As I am going through some tests in hospital this month, you could say I have some cause for worry, but I am happy to say that God is helping me cast my cares upon Him, and it is so freeing. There are so many scriptures that help point us towards God in the midst of anxiety, but I wanted to consider some that talk about the future, and particularly the following from James:
James 4:13-16 “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”—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. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
These may not seem like verses you would turn to in a crisis, or in the midst of worry, but read them over again and you will realize that they deal with what is often the content of our worry- the future.
The people addressed in this verse however are not worried about the future; They are confident. They have plans for today, tomorrow, and for the following year, and forecast that time spent will bring them profit. It seems odd in our day that this confidence should spark any spiritual concern, doesn’t it? And generally, people who use the term “if the Lord wills” when they talk about the future, are seen as being either hyper-spiritual, or perhaps not spiritual enough. They are too spiritual, for honestly considering the rule of God as supreme over every detail of life, or, they are not spiritual enough since they obviously don’t trust that God is going to bless their plans and aid their success. Maybe which viewpoint depends what Christian circle you run in. Regardless, this posture that plans stand or fall whether or not the Lord wills, isn’t the norm.
But James hits us hard with a few short words “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” That verse applies to everyone. It is the same for the super successful as it is for those barely getting by. Tomorrow could change everything, couldn’t it? No one has tomorrow pinned down and secured, no matter how pristine or haphazard their plans.
Your own life is the biggest thing in the universe in your own eyes, isn’t it? We spend almost all our time thinking about our own lives. Then James says “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” And what power do you have over your own life? I think of Matthew 5:36-37 where Jesus warns us not to take oaths, because we do not have the power to know or control things: “And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Or Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Or consider Ecclesiastes 8:6-8 “For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death…”
Many Christians today still aim to control, and even know the future. Particularly in charismatic circles today, where much of modern “prophesying” is nothing more than fortune telling. But again, Jesus stands and says “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”
You might be thinking that this understanding could add to your anxiety levels- and it could. But it could also level the ground you are standing on. When life becomes uncertain, I read this and realize everyone’s life is uncertain. God has given me today, this day. “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).” Worrying about the future steals the joy that I could have today. Tomorrow is sinking sand; I can’t put my feet down there. But I can stand on a rock today by Christ, even if the world is falling apart.
Matthew 6:34 says “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” I remember when I was pregnant with Liza I wouldn’t get much sleep and my husband would sometimes ask if I was worrying about something. I would say “How could I worry about anything? Today’s trouble is sufficient enough.” And it was true. The future was a door that I was not walking through, and today had enough grief of its own.
Struggling with today’s difficulties and circumstances is not the same as worrying about your future. You must deal with today, and sometimes today hurts. You have to cast your burdens today on the Lord and ask Him to carry you through them, and that might not always look pretty depending on the day. But God gives grace for today. A friend of mine mentioned this quote from Elisabeth Elliot a few nights ago, and I thought the timing was perfect as I had already begun writing this article: “There is no grace for your imagination.” Wisely stated.
“If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
“If the Lord wills, we will live…” That is such a powerful statement. Your life is in the palm of God’s hand, and if He wills you to live, you will live. Nothing and no one can prematurely take your life.
God doesn’t want us to boast about our future, as though we were certain what it would hold, whether doom or prosperity. He wants us to trust Him with our daily lives, as we plan and move towards the days ahead. Proverbs 19:21 “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”
I have a phrase that I have repeated to myself lately if my mind starts to wander down the path of worrying about the future. “Charlene, that doesn’t belong to you.” I mentally swat my own hand as if to say “Don’t touch.” My future hasn’t materialized, except for in the mind of God, and it rests safe in His loving, sovereign arms. My future belongs to Him. Knowing and believing that is the only way to find freedom from worry and fear.
I’ll end with some lyrics and a version of a great old hymn “Be Still My Soul”:
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.