something and you’re doing that, that’s sin. Some sins are clear. They’re for everybody. No stealing. No adultery. No murder.
Other sins are specific things that God has told you. Not everybody needs to do this, but you do. And if you don’t, then you’re in sin. So there needs to be a sense of urgency. Since I know what I’m supposed to do and I don’t know how long I have, I should be making that a priority and that needs to be an urgent activity.
Then the question becomes, how do you know what is priority and what should have a sense of urgency? They make this really practical because there’s nothing worse than a theoretical life lesson.
Number one, we start with Scripture. The Bible is very clear, don’t do these things, and here are some other things you need to do. It’s really clear. So we start with the clarity of God’s Word, and if God’s Word says to do something and you’re not doing it, it says to not do something else and you’re doing that, then for you it’s sin and you’ve got to make some serious life changes.
This happens so easy, friends. People’s pressure, expectation, demands, our disorganization, our lack of prioritization lead to, all of a sudden, God’s voice is distant and quiet and the voice of everyone and everything else is near and loud.
We open the Scripture, say, “God, talk to me. Help me know what you want me to do and not do.” And for me, this sets my priorities. My first priority as a Christian—walking with Jesus by his grace, becoming more like him.
My second priority is to love my wife. Right, I’ve asked the Lord, “Let me be like Ed. Let me walk her home. Let me preach her funeral. Let me tend to and care for Grace all the days of her life.” And I pray that God gives us many.
My third priority is our children. There is no back-up plan. If I’m not a good father, if I’m not present, they don’t have another dad. They’ve got one, and he needs to do his job by God’s grace.
And what I found over the years and perhaps you found this as well, is a lot of the things that get in the way are not bad things. They’re good things, but they’re not the best things. Oftentimes the choice is not between good and evil but good and best.
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR TIME
You’ve only got so much time. You’ve only got so much life energy, and we don’t know how much time we will have or how much energy we will have.
1. DON’T BE ARROGANT
we can’t be arrogant and presumptuous and say, “As soon as I take care of all of these things, then I’ll get to the things that the Lord has for me,” because he says, if the Lord wills, you might wake up tomorrow. You might. If you do wake up tomorrow, you might be healthy tomorrow. You might be or you might not.
2. GO TO SCRIPTURE
We go to Scripture. Proverbs talks a lot about seeking godly counsel. Don’t just make a plan for your life and then find people who agree with you and declare them to be wise counsel. Lots of people do that. “They agree with me.”
3. SEEK WISE COUNSEL
Seek wise counsel, godly people whom you will invite into your life and entrust to your decision-making. This could be godly parents, pastoral, ministry leadership, people in your Community Group, people that you know that love the Lord and they’ve got expertise in areas of life that you need to grow in and so you pursue them and ask questions and take notes and seek counsel.
The Bible is very clear that the fool is the one who’s always right in their own eyes, and the one who is wise is the one who doesn’t trust themselves entirely because sin causes blindness, the Bible says, and we all have some sin which means in certain areas, we’re all blind. And what looks clear to you looks clearly wrong to another, and we invite them to help us to see what we don’t see. It comes from Scripture, godly counsel. It comes from the conscience that God has given us, God has placed within us as his image bearers. A conscience, we just, “That doesn’t feel right to me.” I’m not saying it’s a sin for everybody, but it’s not something I’m OK with. Need to abide by your conscience.
4. ASK THE HOLY SPIRIT TO EMPOWER YOU
Fourthly, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God come to take up residence in you to inform and empower your life as he did Jesus. And Paul declares that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom. What we’re talking about here is wisdom and folly. We’re talking about a life that is to God’s glory versus life that is to your misery. And the Holy Spirit will lead you and guide you into truth and wisdom. And so we avail ourselves to these and other resources that God gives so that we can have some sense of clarity. “God, what am I here to do?” To answer that question that Pastor James asked, “What is my life? What am I to do with my breath and my days and my dollars? What am I to do, Lord?”
5. PLAN ACCORDINGLY
Then plan accordingly, openhanded, if the Lord wills. And I’d like to close with Jesus. James saw all of this played out in the life of Jesus. So here’s Jesus: God becomes a man, lives his life. Here’s James front-row seat as the little brother of Jesus. He gets to see what no one else gets to see. There are years of Jesus’ life that are not written down or recorded. No one knows what happened, but James does because he was there. He saw Jesus make decisions.
WHAT JESUS DID WITH HIS TIME
Here’s something amazing you’ll read in the Bible: Jesus healed people. But hear, hear me on this: he didn’t heal everybody. He healed these people, but not these people. Why? Why did he pick them and not them? He saw Jesus, up until he was about 30, work a job with their dad as a carpenter swinging a hammer. Well, why 30 years? Why not 35? Why carpentry? Why not something else? Why?
He was there to see Jesus was friends with these people, and he wasn’t friends with these people. Jesus invited these people into his life, and he didn’t invite these people into his life. He opened his ear to counsel from these people, but he closed his ear to counsel from these people. James saw all of this. He cast demons out of these people, not those people. He healed these people, not those people. He fed these people, not those people. Why? Why? Why? How does this work? How did Jesus make his decisions? How did he know, “I’m supposed to do this, I’m not supposed to do that”?
James was there, front-row seat to the life of his big brother/creator, and he watched it all. And here’s what Jesus has to say about his life: John 5:36, Jesus says this, “The works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing.” This is a mind-blowing statement. If you were to walk up to Jesus when he was on the earth two thousand years ago roughly, “Why do you do this and not that?”
Because can we all agree, Jesus had a lot of options? Could go into business, could go into politics, could go into ministry, could get married, could be single, could go live in this town, could go live in this country. A lot of options. And he didn’t pursue them all. He prayerfully, carefully selected a few things, and that’s all he did. And if you were to walk up to Jesus if you were to ask him, “How do you know what to do?” He would say, “God the Father told me to do some things and that’s all I’m doing. I’m not doing any less, and I’m not doing any more. Since I hear his voice, I’m not controlled and dominated by the other voices telling me what to do.”
OK, now hear me in this: you and I need to be very careful. I’ll let ya in on a little secret: you’re not Jesus. A little secret: he was perfect, you are not perfect. So we need to be very careful to say, “The Lord told me.” We need to be humble and say, “If the Lord wills.” But Jesus had a clear sense of exactly what he was to be doing, and that’s what he devoted his time and energy to.
Now, God became a man, his name is Jesus Christ, but he welcomed upon himself certain limitations for a season to identify with us. So Jesus couldn’t be everywhere. He could only be in one place at one time. Jesus, though he wasn’t as eternal, he had 24 hours a day/7 days a week just like you and me. Though God is all-powerful, during his life on the earth, Jesus had limited life energy. That’s why the Bible says he often withdrew to lonely places to be alone with the Father. He took a day off. He took silence and solitude. The Bible even says that Jesus took a nap. And that nap was as worshipful as casting out a demon or feeding a child because those were the works that the Father had given him to do and some of the works was not working. It’s not like Jesus was glorifying the Father while he was preaching and teaching and healing and feeding and not glorifying the Father while he’s doing carpentry, taking a day off and napping. All of those things were the things that the Father had given him to do and he did them perfectly. He did them submissively. He did them joyfully.
See, the reason that you and I get burned out, every extended and exhausted is we’re doing things that the Father didn’t tell us to do, and we’re not doing some things that the Father told us to do like take a nap, take a day off. We can give the impression that we’re busier than Jesus, that we’re more essential than Jesus. He knew exactly what he was to be doing, and that’s all that he was doing, and he didn’t do anything else, and he didn’t do anything less. And so he lives without any sin. And then he goes to the cross and he substitutes himself, and he dies in our place for our sins.
See, that day he could have been traveling. He wasn’t supposed to be traveling. He could have been arguing. He wasn’t supposed to be arguing. He could have been teaching a class. He wasn’t supposed to be teaching a class. He was supposed to be atoning for the sin of the world. That’s what he was supposed to do that day. And then he’s on the cross. Do you remember Jesus’ final words? “It is finished.”
He did everything that he was supposed to do, and he did it in about thirty-three years. And he’s the most important, influential, impactful person in the history of the world because he knew what he was supposed to be doing and that’s all that he did. And most of his life—90 percent of it—was spent not in ministry, growing up as a kid, obeying his parents, swinging a hammer, working with his dad. Don’t think that he was more glorifying to the Father doing ministry than carpentry. Both, both were glorifying to the Father and both were the things that he was commissioned to do.
When you get up tomorrow and you go to work and you’re sitting in your cubicle, don’t think, “Someday I will serve the Lord.” Say, “No, starting today, I will serve the Lord in the cubicle.” Jesus didn’t start worshiping when he stopped hammering. He was worshiping through hammering, and then he was worshiping through preaching, and it was always worshiping, and it was taking what the Father had given him to do and just doing that well by the grace that God gives.
3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR PLATE
The same is true for you and me. I want to make this really practical. There’s Jesus’ life. Let me extract a few principles from Jesus’ life for your life. I want you to think about these. I want you to consider these. If you’re married, I want you to discuss these. If you’re in a Community Group, I want you to share these. If you’re not in a Community Group, this is where we do life together. This is where we seek wise counsel.
1. KNOW THE SIZE OF YOUR PLATE
Number one, what is the size of your plate? I told you, Jesus only had so much time, so much energy, could handle so many relationships, so much stress, be in so many places. There are limitations, and you and I have greater limitations than he. When I’m talking about your plate size, I’m talking about your life capacity.
For some of you, your plate is a salad plate. It’s not that big. You can’t handle a lot. For some of you, it’s a dinner plate. You can handle quite a bit. For some of you it’s a platter. You can handle a lot. No matter what, we’re all finite. We all have limitations. There’s only so much that you can do. You need to know the size of your plate. You need to accept the size of your plate. If you’re a dinner plate and you’re married to a platter, you need to give grace to one another. “Why can’t you do more?” “Why do you have to do so much?” You need to give a little grace to one another, amen?
How many of you notice you married the opposite? Two platters burn out if they don’t give grace to one another. Many of you are going to be married to someone who is very different from you. Some of you are married to someone who’s just like you. It’s knowing who God made you to be, who God made them to be in addition to your kids and the capacity that God has entrusted to them, and giving grace to one another. Do you know the size of your plate? Even in your friendships, do you know the size of their plate? Do you realize that some people can’t get as much done as other people, and that doesn’t mean that they’re ungodly or less spiritual or less valuable.
2. KNOW WHAT TO TAKE OFF YOUR PLATE
Number two, what should be taken off your plate or what should you take off your plate? What we tend to do, many of us, is just keep putting stuff on our plate. “Yes, I’ll do this. And yes, I’ll do that.” And then somebody comes along and they’re like, “I don’t want to deal with this, you deal with it.”
Then they start throwing everything on your plate. And if you’re the responsible one or you have fear-of-man issues or you’re worried about if other people will like you or respect you or reject you or maybe hurt you, then all of a sudden, “OK, throw it on my plate.” Then your plate’s stacked up, and you’re burdened under it, and things start falling off your plate, and then you’re frantic and you’re depressed, and you’re anxious because you can’t keep up with your life.
So you have got to take some stuff off your plate. Jesus did carpentry for about thirty years and then he stopped doing carpentry. Say, “Well, was that wrong for him to do carpentry?” No, he was supposed to do carpentry for a while and then not anymore. Sometimes your kids are little. It’s a season of life. You’re gonna work this job for a while then work that job for a while. Whatever the case may be. Maybe there were things that you had time and energy for, and now you don’t and they have to come off your plate.
I’m jealous for your life. I’m your pastor; I love you. I want to give you permission to take some stuff off your plate wisely, carefully, prudently. Don’t just go home and, you know, Cc everybody, you know? “I’m buying a hammock and good luck with everything,” right? There’s wisdom in even how to get out of some obligations and responsibilities, but you have a right to take some things off your plate.
3. KNOW WHAT TO PUT ON YOUR PLATE
Then thirdly, what should you put on your plate? “I’ve been neglecting that for a long time. That relationship, I’ve not invested in. I’ve not had time for church or Bible reading or prayer or Community Group, serving. I’ve not opened my—I keep telling myself, man, as soon as I get through this, then I’ll have time for that. But it never comes, so I need to start with my priorities and God’s priorities for me. And I need to put the most important things in my life, in my energy, in my budget, in my schedule first, the people and things that matter the most. And then entrust God to help me discern what else I can handle and what I can’t.” What is your life? What is your life?
Friends, it’s a mist. It’s here today and it’s gone tomorrow. And here’s the good news: we’re alive. We have an opportunity to examine the life that God has entrusted to us, to make some course corrections and changes so that we don’t live in such a way that the last day is a regrettable, remorseful day, but it’s a rejoicing day.
That’s what I want for you. I don’t want you to be discouraged but encouraged. I don’t want you to just regret the things you haven’t done, but I want you to celebrate the things that are yet to be done. And to prepare for that, we’re gonna respond. So don’t—and I know immediately some of you are like, “Can I check my phone? Can I leave now?” No.
Take some time as we collect our tithes and offerings to let the Holy Spirit bring into your understanding the specific things that you need to be prayerfully, carefully considering, the changes you need to be making, the wisdom you need to be seeking. We’re then going to partake of Communion, which is remembering that Jesus did it all, that he lived without sin, the life we’ve not lived, that he died for our sin, the death we should have died, that he rose to give the gift we cannot earn, and that ultimately, the Lord Jesus knew exactly what he was to do, and he absolutely did exactly what he was sent to do.
In Communion, we remember that he did that for us. And he helps us, and he loves us, and he sends the Spirit to enable us to follow in his example. And then we’re going to sing and celebrate. We’re going to take some time to remember Jesus, to reflect on Jesus, to rejoice in Jesus, right, to consider that there is life above the sun, that there is life after the grave, and that the Lord Jesus, right now he’s still doing exactly what the Father has asked him to do. He’s hearing our prayers. He’s forgiving our sin. He’s helping. He’s seeking. He’s serving. He’s saving. It’s not that Jesus’ work came to an end with his ascension back into heaven, but he’s still working and part of his work right now is, he wants to love you. He wants to forgive you. He wants to speak to you. He wants to encourage you. He wants to help you. And so we meet with him in song.
Lord Jesus, my life is filled with a lot of wonderful things, but I thank you that teaching the Bible is something that I enjoy every week. And I thank you, Lord, that the Scriptures, particularly this week, it’s not just for the people. It’s also for the pastor. It’s really helpful and clarifying and hope giving and future igniting, Lord God. There are people that are going to hear this. I pray that very quickly, you would turn their regrets to rejoicing, that perhaps what was is sad, but it doesn’t have to be what is.
Lord, I thank you so much that because of the Scriptures we know where we come from. We come from God. We know where we’re going. We’re going to stand face to face with God. And we know why we’re here. We’re here to learn about God. We’re here to become more like God. We’re here to be saved by God. We’re here to point others to God. And Lord Jesus, thank you for being our God. Amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.
What are you looking forward to, hoping for, dreaming about? Visions lead to plans. These can be God-willed; sometimes, however, they leave out God completely (“Godless”) or are so vague it’s hard to tell whether they involve God at all (“God-light”). James warns us that life is too uncertain, brief, and important to abandon our priorities.