Few of us have ever endured the widespread effects of a pandemic like COVID-19. We’ve had to cancel weddings, conferences, and even funerals. Some of us have lost jobs, watched portfolios shrink, and stood by helplessly as loved ones have become sick or worse. No one’s been left untouched. We’re being confronted with the fact that we are not as in control of things as we like to believe.
What are we supposed to do with this overwhelming sense of frailty? How are we supposed to trust God in a season of suffering and uncertainty that feels unprecedented? The book of James calls us to submit all things to the Lord: our plans, our resources, and our suffering.
I’m a planner. My calendar is color-coded with six different colors. I enjoy thinking ahead and making plans. But we’re living in a time when nearly every plan we’ve made has been altered in some way. If you’re like me, you read James 4:13–4:17 and wonder what kind of planning James condemns.
James likens our life to a mist. He points out that we don’t even have control over tomorrow, much less our whole lives. He helps us see that we’re ignorant of the future, frail in the present, and dependent all the time.
So is the solution to simply tack “Lord willing” at the end of each calendar entry? It’s probably good to verbally acknowledge the Lord’s will more than we do, but James is chiefly concerned with the posture of the heart—are we pridefully presumptuous or humbly dependent? It’s not wrong to plan; it’s wrong to think we’re the masters of our own destiny.
James is primarily concerned with the posture of the heart—are we pridefully presumptuous or humbly dependent?
One way you can apply this passage is to make a list of two to three plans that have recently been altered. Consider how your understanding of what it means to “submit your plans to the Lord” has changed. Pray over each plan, each change, and ask the Lord to show you his will and help you submit to it.
It’s not just our plans we’re told to submit to the Lord; we’re to submit our resources, too. While money is inherently neither good nor bad, it’s a source of temptation for most of us. Whether we’re living in plenty or in want, it’s tempting to trust in money for our security, rather than in God.
Whether we’re living in plenty or in want, it’s tempting to trust in money for our security, rather in God.
James reminds us that wealth is an unstable source of hope (1:9–11). He confronts any tendency to show preference to the socioeconomically advantaged and dishonor to the poor (2:1–13). He condemns the misuse of wealth and calls attention to sins that wealth can precipitate—specifically hoarding, withholding, and hedonistic spending (5:1–6). The temptation is to be consoled by thinking that James was speaking about unbelievers in 5:1–6 who have defrauded their workers and “lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” While James may be speaking about unbelievers, we shouldn’t dismiss his admonishments as inapplicable to us.
If unbelievers are rebuked for hoarding money and exploiting people in this way, how much more so for a believer? Now is as good a time as ever to consider: how have you “laid up” resources in a way that indicates either hoarding or self-indulgence? Write down a tangible way to use the resources you’ve been given to care for others.
Now is as good a time as ever to consider: how have you ‘laid up’ resources in a way that indicates either hoarding or self-indulgence?
Submitting our plans and our resources to the Lord are difficult but necessary actions we must take. Thankfully, James leaves us with great comfort and hope.
James, knowing trials come to everyone, is concerned with how we, as Christians, respond to them (1:2–4). He exhorts us to be steadfast in our various trials because we will receive the crown of life (1:12), and we will become “perfect and complete” (1:4), which refers more to spiritual maturity than moral perfection.
To be steadfast is to be unwavering regardless of our circumstances. The only way we can remain steadfast in trials is by knowing the One who went before us and ran his race with perfect steadfastness (Heb. 12:2). Jesus’s steadfastness encourages and strengthens us to be more like him in the midst of our trials.
Jesus’s steadfastness encourages and strengthens us to be more like him in the midst of our trials.
Then, in James 5:7–11, James tells us to be patient, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. One commentator says that James is trying to convey to his readers: “Your present suffering . . . is not the ‘end’ of the story; God will transform your situation for good when Christ is revealed in glory.” In other words, hang in there!
It’s not that our present suffering isn’t significant or seen by our loving Father. It’s that, one day, our suffering will be fully ended, redeemed, and made right. Until that day, James wants us to be patient and steadfast in our sufferings.
Where to Rest Your Hope
James has shown us that we can hope in ourselves, our plans, our control, our profit, our lifestyles—but all of these will fail us. The only sure place to anchor our hope is in the Lord.
His will is perfect, his purposes will stand, and our merciful and compassionate God is coming again. May we rest our hope in him.