Sometimes making decisions about jobs and our personal economic status can be hazardous to our relationships. The myth is that every move we make should always be an upward move. In other words we buy into the notion that upward mobility is always a good thing. Once again it is really hard not to buy into the American mindset that more is better. Sometimes the price we have to pay to be upwardly mobile takes a real toll on our families.
Many of us have had to work through this at one time or the other. In 1987 I was three years into my first pastorate. I became convinced that if given the right ingredients I could grow a church. In my immaturity these things included having a gymnasium and a bigger attendance. After three years I hung it up and moved on to a bigger church with a gymnasium. What I found out after the next three years was that I didn’t do any better there than I did at the first church. I got along with everybody but didn’t have a clue how to lead a church to do effective ministry outside its walls. Those three years and that decision to move took a toll on my family without question.
Moving up is not always God’s perfect will for our lives.
The Jews were persecuted and they were sent out from their synagogues everywhere to spread the message of Jesus Christ. The church explodes with people and potential.
The church was growing and multiplying and there were unbelievable financial opportunities. These early believers lived along the trade routes. These are people that knew how to start a business, see an opportunity, leverage the opportunity, and make some plans. James decides to offer them a warning and some advice.
13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit. James 4:13 NLT
In those days taking advantage of opportunities to make money was happening all over Europe and Northern Africa. James is picking up on all of this and says, “Look here” or “Come now.” Literally this means, “Whoa. Wait a minute.” “You who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to a certain city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’”
The little phrase, “You who say,” (the word for “say”) here means to “you who have carefully researched and developed a logical plan.”
What you discover in this section of the scripture is that there is this very well developed and well laid out business plan.
• The business plan included:
• He Chooses His Time Today or tomorrow
• He Selects His Location A certain city
• He Limits His Stay Stay there a year
• He Defines His Market To engage in business
• He Projects His Costs And make a profit
You might look at this outline and wonder what could possibly be wrong with this business plan? At first blush there seems to be nothing out of place but for the authentic follower of Jesus Christ there is a major problem.
One Major Problem: The business plan excluded God!
James is going to say, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “Here’s the problem. The business plan excluded God.” James is not prohibiting planning. The Bible is full of admonition that we should plan. He’s not criticizing making a profit. The Bible is really clear. Be shrewd and wise with your money.
What he’s criticizing is this; arrogant presumption or leaving God out of our plans. It’s getting so excited about an opportunity and just immediately thinking, “Well, here’s the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. We can make money. It’s going to make us upwardly mobile.” It must be God’s will. That’s what he’s saying is, “You arrogantly have left God out of your job decision and your business planning.”
Notice what Proverbs has to say:
“Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”
Proverbs 16:3 NLT
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 NLT
God wants us to plan, but he wants our plans to flow out of a sensitive heart that says, “Lord, I see a great opportunity. I want this filtered through your will. I want to hear your voice. I want to depend on you. What do you want me to do and is this the right job or the right promotion at the right time and in the right way?”
So it raises the question, “Why is planning apart from God so dangerous?” And in verse 14, James is going to teach us exactly why planning apart from God is so dangerous.
What he says is that bad decisions about work flow from some false assumptions.
Bad decisions about work flow from false assumptions
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” James 4:14 NLT
What James says is what every one of us needs to be reminded of. If we are not careful we can begin to believe and base our life decisions on two very false assumptions.
False Assumption 1: Life is Predictable
A few years ago an article was published that illustrates how unpredictable and how dangerous it is to plan apart from God. It says, “Decca Records controlled the American music industry for decades. Their ear for talent was unmatched. As a result, they owned the giants of the time – Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly were just a few of the stars in their vast universe of talent.
Then they acquired Universal Pictures and MCA. Decca Records was positioned to be absolutely unstoppable. But in 1962 after their talent scouts reviewed a group of mop heads from Liverpool named The Beatles, Decca said, ‘We don’t like their sound. And besides, guitar music is on the way out.’ Ten years later, the Decca Record label disappeared.”
The article went on, “Economist Irving Fisher in October,” this is great, “Of 1929, leading economist, said, ‘The stock market has reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.’ Just a few months later, a defining crash was heard throughout America as Wall Street collapsed.” “In 1942, Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM said, ‘There is a market for about five computers in the entire world. There is no reason to risk our current success on such a limited venture.’”
False assumption number one of why it’s so dangerous to plan apart from God is that we think life is predictable. Life is not predictable. The only guarantee is change. You and I need to ask God, “What do you want me to do?”
False assumption number two is that life is long.
False Assumption 2: Life is Long
Not only do we think it is predictable and that it is going to stay the way it is, but we also assume that we are going to live a long time. We unconsciously think that other people have car wrecks, plane crashes and cancer – unexplained tragedy. I’m going to live long, so I have plenty of time to do whatever really is important later.
Remember the parable Jesus told in Luke 12 about the man whose prosperity got so big, he said, “The only thing I can figure out to do is to tear down all these barns and build bigger and bigger barns and I’m going to store and store and store and hoard and hoard and hoard and I’m going to eat, drink and be merry because I’ve got it made. I’m going to ‘live forever.’”
Neither of these two assumptions are true yet most of us in this room live like there is no end in sight. What we learn from James in this scripture to slow down and prioritize our life based on how we learn to live it from giving our lives to Jesus and this book. (The Bible)
I recently heard a pastor tell a story about a man in his first church. The man was in his mid-50s at the time. He was employed by a group that builds banks all over America. And at the present time, he had all the engineering responsibility east of the Mississippi. He was an amazing guy. He had ended up with degrees in electrical and mechanical and about three or four different types of engineering and he was in charge of all the heating and air conditioning systems, in all these banks that were built.
He did such a good job they wanted to give him all of America and relocate him to the home office. It represented a huge salary increase and a tremendous number of people reporting to him. They gave him this opportunity, and he came to see his young pastor.
And he said, “I want you to know that this opportunity has come. And I feel like I need to take it before the Lord. I’m going on a business trip – I have three or four days where I can fast. I’m going to be taking it before the Lord, and would you pray with me, Pastor? And then when I get back, I’ll talk to my wife and we’ll discern the will of God and I’ll let you know, because I know it’s a critical time in the life of the church.”
This young pastor was floored and asked him why he wasn’t taking the job. It seemed like a no brainer. He said, “Pastor, the Lord hasn’t released me.” And he said, “Well he hasn’t released you from what?”
He said, “I signed up to be an elder here. And I have a three year term, and will pray that through and ask about what the next term would be. And as I got before the Lord, he said my work’s not done here.” And the average Christian I know it would be, “Hey, sorry guys. I got a three year term, or I was supposed to do this. Would you take me off the hook?”
And I’m not saying that there might be times where God might want to move people. But here’s a guy who took a spiritual responsibility as being more important than the juiciest job opportunity in the world. And he said, “The Lord told me my work’s not done here.”
“I did evangelism with him. I did counseling with him. I learned to speak the truth in love with him. I saw him weep for lost people that he really cared about. I saw him take me to task as I got influenced by people and challenge to me to have courage and speak the truth in love. I mean, this guy was like a mentor. And I think God kept him around for me because God had a plan.
He just listened to the voice of God. Now please don’t hear in any way that I am saying upwardly mobile opportunities are not the will of God. I just think, especially in American culture, we unconsciously think more money, more territory, bigger salary, lower housing cost, more opportunity, nicer car, company car, stock options. I mean, it’s almost like, “Why pray about this one? I mean, God wants me to be happy, right?” Hedonism. “God has to be laying this in my lap.” “It’s too good to turn down.”
What we learn from James is that too many of us see dollar signs and figure that moving upward is always God’s will. We assume that life is long and that life is predictable. Our life is a vapor. It is a mist and we should take the admonition of Psalm 90 and pray that God will help us number our days.
I have watched people in my life that longed for some job that comes with a title and a little prestige only to get it and be the most miserable people I know. (or they just fail at the task)
James makes a very clear transition from admonishing them to think differently to advising us on how to approach our vocations.
How Do We Make Good Decisions About Work?
Make God’s will the foundation for all decision making.
What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15
Who knows the future? God does. Who has your best interest in mind? God does. That’s the part I think we sometimes don’t believe. Would you write in your notes Psalm 84:11. This is a great life verse. “The Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord gives grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”
God’s not trying to keep you from a good job with lots of money and all the things you think you need. The Lord God is a sun – unlimited resources. The Lord is a shield – your protector. The Lord gives grace. In other words, stuff you don’t deserve. The Lord gives glory. He wants to expand and multiply and be good to you. He’s your father. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk upright.
I think we are afraid to pray and ask God about things like this because we don’t know Him very well and to be honest we don’t trust Him very much. We believe down deep that He delights in saying “No” more than yes.
Who knows if things are going to stay the same? Who knows what’s going to change?
Who knows what’s best for us? Who knows what transitions our daughter, our son, our wives are going to go through? Who knows if maybe I’m single and maybe I’m moving and God has someone in this place instead of that? I don’t know. But God does. “I came that you might have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.” So make God’s will your will by saying, “God, I want your will more than any of my desires.”
Practical tips: (John 7:17)
Say to God I will do Your will no matter what (John 7:17)
Read the Bible without trying to read your will into it. (Psalm 119:105)
Pray, pray and pray. (Matt. 7:7)
Seek wise counsel (Proverbs 13:20)
Recognize the root cause of planning apart from God.
Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. James 4:16
Sometimes we get really impressed by ourselves and the strengths that God has given us. We get really into ourselves. People who achieve fame and notoriety will sometimes fall into this mindset. They start believing their own press releases and the articles written about them.
Most of us don’t have press releases to believe but we can be just as guilty of believing that we are really something special or that we have really achieved and we leave God completely out of the equation.
Don’t buy the myth:
Work opportunities are automatically the will of God if they lead to upward mobility.
Every move up the ladder may not be the will of God. It may be but it might not be. Don’t get sucked into the myth of the American mindset that would have you believe that more is always better or that every move you and I make should be a step up from where we are now. Again let me remind you that this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a new challenge or move forward or up but it does mean that if you want to be a Christfollower you have to be willing to seek and honestly accept God’s will for you and the people around you.
Act on your God-given dreams and impulses.
17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. James 4:17 NLT
In verses 13 to 16, it’s a sin of commission. It’s arrogant planning apart from God. In verse 17, he warns us about the sin of omission. And so I would ask you what is the good that God has prompted you to do? What is the good that you think he might be saying, “Hey you need to do this.” See, this passage pushes really hard on don’t buy the lie of upward mobility about your job. But then not just with regard to the job – this is sort of a summary statement. This verse, I think, is summarizing where we’ve been in terms of the teaching of James.
Is there anything in your life or mine where we say, “This is the good I ought to do. I ought to teach that class. I ought to mentor that young woman. I’ve had a great job and he’s talking about all this stuff, and I got a 401K and a 701K and a 1501K and people have all kinds of problems. And in my honest hearts of hearts, I’d have to live about four lifetimes to spend all the money. And I’ve hoarded my security. And I ought to divest.”
There is a group called Generous Giving and they’ve done research with people that are extraordinarily wealthy. And they can’t give you more than one or two instances of leaving big money to their children where it’s worked out well. And they have zero instances where millions and millions of dollars have done anything but totally corrupt and ruin your grandchildren.
You see some of us will work ourselves to death to put some little nest egg of money back so we can sit on it when we are old. We work and work to have more and more and some day we are going to look back at our life and wonder what we did that really mattered.
Can you see this today? Can you feel it for just a moment or two?
Is what you are doing with the hours of your life really going to matter someday? You may have to work to live. I understand that but what are we doing with our lives?
What is the good that we ought to do? Is it giving wildly and generously? Is it saying that maybe some of us in those middle or more twilight years have more to offer? And instead of living for yourself you invest your wisdom and your life and your gifts in the next generation.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s taking a risk. Maybe it’s stepping out. What is the good? What’s the dream in your heart that God maybe would kind of say, “This is what I would really like you to do with your life and what I have given you.”
I know some people in this room right now that have done that very thing. You have gone back to school or you have taken on a voluntary role somewhere and you are investing your life in stuff that matters to God.
And why does God not want us to miss the mark? Because he’s a sun and a shield. He gives grace and glory. No good thing does he withhold. His plans for us are great. Why is James reproving these entrepreneurs and business people from planning apart from God? It’s because your plans and my plans and their plans apart from God will never land us in the best place. He’s a loving God and He really only wants the best for us in this life.
French Lick Indiana: Church of about 15 to 20 people. Mostly elderly women. My wife and I did it all. She played the piano and I led the singing. I drove the van, opened the church, turned on the heat/AC, turned on the lights, lock and unlocked the church. We sang most of the special songs in those days. It was a loving and gracious community that welcomed us in a special way. We saw growth but not the kind that gets you very much attention from your leaders. After 3 years, I just knew that if I could go to a church that had a better balance of families and a better building and a gymnasium that I could really grow a church.
Mt. Pleasant Mill, PA: So we moved to Pennsylvania. We went from 45 people to about 145. Well maintained property with a gymnasium and families and more money and you know what I found out? I spent the first few months missing the people and door that God had opened up in southern Indiana. Then I found out that I wasn’t all that great of a leader and that my best sermons didn’t really move or motivate anybody to do anything different that what they had always done. After three years I jumped at the chance to leave being a pastor and for 11 years I did administrative work. First at a denominational headquarters and then at what is now Ohio Christian University.
In about 1998, we knew that God was preparing us for something but we had no idea what that might be. Then came the first opportunity to live this concept out. There was an opportunity to become a District Superintendent over about 100 churches scattered over about eight states. I remember thinking that first of all God this is not God’s will for me. Most of that decision was based on would this be best for my family. I would have missed out on most of the adolescent and teen years of my kids lives. I would have missed their activities and their crisis’. It would have certainly been an upward move but thank God He gave us grace to not be sucked into that move.
I turned 40 in April of 2001 and within a few days of that mile marker I was asked to come and pastor this church. I turned it down but came as an interim pastor. In those days the church had about 275 people attending.
For about five or six months we wrestled over whether we should come here or not. Did I really want to pastor again? Should I move my kids when they were settled in a great church and school? What about my wife’s job?
These last nine years speak for themselves and they testify to what God can do. It has been an exciting and whirlwind journey. What most of you don’t know is that about two years ago (during that seventh year itch kind of thing) I was inundated with calls from churches from around the country. As I look back on it now, it was one of the most stressful years I have ever had. I had three minor surgeries. We were in the midst of adjusting to both kids in college. It was one of those times you live through and then look back on and it all just seems like a weird dream. In the midst of all of that about five opportunities came to go and lead churches that were bigger than this one. They all had better buildings. More impressive locations and more financial support. One by one we turned them down and watched the doors close.
I think about that from time to time and here’s what I realize. If those opportunities had come early on in my walk with Christ I would have jumped all over them who knows what would have happened. I thought early on that bigger would be better and that moving upward would always be God’s will.
I can testify that God’s will is not always a move up the ladder. Do I know what God will do with the rest of my life? No I don’t but I know I am going to do everything I can to follow Him.
I wonder what God is leading you to do with your life?