Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 26 2020 - James 4:1-17 – God willing

James has strong criticism for those who think that they are masters of their own lives: those who speak confidently of what they will do tomorrow or at some point in the future; those who build great schemes for their own enrichment and boast of what they will do (James 4:13-16). You do not know, he reminds us, what tomorrow will bring. You do not even know whether your life will be spared to do the things you planned.

Several years ago I travelled to Madagascar to join the celebrations of the 175th anniversary of the Malagasy Bible and to deliver a paper at an International Symposium on Bible and Mission. Every aspect of my journey was planned carefully. But things did not go to plan. My flight from Heathrow was first delayed and then diverted due to industrial action by flight controllers in France. I landed in Johannesburg at much the same time as my connecting flight was taking off for Antananarivo – a once-a-day flight. I had to stay overnight in Johannesburg airport and take the flight to Antananarivo on the following day, and the delivery of my paper had to be rescheduled. I was reminded that no matter how well we make our plans, they can easily be disrupted by forces beyond our control.

James urges us to develop a humble spirit of dependency. We need to realise that our lives are not in our own hands but in the hands of God. “Man proposes, but God disposes” as the old saying goes. As those who know God as our heavenly Father we should be glad to rest our lives in his care, whether our days go according to (our) plan or whether they do not.

For a number of years I moved in circles where every mention of future plans was suffixed with the words “God willing”, and where invitations to forthcoming events always bore the subscript “D V” – confusing to those who’s Latin had become a little rusty. No doubt such formularies can be helpful, but equally they can become mere form. James calls us to develop a humble spirit and to recognise that we are utterly dependent upon God for what each new moment will bring. We must make our plans or we will accomplish nothing, but we need also to recognise with thankfulness the overruling providence of God.

And this spirit of humble dependency is to mark every aspect of our lives. It should find expression in a life marked by continual prayer, thanking God for the abundance of good things he showers upon us and asking his continued blessing upon ourselves and upon those whose needs he has laid upon our hearts (4:2-3). A sense of dependence drives us continually to seek help from our Heavenly Father and our victorious Saviour when temptation threatens or when the devil fills our hearts with doubts and fears (4:7-8). It drives us to seek God’s presence and the power of his Spirit. A humble spirit makes us slow to judge others or to speak unkindly of the things they have done – we are all too aware of our own failings (4:11-12).

A humble and quiet spirit is foundational to the life of faith – to the life that is pleasing to God (4:6).

Heavenly Father, you have said that you oppose the proud but give grace to the humble. We readily confess the daily need of you grace. Give us a right view of ourselves that we may recognise that we are dependent children. And give us a right view of others, equally in need of your grace and therefore of our compassion. Keep us from haughty and judgmental thoughts and words this day. Help us to love our brothers and sisters and to encourage one another to live the life that pleases you by your grace and power.

Peter Misselbrook