The Epistle of James: Dependence on God
James 4:13-17; Daniel 4:29-33
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
James 4:13-17 NASB1995
Boy, that half-brother of Jesus is sure a barrel of laughs. I could just see a panel discussion with him and two other “J’s” from the OT (Job and Jeremiah), with each one trying to out-lament the others. I’m not sure that TED talk would sell well and would probably not get many YouTube hits. But seriously, folks, once again James throws a bucket of icy water on the arrogance of humans, who live their lives like there is no tomorrow and do not depend on God, but boast on how wonderful they are and how they have it under control.
This attitude that we are in charge is pervasive in our society. Many movies and books are centered on self-actualization and self-esteem (“find yourself”, “you are the best person you can be”, “live your dreams”, “you can do it”). I’ve long admired the old Disney animated classics and some of the later Pixar movies because they are fun to watch and have good animation. But if you examine some of these fairy tales and animated classics closely, a recurring theme is finding yourself through magic or wishes or family or friends or “true love”, resulting in a happy ending for everyone. God is never mentioned. All of those things that made for a Hollywood happy ending are ephemeral, vanishing in an instant.
A sermon on this passage in James by Steven Cole on Bible.org is superb and I suggest following the link and reading it. In essence, he talks about three things that we do know about life, which is like the vapor of smoke in the photo I selected:
Life is Frail. Everyone has stories about friends or family members or co-workers who were fine one minute and deceased the next minute. Perhaps it was a car accident or a heart attack or a brain aneurysm or an airline crash or a terrorist attack. People went to work on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center towers in New York just like they always did. It was a beautiful late summer morning and the Masters of the Universe were hard at work doing commodities trading, selling large insurance policies, setting up corporate trusts, and managing other people’s money. Other folks were working to create delicious entrees for lunch in Windows on the World or emptying office trash cans or checking minor security concerns. Then we all know what happened that morning. You are not guaranteed the next minute, much less the next day. A personal story: A gentleman I worked with for many years (Abe) was the head of Engineering for our launch vehicle program at Cape Canaveral operations. Everyone loved working with Abe - He was the nicest guy and an excellent engineer and manager. He had survived a serious car crash in the 1980s and spent years recovering. The last launch of our program was in October, 2005 at Vandenberg in California. Abe traveled to support the launch. He dropped dead of a massive heart attack at the age of 55 while working out in the small exercise room at the hotel mere days before the launch. His name was painted on the launch vehicle in memory. Steve and I visited that part of California a few years later and Steve brought up the story - I was inconsolable that evening remembering Abe. Tell people they matter before it is too late.
Life is Short. I am retired now and spent 37 years working at the company that I retired from. Looking back on life, it seems like a blur and those 37 years just flew by. I can recall looking forward in life while I was an Engineering student and it seemed like I had decades to “do it all”. And now it is not decades left to me, but God willing, a few more years. Psalm 90 is a lament by Moses on the shortness of life and he asks God to teach us how to number our days in wisdom. I also recall an anecdote by the author Stephen King (I can’t find the actual quote) where he said that looking back on life, you realize that it all seems like a short summer afternoon. Time flies by at such an incredible rate. Make sure your eternal affairs are in order!
Death is Certain. Well, there’s a conversation-stopper. People do not like to think about death and it certainly makes them uncomfortable, but you have a 100% chance of it happening to you, sooner or later. I just shudder to think that Steve and I were doing a lot of traveling and driving around and other risky things for many years while we wandered in the wilderness of unbelief. We could have met our end and not met our Savior, because we would have died in our sins. That should press upon all of us the supreme urgency of getting the word to others on God’s grace and salvation through Jesus.
It is pure arrogance (and sin) that we think we can do what we want without dependence on God. It is so easy to think that what we accomplished in life was through our own hard work and efforts and talents and we boast in our awards and honors. But God gave us those talents and the opportunity to perform work. I believe my career would have been a lot more meaningful and successful if I had dedicated every day to the Lord and asked Him to guide me and help me to control my tongue and be humble and grateful. I am ending this devotional with a cautionary tale from the Book of Daniel about how boasting and arrogance brought King Nebuchadnezzar to a sorry state:
“Twelve months later he [Nebuchadnezzar] was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’ Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.”
Daniel 4:29-33 NASB1995
Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson and returned to his senses and honored and praised God. Have you found your senses and discarded your worldly comfort yet? Time is short!
My next devotional dives into the next passage in James: James 5:1-6The Fate of the Rich
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord, please press upon my heart awareness of the brevity of life and the supreme importance of relying on you for every step that remains in my life. Help me to discard any pride or arrogance and instead face each day with humility, self-control reliance on You and pure gratitude. Help me to bring others to salvation before they pass away and to tell others they matter and are loved. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org