There is an interesting reality at play in our lives—particularly as it relates to this idea in James 4:14-15 (ESV): “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 James does so well, he leaves us no freedom for nuance in the middle of hard truths. Our lives are but a “mist,” and the reality is that our time here on earth is limited. Here is what is ironic, though: while this comes as a surprise to no one, conceptually-speaking, I do not know if most of us ever actually think about the ramifications of what is being said here. Thankfully, James does not leave us wondering, for as he says in James 4:17 (ESV), “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
But how exactly do these two statements connect, you might ask? Let me explain.
In God’s Kingdom, we live well by loving well. This is how God’s economy works. Where our lives in the big picture might be short, the legacies we leave are not. Legacies have a long tail that can stretch generations, and those legacies begin at an individual level of doing the right thing, at the right time, with the right people. In other words, because this “mist” we call life is so short, we must seize the moments God gifts us, and do so by His plan, not our own. How we go about doing that, though, is a matter of obedience. It is also a matter of using God’s Kingdom ethics: hence a very stern warning from James 5:1-6 (ESV) we must not miss if we want to fully understand the importance of living the type of “mist” God would desire of us.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
As Pastor Mike Halstead preached on Sunday, having wealth and things is not the problem. The problem is how much security you place in those things and what sort of steward you are with them. Are you blessing other people with what you have? If you own any sort of a business, are you paying a fair wage to those who work for you? Are you thinking about what sort of inheritance you might leave to your kids, their kids, and their kids’ kids? Are there other vital needs you are trying to meet, either in our local church or surrounding community, that are within your proximity today to do something about? Whatever the case may be, the fact remains: Where there is a need, there is an opportunity to serve. And where there is an opportunity to serve, there is something God wants you to provide. We have to simply submit ourselves to His will and direction in our lives. Therefore, we have to follow God’s lead, and offer up enough trust in Him to use us as He sees fit in this short window we call life. For if we do not, we are violating the two most important laws Jesus gives us in Mark 12:29-31 (ESV), after Jesus is asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” in verse 28. And we read this in response:
“Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’”
See, if we go back to the beginning of our passage in James this week, we can see clearly that there is a subtle foolishness (and perhaps even arrogance) when we think only about future things—forgetting the importance of the here and now. For those of us who choose to make Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, the here and now reality is also a stewardship—something to which we are called to be ever-present. We are not permitted to think only of ourselves and what we want, but what the world needs in the name of Christ alone. We are reminded, once again, when we go back in James 4:13-14 (ESV):
“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.”
Tomorrow will come (and with it our necessary plans), but it is today where we are, and it is there God wants our attention to be centered on things above and things around. For if we give our plans and money to Him today, He will give us all we need to maximize our impact tomorrow.
Dive deeper into this week’s passage from James 4:13-5:6, and follow up your reading of it with these five QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
- How do we balance the future with today according to God’s Word here in our passage?
- How should we think about our lives if it is but a “mist” in history?
- How are we to view money as it is described in this passage?
- What are some ways you can reorient your life around what God desires for you?
- Where do you find yourself most showing up in this passage?
IN REVIEW …
James 3:13-18: “Though It Cost All You Have”
James 3:1-12: “Taming the Tongue”