Do you like knowing what is going to happen ahead of time? Do you like controlling your reality? What about knowing where your next internship will be and who you'll be working for? What about knowing when the Coronavirus quarantine will end, does that interest you? Do you worry about your relationship status, or if you wore the right thing to whatever themed party? Do you find yourself fretting about will X new-member become your little? Possibly closer to home for almost all of us, will our chapters even be able to have I-weeks let alone let new-members activate? If I may take a step onward; do you worry about the health and safety of those around you?
I know I certainly care about the future. If I'm honest, I actually tend to obsess over it. When I was a student, my fear took the form of checking my email incessantly as I looked for confirmation of internships. Or religiously observing the grade portal to see how I did on term papers and exams. It also looked like keeping myself busy through strategizing, toiling, and going to ridiculous lengths to ensure that my public perception was flawless.
Just because we're in a global pandemic, this line of thinking doesn't magically disappear. Now I'm fretting over the future by buying extra groceries in order to stave off imaginary destruction that is in my mind. I'm also really worrying about the health of my loved ones. Yet, this week's Scripture has anchored me in truth and has exhorted me in this Lenten season.
James 4: 13-17
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.
Questions to consider:
- James is writing from Jerusalem in the 1st century. How could making plans look differently in 1st century Jerusalem compared to 21st century America? (think about timing and the act of planning specifically.)
- What are characteristics of "mists" or fog? Why would James bring them up as a metaphor?
- What is the connection between verse 16 and 17? Why would the author take us from - "Hey this is what you should be doing." to "So whoever knows what's right and doesn't do it is sinning?"
- Are there plans that you're holding onto, and 'boasting arrogantly in'; or were there plans that you were clinging to that suddenly disappeared like mist? What might God be doing in the midst of this turmoil, and how may He be redirecting us to His will?
Dang, James really packs some heat and leaves very little maneuvering room! Internally I begin to scream - WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO PREPARE? WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT THIS IS OUT OF MY HANDS? If I'm candid with myself, what I'm really screaming is; JESUS WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON'T SHOW UP? That's one of the reasons I love this passage; I'm reminded that we are not supernatural, we are not omnipotent, we are not in control, and that is such a beautiful gift. Our security is not in our feeble plans that literally fall apart at the drop of a hat. It's not in our health and vitality; heck, our nation. Our security isn't in our own hands. Friends, we are like the mist and fog; fog only lasts a bit and clouds our reality, but is undone by the clearing rays of the sun.
First, before we go on, can I just name that this sucks on certain levels. Yeah, I wish I could tell you that your collegiate careers will get back to normal soon. I wish we could all go ahead and make our plans with security and knowledge that they will happen. The reality, though, is our plans have never been in our own hands. We've never had ownership over our future.
And that's ok. It's ok because the sunshine is more powerful than the fog. It's ok because while our temporal plans may be put on hold, God is still sovereign, and His plans cannot be halted or stopped. It's ok because the Son is more powerful than our fear. That's the connection between verses 16 and 17. Our reality as Christians isn't just one determined by the fickleness of our circumstances; no, our reality is in the Gospel truth of Jesus Christ. That's verse 16. Verse 17 is an exhortation to live into that truth because if we choose something other than the truth we are living into a lie. Moreover, we are living in the lie that we are our own gods. Hence why James is using words like "boasting" and "arrogance," and we both know we have no control over the future, but I know who does, and it's my prayer that you do too.
As we continue into this Lenten season, I'm reminded that over the last few weeks we've been practicing spiritual disciplines like fasting. Fasting is meant to reveal our weakness and turn us to Christ. Can we look at this forced season of quarantine in a positive light and ask Christ to help us to press into His will instead of our own "arrogant boasting"? We are in a season where we get the blessing of slowing down to ask "What is our life?". My prayer is that we would respond by saying that we will follow Jesus and "if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." Let's transition together in this interruption from following our own "this" or "thats" and begin to do as the Lord wills.