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THE PRECIPITOUS PRIDE OF PRESUMPTION James 4:13-17 Apr 3, 2011 Given by: Pastor Rich Bersett [Index of Past Messages] Introduction Nancy Walker lives in Newport Beach, California, next door to the Yeargan family. One day she was invited to attend the burial of a goldfish owned by her 5-year-old neighbor, Jimmy Yeargan. Since Jimmy was not yet able to write at the time, he asked Miss Walker to do the honors for him, handing her a small, cardboard tombstone he had brought with him to the ceremony. “What do you want to say?” she asked. “Well, his name was Mobert.” Dutifully, Miss Nancy inscribed the name. “Do you want anything else?” she asked. Jimmy paused, then nodded. “I guess just put this down,” he said, “he was fun while he lasted.” I may be missing something, but that sounds like the attitude a lot of people have about life. Both a grudging acknowledgement that life doesn’t last long enough, and a wishful hope it will be fun while it lasts. It seems everyone is ready and anxious to be a success, make a name for themselves, go here, do that, accomplish much — in general to make life fun while it lasts. But the goals of most, and their plans for life are temporal, and their toys and trophies won’t last much longer than poor Mobert did. Someone said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” God has a better idea about your life. He wants it to be fulfilling and meaningful, joyous and rewarding, but even more — He wants it to last forever for you. Jeremiah 29:11-13 — You know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. I will be found by you…. The fourth chapter of James has some practical, spiritual advice on what to do, and what not to do in the planning and progress of your life. Text of James 4:13-17 — 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 that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. Three Myths of Presumption: There are at least three deceptions hidden in presumption. Clearly neither James nor the Spirit of God is fond of people being presumptuous about their future. The rest of the Word of God endorses being prudent in planning, doing well in business, strategizing for profit, and in general creating wise plans for your life. The warning is all about presuming too much. 1. We think we know One lie is, when we are presumptuous, we think and act as though we understand the things that will happen and not just the things we hope for. The fact is, everything must pass over God’s desk before it is approved and final. When we ignore that detail in our planning and praying, we are presumptuous, says James. It is an attitude of thinking we know things beyond our knowing. James says, “Don’t act like that” because it leaves God out of the picture. It’s too much like Eve swallowing the serpent’s line that she can know more than God if she just indulges what she wants. God knows; we don’t know. We can plan and hope for the best, but we don’t even know what is best without conferring with God. Don’t leave God out of your plans. In fact, start with Him. Thinking we know our future is presumptuous. And preferring our personal crystal ball dreams or astrologic insights is offensive to the God who made us and calls us to partnership with Himself. When we think we know stuff that only God knows, we’re wrong. 2. We think we will last Another spiritual myth connected to presumptuous planning is that it causes us to think and behave like we are in control of things, like how long we are going to live. Did you know that attitude displeases God? Again, we are not being told to not plan for retirement or to forego frugal plans for ourselves and our families. God is saying that if you leave Him out of the picture, it’s idolatry. Not only that, but ignoring His wisdom and direction will sabotage our plans from the beginning. On our 41st wedding anniversary last August, Charlotte and I jokingly decided we would like to double those years, and we’ll plan to live until our 82nd anniversary, probably setting a record. I said “jokingly” because common sense tells us it is very unlikely that both of us will live beyond a hundred years. And, of course, that’s all out of our control. Only God knows how long we will live. And that’s the point — that we acknowledge He is in charge. 3. We think we are in charge And that is the problem. Presumption leaves God’s sovereign presence and prerogative out of the picture. James says we should never behave or even speak as if we are in charge of anything in our lives. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone years down the line. But He does. And He is honored when we deliberately remember that fact. When we act as if we know, as if we’ll last or as if we are in charge, we sin. Three Presumption-Erasing Truths: There are three truths in these verses that we need to hold to , because with their wisdom they will help us avoid falling for these deceptive myths. The first one: we need to remember we’re ignorant — I mean, compared to God. 1. We are ignorant (14) In Isaiah 55:8-9, God says to His people: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways…. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” And Proverbs 3:7 warns us: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun [such] evil.” Bottom line: We don’t have a clue, really, what will happen to us. One moment you’re doing a job, the next you have a concussion because you fell off the roof. You certainly didn’t plan that — you couldn’t have. Maybe you could have avoided that last move that sent you over the edge, but you didn’t. so, you’re left with nothing except thanks that you didn’t break your neck and die! You’re running a business and have great hopes for the next fiscal year, but six months later you’re in bankruptcy court. Who knew? (God did!) Was it some horrible mistake you made? Doesn’t matter now, does it? it happened, and God is interested in how you are doing today. Or maybe you carefully planned to keep your business conservative this year. Suddenly the public goes wild for your product and you’re a millionaire overnight! Who knew? God did. Who but God could predict an earthquake or tsunami, the fall of the Berlin wall or the American dollar? Certainly not you! Verse 14 — Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow! Everyone just knew little Albert, that trouble-making kid with failing grades and an exasperated 4th grade teacher would end up as a beggar and a bum. But God knew Albert Einstein could revolutionize science and mathematics with his amazing brain, and He let it happen. We just don’t know much, do we? I mean, compared to God. So James says, don’t act like you do! 2. We are transient (14) Isaiah 40:6-8 says — All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever. Later God would move Isaiah to write this chilling phrase: We [will] all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:6). One expositor with a sense of humor wrote: I was on an airplane and the flight attendant started going through the pre-flight spiel, instructing us on what to do “in case of a water landing.” I looked around. We were on a 747 jet. This plane isn’t equipped with pontoons. A 747 doesn’t “land” on the water. No, it explodes on impact into pieces the size of my toenail. The proper way to prepare for an event like this is not to stick your head between your knees (as if there were room to do that anyway), but to scream until your throat bleeds and pray in six languages at once. I arrived home (without experiencing a water landing, thankfully) and turned on the TV, and a commercial came on for life insurance. This guy walks onto the set all somber-looking and explains the benefits of their policy. Then he says I should sign up so my family will be taken care of “in case the unthinkable should happen.” Of course, by “the unthinkable,” he means “in case you die.” But the thing is, death isn’t unthinkable; it’s inevitable. What kind of culture calls things that are inevitable unthinkable? What kind of world refuses to think about what is certain, but instead spends its time worrying about things that aren’t? This is the insanity of acting like we’re not transient, earth-walkers for a short span of 70 years or better. James says in verse 14, What is your life? You are a mist [a vapor], that appears for a little while and then vanishes. All the more reason to use the paltry years we have for something eternally meaningful, like serving the God who made it all, including us — the God who, in His impeccable timing, will declare “Game over!” and demand that each of us cash in our chips for good. So, we admit our lives are just a mist. Do we stop planning just because my life is short or uncertain? I think James would answer that question this way: No, you don’t stop planning and just wait for your mist to disappear. But you do remember God in everything, because it matters to Him whether His true perspective on life shapes the way you think and how you talk about the plans you make. Why does it matter? Because God made you not just so you would do things and go places with your body — not just so you would be a number, fill a career, have a family, and die. His big plan for you is that the truth about Himself would be made known in you and through you. You weren’t created just to go to business meetings and attend the kids’ soccer games. He created you to go to those meetings and games bearing a right and holy view of life and God. You are transient, as fragile as a mist; you will vanish away from this earth; you have no durability here. You will be gone, and, though you may leave an inheritance, some memories and maybe a bit of a legacy, you’ll be gone and life will go on without you. 3. We are dependent (15) So don’t talk as if you were in control of your life. You are not. You may wish and hope and pray for what you desire in life, but what finally matters is what God desires of your life. Don’t say, “Today or tomorrow we will….” Look at verse 15 — Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” If you live as though you are independent of God, you dishonor God. That is like boasting and bragging, verse 16 says. Jeremiah 10:23 — I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his [own] steps. Colossians 1:16-17 — All things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. You and I are absolutely, positively, and completely dependent on Him — even for our next breath. James is warning us that it is arrogant not to believe and declare that how long you live, what you experience in life and what you accomplish are all ultimately in the hands of God. Don’t brag or boast in yourself. Humbly admit it’s all God. A Formula for Planning Your Future 1. Commitment to the Lord and doing His will Without this commitment to God and His purposes in and through your life, you’re going nowhere in your planning. You’re still stuck at the corner of Pride and Presumption. This is the reason James has been so adamant throughout his letter to us that there can be no half-heartedness about our commitment to the Lord. He’s told us our faith shouldn’t waiver, our listening should include obedience, our tongue shouldn’t equivocate. We should not try to straddle devotion to God and to the world simultaneously because it can’t work, and without actions our declarations of faith are meaningless. So, if you are going to live your life for God, if you’re intent on serving Jesus Christ, if you desire to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, then you must … live for God, serve Jesus Christ, and obey the Holy Spirit. Our toying around with half-hearted commitment is not fooling God, and it’s not helping His purposes in your life. James 4:7 — Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. 2. Conviction that our lives are not in our hands, but in His Secondly, we must stand on the conviction that our lives are not in our hands — they’re in God’s hands. You may not particularly like that arrangement, and you may not completely understand it, but, listen carefully: God is in charge. Your ongoing rebellion against Him does nothing but keep you out of His family and out of range of His blessings. If that is where you want to be, fine. But if you want God, you must come to Him without reservation, and completely on His terms. And, by the way, if you do not trust Him and cooperate with His plans for you — to bless you and save you and give you hope — guess what? Your life is still in His hands. Some truths you cannot change with your stubborn resistance. 3. Careful consideration of God’s means of direction 1. Consider your circumstances God directs people by means of the circumstances of their lives. Some people are afraid to look at their life circumstances as a way of knowing God’s will. They’re afraid that their past mistakes that made them end up in their present situation have frustrated God’s plans for them. But your sins and mistakes are not stronger than God and His Romans 8:28 promises. Listen, the circumstances you are in right now in your life are not outside the control and agreement of God. He knows all about you — your intentions, your sins, your failures — all of it. And where you are in your life right now is only true because God has allowed it. He may not have caused it (or He may have — we often don’t know), but one thing is true: He allowed it. God is not too interested in your past. He’s interested in providing a blessed and fruitful future for you, and so He is primarily interested in what your heart is like toward Him today. Because that will govern how willing you are to cooperate with His plans for you. Meanwhile, know this: you are where you are in terms of your life circumstances for this main reason: God allowed you to be there. 2. To God’s Word Christian, if you want to live for God, you must become a student of His Word. Bible study is nourishment for your growth, and without it you will die of spiritual starvation. But with it you will lay hold of wisdom, not only to direct your walk in righteousness, but also to enable you to teach, reprove, correct, and train others in righteousness, to God’s glory. 3. To prayer and the Holy Spirit Proverbs 3:5-6 — Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. You acknowledge God when you worship Him and when you pray. You talk with Him of your needs and listen for His direction. Prayer is God’s gift to you, and so is His indwelling Spirit. And you have both of them precisely so that you can get life direction from Him.     [ Back to Top]          
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