God-Inspired Withdrawals from the Bank of Time
Take a walk through the book of James and you'll find yourself being hammered on the matters of trials and temptations, doubts and double-mindedness, untamed tongues, untamed desires, snobbery, and disharmony in the Christian community generated by jealousy, judgment and harmful critical speech.
Here, in James, you'll find the call to perseverance and single-mindedness. Here, James urges us to walk the talk, to watch what we say, to be generous, to resist the devil, and to resist being polluted by the world that is aligned against God. Here, he encourages us to not just read the Bible but to actually do what it says. And he reminds us that the grace of God humbles a person without degrading him and exalts him without inflating him.
Now at the tail end of the book, James brings us back to the matter of testing, but before he does, he’s issues another caution. After warning us—at the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4-- against being a friend of the world and indulging in arrogant, self-centered pride, He warns us again to avoid prideful boasting, but this time particularly as it pertains to our futures.
He zeroes in on business forecasting, opening with sobering words: “Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow, we will go to such and such a city and spend a year there doing business and making money. Yet you don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You’re a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Now it might seem that James is condemning even short-term business planning, but planning ahead isn’t his concern. No, imagining that we are in control of what happens is the problem. Beware, he says, of thinking that you can cut the Lord out of your plans and make the future whatever you decide it will be.
Now, business can be a trial as anyone who’s ever made or tried to make a living at it will tell you. But the day to day earning of an honest living is not the issue here. Again, the issue is thinking that you can cut the Lord out of your plans and make the future whatever you decide it will be.
The folks in our passage have decided not only where they’re going, how long they’ll stay, and what they’ll do while there. They’ve also decided what the outcome of their efforts will be. They’ve plotted and planned the future as if God doesn’t exist.
They’re a negative case study--or a study of the sin of omission--because: they make wrong assumptions about their control over the future; they fail to take into account their own mortality; they don’t bring God into their planning; they’re proud and boastful; they brag that they have control over things over which they do not and they fail to do the good they know they could and should do.
So if they have their approach to planning all wrong, what, in fact, should they be doing? Well, they should be bringing God into their planning and planning with their mortality clearly in view. They should keeping a certain humility about the future and they should thinking of their lives in terms of not just what they could get but in terms of what they could give.
The point that James is seeking to drive home in these verses is that we have no right to ignore God's will for our lives while we merrily go about planning and scheming for the future. We have to recognize that we have no real control over what will happen tomorrow--or in the next minute for that matter--and that our lives are nothing more than a “mist” that appears for a while and vanishes. When we recognize who we are before God, we will see the need to consider the Lord’s will in everything we
Now while preparing for this morning, I came across a quote from William Penn, the founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and that quote has been bumping about in my head for the last few days: Time is what we want most—but, alas, what we use worst. Time is what we want most – but what we use worst.
I went in search of information about “time” and was struck when the first thing I came upon was a thirty-line definition under the word “time.” But, in all those words offered in explanation, there was no real definition for there was no attempt to define time outside of time--time as a created sphere within which God’s plan of redemption is actualized. Time from an eternal perspective. Time from God’s point of view. Does any human being really know what time is in this sense? And as the song goes, does anybody really know what time it is?
Life—time--comes to us in seasons, in spans, in stretches, in seconds and in spells. Life comes to us in moments, months and millennia. We may be at a juncture, in an interval and everything can change in an instant. Isaac Watts reminds us in the great hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past, that: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.” He also reminds us that God has been our help in ages past and is our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.
To live within real reality, to embrace the seasons of our lives, we need to come to some even rudimentary understanding of time from God’s perspective. God is the author of time. God is our Creator. How much time do you suppose we waste when we approach a day living as though God doesn’t exist? Art connoisseur Bernard Berenson once said: “I wish I could stand on a busy street corner, hat in hand, and beg people to throw me all their wasted hours.” Time is what we want most--but what we use worst.
When making plans, do we always consider how God would have us spend our time?
Now, I should note that when James encourages us to say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” he doesn’t mean, of course, that the simple repetition of these words in our prayers covers all our bases.
The question that must be asked is really this: do we consciously place all our plans and hopes under the lordship of Christ, recognizing that He is the One who will either prosper or bring those plans to grief? Or are we more like the people in our passage who think that they, rather than God, are in the driver’s seat?
How much and what kind of control do you think you have over your future? Do you think about your own mortality and what the Lord would have you accomplish in the time that’s been allotted to you? Do you do the good you know you could do? Do you look to each day and to your future with your focus primarily on what you can get or on what you can give, on what the Lord might want you to do or on what you want you to do?
Someone has written:
I have only just a minute.
Only sixty seconds--in it.
Didn't seek it-- didn't choose it.
But it's up to me--to use it.
I must suffer--if I lose it.
Give account--if I abuse it.
Just a tiny little minute.
But eternity is in it!
Time is not a tyrant. Time is a tool. Just imagine you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, and, at the close of each day, canceled whatever part of that amount you had failed to use during that day, carrying over no balance to the next day. What would you do? Would you draw out each and every cent each and every day?
Well, you have a bank and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds! Every night, it rules off as lost whatever you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balances. It allows no overdrafts. That means the way in which you deal with time affects how much wealth you discover in human existence. If you greet each new day as a treasure house to be invested wisely, the progression from Sunday to Saturday turns into an exciting and exhilarating experience. By the same token, if you do not use time wisely, it will end up using you.
No matter who you are, where you live or what you do, your life is impacted most drastically by what you do with time and what it does with you. Humorist and social commentator Will Rogers was once asked: "If you had only 48 hours to live, how would you spend them?" The cowboy philosopher replied: "One at a time." Such is the reality of time. Every day gives us 86,400 seconds and we must use every one of them as they come, for they will never be seen again.
But, ironically, there is another side to this crucial issue for each of us. There is an altogether different dimension of time which only people of faith can ever know. There is a time which no clock can measure, but which itself measures how much abundance people find in life.
Beyond temporal time (world time)--there is God's time. We must seek to discern when we are to wait and when we are to move. God is always working in our lives turning our detours and roadblocks into doors of opportunities. God is always at work and though things may not appear to be moving as quickly or in the ways we’d like to see them move, if we’re really seeking God’s will, He may surprise us with something miraculous.
In 1945, a young associate pastor, named Cliff, married his fiancé, Billie. They had very little money but scraped up enough to take a honeymoon. When they arrived at the hotel, they were told it was now a rehabilitation center and not available to overnight guests. They hitchhiked to a grocery store several miles down the road. The owner was sympathetic to their situation and let them stay in a room above the store. The owner quickly caught on that they were Christians and referred them to a friend with a nicer place to spend the rest of their honeymoon.
During the week, their host invited them to attend a youth rally at a nearby Christian conference center. The regular song leader was ill that night so Cliff was asked if he might take charge of the music service. He consented and led the music before a young evangelist named Billy stepped up to preach. Cliff Barrows met Billy Graham that night and formed a ministry team that preached the Gospel throughout the world for nearly 70 years.
Yes, Christ deals with us according to His timing. The Lord has an acute, accurate and amazing sense of timing. When your plans don't seem to work out, maybe God has something better in mind for you. He certainly did for Cliff and Billie Barrows!
This is why George Herbert, the Anglican priest and poet, once wrote: "Teach me, my God and King, in all things Thee to see, and what I do in anything, to do it unto Thee." James is trying to teach us--in these precious verses--the importance of committing each day to God's purposes, God’s plans, trusting that He will indeed work all things for the good of those who believe.
It should fill each and every one of us with joy to consider that the Eternal One--God Almighty--wants to direct our steps. The reason we commit all our decisions and plans to God is because we know His wisdom and His knowledge is infinitely greater, deeper and wider than our wisdom and our knowledge. Really, just how ridiculous is it for us to think we know better than God?
According to an ancient legend a certain small village sought to strike a bargain with God. They had been experiencing many years of poor harvests. They thought they could improve on God's way of doing things. They asked God for permission to plan the weather for the next year's harvest. God agreed. Whenever they asked for rain, God sent rain. Whenever they asked for sun, God sent sun. That year, the corn and the wheat were higher and thicker than ever before. When harvest time came, however, the farmers discovered that the tall corn had no ear, and the thick wheat had no head of grain. And they complained bitterly to God. God replied, "When you asked for rain, I sent rain. When you asked for sunshine, I gave sunshine. You never asked for the harsh north winds, however. Without the harsh north winds, there is no pollination, and with no pollination, there is no crop."
Now, we may not understand God's ways, but we know His heart for He has revealed it in Jesus. We know that God is for us. We know He can be trusted. We know His way is best. But, sometimes, if we’re honest, it strains our faith to affirm that. Some of us have had some difficult patches in our lives. We don’t always understand what God is doing. Still we must trust in His divine care. He is in control and He will work all things for the good of those who believe.
Now there’s perhaps one more thing we should note. There’s one thing that James is not saying. James is not saying that we are to passively accept whatever happens, calling that the will of God. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about the person who caves in too easily when life gets tough. I'm talking about the person who is content to sit on his or her sofa whining, "Well, if this is God's will, I'll just have to accept it. If God wants me to have a job, He’ll open the right door. All I have to do is sit and wait on Him."
The Christian faith has been given a bad name by people who excuse their timidity, their irresponsibility, or their outright laziness by blaming everything on God's will. Remember Jesus said faith is not only about asking but seeking and knocking. He praised the widow who persisted until she got what she needed. He praised others who were doers, who were risk takers. The man with five talents who did something with his talents was praised, while the one who hid his one talent in the ground was condemned. There is no foundation in all the Gospels or the epistles for the whiny kind of passivity that excuses every situation as God's will.
The Christian life is a life of action. It is a life of striving, of never giving up, of persevering. Remember James opened his book by telling us that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials because that testing of our faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete and not lacking in anything. James concludes by saying, “anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
Summarizing all the foregoing?
Bring God into your planning. Trust that He does know best and that He has plans to prosper you and not to harm you. And remember that He uses all things--even and perhaps most especially, the greatest challenges--for your good.
Plan with your mortality clearly in view. Not one of us knows precisely how much time remains for us. Let us invest our hours well.
Keep a humility about your future--all your plans will come to naught if God’s not in them.
Think of your life in terms of not just what you can get but in terms of what you can give and be careful not to sin, not only through wrongdoing--the sin of commission--but also through the sin of omission--failing to do that which you know you should do.
I’m going to play off that last point to make one final suggestion. We all know how we can sometimes be so preoccupied or deep in thought that we don't hear loved ones speaking to us even when they’re in the same room. This is why someone once wrote: “Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your own home… Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”
What would you say to your loved ones if you only had five minutes left to live? Don’t waste time-- say it to them today.
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