How to Face the Future
In one of Charles Shultz’ Peanuts comic strips, Lucy and Linus are sitting in front of the television set when Lucy said to Linus, "Go get me a glass of water." Linus replies, "Why should I do anything for you? You never do anything for me." "On your 75th birthday," Lucy promises, "I'll bake you a cake." Linus gets up, heads to the kitchen and says, "Life is more pleasant when you have something to look forward to."
I think Linus is right. We do like to look forward to the future. That’s why so many of us want to know what's going to happen next: next year, next decade, next century. People try all kinds of different things to forecast the future: astrology, palm reading, psychics with names like Sister Julia. We want to know what we have to look forward to---or what we have to dread.
Does God have any advice for how to face the future? As a matter of fact He does, and tonight I want us to hear His word in James 4:13-17. This advice is couched in terms of avoiding 3 mistakes commonly made about facing the future. From these mistakes I want to draw some positive ways to approach the future with faith instead of fear.
To begin with, James says
1. The first common mistake we make is PLANNING WITHOUT GOD (v.13,15-16)
He illustrates this mistake with a typical conversation between two businessmen in v. 13.
What's wrong with this? They’re just a couple of entrepreneurs, go-getters. They have it all planned out. When? Today or tomorrow. Where? This or that city. How long? We'll spend a year there. What? We'll carry on business. Why? Make money.
What's wrong with this? The Bible doesn't condemn making a legitimate profit. The Bible commends planning.
Proverbs 21:5 The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty…
These men plan everything: purpose, the place, the progress, all the bases covered. What's wrong here? What’s wrong is there's not a single mention of God in their planning. They know what they want, they knew how to get there, but they don't check with God first. You see the problem is not planning—the problem is presumption.
It's great to have dreams; it's great to have goals -- as long as you include God, as long as you pray about it. There's nothing wrong with what they did-it's what they forgot to do. They forgot God.
People forget God all the time. You can be a believer and forget God in your daily life.
People who love the Lord with all their heart but when it comes to planning their business or career or education they are practical atheists. It's sad to meet somebody who says, "I don't believe in God." It's sadder to find somebody who says, "I believe He exists," but then they act like He doesn't exist.
You say, "I believe in God." Does He have a say in your business? "I don't believe in mixing business and religion." All business is God's business if you're a believer. Don't plan without God. That's presumptuous. Planning without God is practical atheism.
What's the solution? Include God in all your plans for the future. (read v. 15)
Circle the word if. It’s a big word we don’t focus on enough. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, you don't either. But I know planning without God is presumptuous.
The starting point in facing the future is to say, God, what do You want me to do? What do You want me not to do? Planning without prayer is presumptuous. James says we should preface all our planning with the phrase, "if the Lord wills". He's saying the whole attitude of our life should be It's up to You, God. Whatever He wants me to do is what I want to do.
A man is riding his motorcycle along a country road and stops to talk to a preacher standing in the churchyard. As they talk, the rider tells the preacher he’s going into town to sell his motorcycle. The preacher reminds him “You ought to say that you are going to town to sell your motorcycle if it be the Lord’s will.” The man rolls his eyes, laughs, then roars off down the road.
Later that afternoon, the preacher is sitting on his front porch, and sees the motorcycle man stumbling and staggering up the road. The knees of the man are torn open exposing bloody, skinned, and scratched up legs. His arm is in a makeshift sling. His shirt is half torn off his back, and his face was swollen black and blue. His hair’s a mess, his forearms are bloody and covered with pieces of gravel. “What in the world happened to you?” the preacher asks.
“After I left you, I was on my way to town to sell my motorcycle and a big storm came up. I tried to outrun it, but as I was going around a curve, I hit some loose gravel and my motorcycle slid out from under me. I skidded more than a hundred feet on the pavement. I managed to get up, but the motorcycle was a total loss.”
“Somehow, I staggered to a nearby farmhouse. As I walked to the door, a frightened woman pointed a shotgun at me. I started running and she started shooting. I ran through the briars and got all scratched up. Finally, I came to a clearing and found a tree to shelter me from the rain. As I stood there picking the buckshot out of my back, lightening struck the tree and knocked me out.”
“Well, where are you going now?” the preacher asks.
“I’m going home,” the man says, then he looks up and says, “if it be the Lord’s will.”
Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
James says it's OK to plan but include God in your plans. Planning without God is the first mistake.
2. The second mistake is PRESUMING ABOUT TOMORROW. (v. 14b,16)
The women of the church were preparing to serve lunch after a funeral when they found a box of sandwiches filled with roast beef. They went a little overboard exclaiming how delicious they looked. Finally one woman said, "I had no idea so many of you were crazy about roast beef sandwiches. The next funeral we serve, I'll bring some." After a split second's pause, she added, "Unless, of course, the funeral is mine." [i]
It’s funny how you suddenly realize you are not guaranteed a tomorrow on this earth. That’s why James tells us not to presume about the future for at least two reasons:
1) Life is unpredictable (v. 14a) As the insurance commercial says life comes at you fast. None of us know what's going to happen tonight much less next year. All we can do is guess. A war could start, the economy could turn around, your friends could leave you.
Don’t let that frighten you. Just because the future is uncertain doesn't mean you get paralyzed with panic and worry. The unpredictability of life is a motivation to trust God more. You put your trust in God -that's how you face the future. I don’t know who holds the future/But I know Who holds tomorrow/ and I know Who holds my hand. That's what counts.
Psalm 31:15 But I am trusting you, O Lord. I said, “You alone are my God; my times are in your hands…
Let the unpredictability of life make you more dependent on God. But also remember
2) Life is brief. (v. 14b) Vapor in Greek is atmos where we get the word “atmosphere". Your life is like fog; it rolls in in the morning but it burns off by noon. The Bible describes your life as a leaf, grass, shadow, cloud. I'm only one heartbeat away from eternity. Life is short.
Which means we should never take tomorrow for granted. You can't presume tomorrow is going to be just the same as today.
Proverbs 27:1 Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.
So how should we live, knowing that life is so unpredictable?
Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Live one day at a time. The future can be overwhelming but God doles it out in bite-size pieces, 24 hour segments at a time. Plan for the future but always remember: you can only live now. I can't live the future, I can only live today.
Spencer Johnson writes that right now is really the perfect time for anything. The present is all I have to enjoy, to give to this world. Not next hour or next month but right now. That's the gift that God has given to me so I ought to use it.
Don't make the mistake of planning without God. Don't make the mistake of presuming about tomorrow. And finally, James says
3. A third common mistake is PUTTING OFF DOING GOOD. (v. 17)
James is talking about the issue of procrastination. Do you ever meet somebody who is always "aiming to do it." Do you ever ask them, "When are you going to pull the trigger?"
Procrastination is my sin, it only caused me sorrow
I know I ought to change my ways, in fact I will -- tomorrow.
James says procrastination is a trap. Just because you know the right thing to do doesn't mean you're going to do it.
But is procrastination really a sin? We think of evil activities: murder, adultery, cheating, lying, stealing. Those are sins of commission. But there's another kind of sin -- sins of omission. To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
You can do nothing and still be sinning. If all that the Christian life was, was a bunch of
"don't"s -- don't do this, don't do that, then everybody who’s dead would qualify as a Christian, because they don't do anything.
Procrastination is a subtle trap -- it's the land of Someday I'll get around to… One of these days ... and you never do because we presume upon tomorrow. One of these days I'm going to get serious about God. I'm really going to get committed. God says you don't have any guarantee of tomorrow, none at all. What’s the solution? Do it now.
Proverbs 3:27-28 27Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. 28Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come back, and tomorrow I will give it,” When you have it with you.
If somebody comes to you and asks you a favor, don't say "tomorrow -- later". Don't procrastinate. If you can do it now, do it now.
There are three things you can do with your life: spend it, waste it, invest it.
You can waste your life in a lot of ways. TV commercials show you lots of ways to waste your time, money, life. You can waste a lot of time on the www—the World Wide Waste of Time.
Or you can spend it. You can spend your life trying to acquire, fame, pleasure. At the end you have to give up everything you’ve spent your time acquiring.
Or you can invest your life. The best use of life is to invest it on something that is going to outlast it.
We worry about the duration -- how long are we going to live. God worries about the donation -- what are you doing with it. Am I making my life count or frittering it away on non-essentials, things that aren't going to count for eternity. God says, Make your life count -- do it now! Whatever you intend to do for the Lord, do it now! Not next week, next month, next year.
Thinking about witnessing to a friend and inviting him to church? Do it now! Thinking about teaching a class and getting involved in Bible study? Do it now. When is the best time to get it together with God? Right now.
In Acts 24:24-27 is the story how Paul was a prisoner before King Felix in the northern part of Israel. (read Acts 24:24-27)
Paul talks to the King, "Felix, God has a plan for your life and God wants to work in your life. You're not here by accident. You weren't made and created just to breathe and take up space, get up in the morning, go to work, come home and watch TV, go to bed, retire and die. There is more to life than that. It starts when you give your life to Jesus, God's Son, and you commit yourself to Him. He becomes the manager of your life and He will direct you." Felix says, "That's very interesting, Paul. In fact, I'd like to hear more about it. Why don't you come back in a few days and we'll discuss it some more?" But there came the day when Felix couldn’t talk with Paul anymore, and as far as we know, his procrastination cost him his soul.
What will your procrastination cost you? What is God telling you to do that you keep putting off? ..."Someday I'll get around to it." James says, “Do it now.” Right now! Don't wait.
Gary Ezzo writes I once asked my daughter Jennifer what she thought were the biggest problems fathers have with kids. She said, “Dads have too many “tomorrows.” You know, “I’ll play with you tomorrow, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” [ii]
What are you telling us James? He’s telling us how to face the future.
We should all be concerned about the future; because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.—Charles Kettering, [iii]
How can we be concerned about the future without being anxious about the future? How can we face the future with faith instead of fear? In these verses, God has told us:
Plan for the future, but don’t forget to include God in your planning. Pray and ask for His guidance, for His wisdom. Don’t ask Him to bless what you do; ask Him to help you do what He will bless.
Remember your life is short. Take life one day at a time, and make each moment count. Don’t waste time, don’t spend time, invest the time God gives you.
Don’t put off doing good. Do it today, do it right now. If you need to get right with God, do it now. If you need to get right with your neighbor, do it now. If you wait, it may be too late.
This is how God says you and I can face the future with faith, and not fear.
[i] Jane Vajnar, Tampa, Kans. "Lite Fare," Christian Reader.
[ii]Gary Ezzo, Men of Action, Summer, 1996, p. 11 10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.).
[iii]quoted in Lloyd Cory, Quote Unquote Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart