Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)
At first glance, this passage might be seen to be encouraging us to throw out our planners, our diaries, our calendars. Attractive to some, devastating to others. I can recall a time when I thought I had lost my appointments diary. It was a terrifying moment. How would I know what I was to do next day or next week? For some of us, while the Bible is the key to life, our diaries or planners come a close second.
But this passage is not condemning planning ahead. Of course, we make plans. We don’t just turn up to holiday resorts or airline check in desks or even the homes of friends or family without making some prior arrangements. This passage is about the spirit in which we do our planning. It is particularly concerned to warn those whose great aim in life is to make money. They plot, they scheme, they manipulate…. all the time believing they are in control. They seem to be sharp operators, powerful speculators. They are mistaken.
If we believe we are in control of life we are kidding ourselves. Certainly, we plan for the future, and we keep our diaries and mark our calendars. But always aware that God will have the last word. When we entrust our lives to God, we make any plans with a proviso that they may be overturned. We might be impressed by our neat and tidy plans, but God sometimes messes them up because he has something better in mind. This calls for great faith and humility. Faith to believe God knows best, humility to believe we don’t know best.
And in the end, our very lives are in God’s hands. Figures ranging from Alexander the Great to Abraham Lincoln had great plans but couldn’t see them through because their lives were cut short. Puzzlingly, we know of Christian figures such as David Watson and nearer to home our own Jamie Coulter who had plans for God and yet didn’t live to carry them out. A reminder that life is not something we control and manage and manipulate. Life is a journey and also a gift. Human life hangs by a thread, and God has hold of the thread.