James 4:13-17


When I was a child I hated reading, but there was one type of book I did enjoy: Choose your own adventure book. The ending of these books were determined by you, depending on what choices you made. If you choose to join your friends turn to page 64, if you choose to go on your own turn to page 76. Here’s the thing with these books, if you made the wrong choice it ended in tragedy. “Sorry, you slipped and fell and were burned alive at the bottom of the volcano.” I always seemed to make the wrong choices in those books, my choices almost always led to tragedy.

Many today think that life’s a lot like that. People struggle over making choices in life because they’re afraid they will make a bad decision. Is this person the one for me? Should I leave my current job? Should I renew my contract? Should I stay in China another year? Should I choose this apartment or live in this part of the city? Should I choose this school for my children? Should I major in this field? Should I go into full time ministry? On and on the questions go…

Most of us have this fear that to make one bad choice will lead to another bad choice that will lead to another bad choice and then we end up slipping and falling into a volcano.

But let me assure you, the will of God is not a choose your own adventure novel.

Here’s our thought: There’s only one good choice to choose from when it comes to God’s will, so I better make the right choice.

Well…maybe, maybe not. As I read through scripture there are several different ways I see God’s will and our will interacting in the choices we make:

1. There are times when God has something very specific for you to do and He makes that known to you. Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them…Specific and He made it known.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah…”Arise, go to Nineveh.” Specific and He made it known. In that case you can say, yeah I need to make that one right choice God has set out for me. But here’s the good news, it seems to me that those types of choices God makes it quite plain. You’re not left to wonder, is this really from God because it’s obvious that God is speaking.

2. But there are other times when God doesn’t make it plain because God let’s you choose.

Let me give you a few Biblical examples of this:

In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, when Paul gives advice about marriage not once does he say, discern the will of God for the right person to marry. In fact he says the opposite: v. 39: If her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, “only in the Lord.” In other words, marry whoever you like, just make sure they are a growing maturing believer. Apparently there’s tremendous freedom in that choice.

Here’s a second example: In 2 Samuel David sins against God and as punishment God gives him three choices. Listen to what God says to David through the prophet Gad: “Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.”

These three choices were HUGE choices, far larger than many of us will ever make, it affected thousands of people…and God doesn’t say, Here’s the right one…choose this one…God says, here are three choices, choose whichever…It’s up to you.

3. And then there are times when God allows us to make choices and perhaps we make a choice that isn’t best for us and in the middle of that decision God directs us to a better way. In other words, God is like a GPS navigation system, redirecting our course when we make a wrong turn.

You see this often in the book of Acts.

Acts 16:7After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

Apparently they had no specific word from God so they looked at a map and made a choice that seemed best to them, and as they began to execute their plan God spoke up with different plans and redirected them.

As I a survey the Bible these are three clear ways I see God’s will and our choices working together.

When it comes to the first and third type, when it’s clear that God is speaking then you just need to move forward. Make it known to others. Submit to His will. That’s not always easy. It wasn’t for Jonah who ran the opposite direction! It wasn’t for Moses who argued with God to send someone else. None the less, that’s what is needed…step out in faith. Maybe even now as I speak there’s someone here that the Spirit is speaking to…You know who you are. You hear his voice. You know what He’s called you to do, but you’re afraid, reluctant, hesitant, defiant. Surrender today.

When it comes to the second type we probably want to know how to make wise choices when God allows a multiplicity of choices?

So I want to look at James 4 to give some guidelines for our decision making:

James 4:13 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.

There are two simple things to do when faced with a decision:

1. Make a Plan

v. 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

Now some of you are probably thinking, making a plan is the opposite of what James says to do? Isn’t James condemning these people for making a plan? No..v. 15 makes it clear that plans are good:  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. What James was condemning was making plans that didn’t include God.

The counsel here is similar to Prov. 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Planning is good as long as that planning acknowledges God and comes from a heart that seeks to be submissive and faithful to God.

Planning is commended and modeled all throughout the Bible:

Prov. 21:5 reminds us that planning is far better than just allowing life to happen – The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

In Prov. 31…the virtuous woman is a planner, she considers a field, counts her money, and potential profits and risk, and buys that field.

Nehemiah was the original project manager – He surveys the damage of the wall, he tasks people with different jobs, divides the work into small manageable parts, he adds in margins for failure and resistance, checks in regularly with his team, makes adjustments to his plan as needed, keeps a scoreboard and celebrates the small victories, he sees the work through till completion.

God is not anti-plan! And the plan here in James is something that many of us can learn from. Look at how specific it is:

Today or tomorrow (Time Specific) we will go into such and such a town (Location Specific) and spend a year there (Duration Specific) and trade (Strategy Specific) and make a profit (Outcome Specific)

If God’s called you to pastoral ministry then make a plan as to how that will be accomplished? If you are graduating soon and you have to decide which job to take then make a plan: when will you start? Which part of the world you will live in? How long do you want to commit? What type of jobs are you interested in? What is the criteria that needs to be met in order for you to commit to that job?

God’s given you a brain and the ability to actually make choices. So Pray and Plan…Plan and Pray. If you have a decision you’re in right now then make a plan, make multiple plans, weigh them, make a choice, and move forward. Here’s a good question to ask: Is it good for my sanctification? Will this choice bring me closer to Jesus or is it actually leading me away from intimacy with Christ?

As you make a choice and begin to move forward pray like crazy…Lord if this something that you really oppose, if this is something that is bad for me, if it’s bad for your glory, if there are dangers I can’t see, please reveal that…make it plain…stop it from happening.

Here’s the second part of making choices: You want to

2. Prepare your Heart

v. 14-16

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.”

Once you make a choice, prepare your heart for God’s timing, God’s definition of success, God’s will to be done.

Here’s the truth: Bad plans can succeed. Good plans can fail. Plans are good but plans are not ultimate.

Prov. 19:21Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

Constantly remind yourself that:.

A. The Future is uncertain v. 14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Even when you are sure God has spoken to you about a decision, there’s no certainty of how that decision will work out. We must be very careful to speak for God as if He’s told us the outcome of a situation. He often gives us direction but doesn’t show us the end.

There’s this crazy story at the end of Judges where the people go up to Bethel and ask God, what’s your will, should we go up and fight against the people of Benjamin? And God says, yes…let Judah go up and fight.

Now you would suppose since this is the Lord’s will Judah will will win the battle…with no casualties. But that’s not what happens. They go up to battle as the Lord made plain to them and 22,000 of them died. So they go back to God and they weep and ask, what we wrong? Should we go back and fight again? And God says, “Go up against them.” Well surely this time they will win…They’ve discerned the will of God so it HAS to end the way we expect it to end. But that’s not what happened…18,000 people die this time.

Here’s the take away: Even when God gives direction, the future is uncertain1! You do not know what tomorrow will bring.

Pastor Paul knows he and his family are to be in Boulder Colorado, but he doesn’t know what’s in store for them there. He doesn’t know how it will end…he only know that God will be there and that God is faithful, and that risk is worth it when it comes to the Kingdom!

Be humble…God controls the future not you.

v. 16

As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

God isn’t fretting over which choice you’ll make, because if you make the wrong one His master plan is ruined. If your heart is set on God, if you seek His kingdom first, then move forward in faith knowing He’s in control and will guide your steps and direct your path and whatever future you find yourself in it will be a future where He’s right there with you.

B. Life is short v. 14What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

You’re not guaranteed tomorrow or even this afternoon. In the midst of choices remind yourself of that truth, life is short…stop delaying. Don’t waste your life with inactivity because you’re afraid of making a wrong choice.

When I think of people and their inability to make choices I picture a man waking from his sleep to find his home engulfed in flames. He has but a moment to choose what to carry out to safety. Should I grab my computer? It has all my work documents? Should I grab my family photos? You can’t replace those. Should I grab my personal identification? I will have to get a new passport, a new visa, go to the bank and update all of that information, but how can I without the old one…It was burned up in the fire I will tell the clerk, meibanfa will be the clerk’s response. Yeah, perhaps he should grab that. But what about my guita…and now he’s dead. He’s died in the fire because he couldn’t make a choice.

You get only one life and some of you aren’t doing anything with your life because you’re afraid of making a wrong choice. Pray and Plan and Move forward.

But how can I do that? It’s a matter of faith, let me complete the phrase:

Life is short but Christ is faithful

v. 15. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills” we will do this or that.

The Lord’s will is ultimate and He’s proven Himself to be trustworthy. The Lord holds your present or future job in his hand. The Lord hold your spouse or your singleness in his hand. The Lord holds your apartment in his hand. The Lord holds your visa in His hand. Whatever you’re worrying about? Whatever decision you’re having to make, it’s in the hands of the most trustworthy person in the universe.

Earlier I said,

Be humble…God controls the future not you.

Here’s the second part to that:

Be hopeful…God controls the future not you.

If the LORD wills, The Lord that I trust, the Lord who died for me, the Lord who is far wiser than I…that LORD…If HE wills…I will do this or that.

There’s this repeating phrase in the Old Testament:
“May the Lord do what seems good to him.”

What a beautiful phrase. When men went to battle they would say let’s be strong and courageous and go and fight. We don’t know the outcome, but we know who is in control…may the Lord do what seems good to him.

That is a heart of faith. That is a heart of trust. I’m going to move forward in full confidence that God will accomplish his purposes in my life. I don’t know the outcome. But I know Jesus is in control, so I move forward confident that if Jesus gave his life for me then He certainly loves me enough to keep me from ruining this present life by me making dumb choices.

What I’ve said today was limited to one passage in one book of the Bible. God says a lot more about making choice.  I would highly recommend the book Just Do Something for further study.


1For you, not for God. I am not endorsing open theism.