Faith Works: A Study in James


How does faith work for life planning?

A book I once read that is written for business leaders includes a very insightful illustration. As I remember it, two men are standing on a dock looking at a large cruise ship intended to carry people and cargo to their intended destinations. One man looks at the other and asks, “In relation to that boat, who is the most important person?”. The other man replies, “the captain”. The man who asked the question corrected him saying, “the boat builder”.

The truth is the world’s best captain is of no use if he’s at the helm of a poorly built boat. If it doesn’t float, the captain could be most anyone as it won’t make a difference.

Most people spend their time and energy working in their life – frantic, tired, and trying to keep their proverbial boat afloat. Planning is working on your life and not just in it – figuring out how to build a bigger boat. The wisdom literature, especially Proverbs and Jesus’ parables, have a lot to say about stewardship, planning, and building a better boat for our life.

For full confession, I’m a big fan of planning. I took one of those personality tests and I scored as an off-the-charts, high strategic planner. I enjoy trying to figure out the future, build the best boat, and sail off into the next great adventure be it for family or ministry.

The problem with planning is that it can lead to presumption. We see this every election when a candidate promises a future no one believes will come to pass, at work when the boss gives us the rousing vision talk expecting us to forget that the talk he gave last year failed so that we can naively believe that this year will be different, and in the huddle with the sports team where the coach promises we can be David and watch Goliath fall, which we believe until the final score says we are a loser and our coach is a liar. 

In the Bible, faith, hope, and love often appear together. Faith says that we must live with hope for the future because of God’s love for us. Faith requires that we look into the future and make plans to live for God and with God.

The problem is that sometimes we become so committed to our plan that we forget about His plan. His plan is often different than our plan. For our plan to stay consistent with His plan, two things help.

One, write your plan in pencil. The only inerrant writing on the planet is the Bible, and whatever we write down is bound to have a few errors and need some edits. As a new husband, I wanted so badly to be a good family leader that I made a lot of plans – schedules, budgets, etc. – but what drove my wife nuttier than a jar of peanut butter was my certainty that all my plans would come true. Even worse, as a zealous new pastor I would get up and share detailed vision with utter certainty to our little flock while she shook her head trying to support me instead of shoot me.

Two, pivot from your plan to His plan. This is what James means saying that if we know we are supposed to do something then we just need to do it. Sometimes we get so committed to our plan that we do not pivot and adjust to follow His plan. Perhaps a humorous story will illustrate this point. Two young women plugged an address into the map feature on their phone and proceeded to the shore of a lake in their car. The directions said, “proceed forward” and they had a choice to make. One, they could persist in the plan or pivot from the plan. What did they do? You guessed it; they drove the car into the lake!

We’ve all been guilty of bragging, boasting, and promising something in the future that only God knows and controls. The world is not filled with humble and proud people. The world is filled with proud people who are humble enough to know they are proud, and proud people who are too proud to know they are proud. Pride is a human problem in that it is a problem for every human. The Bible has nothing good to say about pride, as we learned in the prior section of James. Conversely, the Bible only has good things to say about humility starting with Jesus, our humble King. Not only did He set the perfect example of humility doing the Father’s will, He also sent the Holy Spirit to humble us and grow our character to be like Christ. This allows us to be good stewards of our lives, live with faith and vision, make plans, and be open to whatever the Lord has planned by waking up every day and doing what our faith says is right even if it was not on the to-do list for that day.

Do you desire to do the will of God? Psalm 37:23-24 encourages us that when we delight in God’s way, the Lord establishes our steps. Is there anything in your life that keeps you from desiring the will of God?