Prophet To Pagans: A Story of Repentance

— NICK HARSH —

My name is Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet of God to the nation of Israel, and this is my story.

You may wonder what it is like having a front row seat to watch the revival of a nation; especially a nation like Assyria. In the years that followed, people would say things to me like, “That is shocking,” or “I still can’t believe the Assyrians repented.” Believe me, I am as amazed as you are. I can still remember the day I arrived in Nineveh. As I approached the city, I was horrified to see bones scattered everywhere clearly placed to intimidate any nation that was foolish enough to attack the city.

I hope that this was nothing but a “cruel welcome mat” and that the city would be more welcoming once I stepped through the gate — God wouldn’t really send me to a city this bad. Would He? The moment as a whole is somewhat of a blur. More than anything there are images seared into my memory. My eyes flashed rapidly from pyramids of skulls to walls overlain with skin. Parts of the city were lit with torches and based on the carnage I had already witness, I refused to let my mind linger long on this detail. It was as if every element of the city was designed as a warning that said, “Don’t mess with Assyria!” Beyond the blatant brutality of this nation, the idolatry and immorality of this city clear to see. Status of presumed deities where erect throughout the city. It was overwhelming to think that the fear of God could be so far from the minds of a nation whose streets were filled with so many deities. Truly this was a godless nation.

Words are slow. You must not lose sight of the fact that these sights and sounds rushed upon me within five seconds of entering the gate. Up to that point in my life, the stories and evils of the Assyrians were primarily just that — stories. But now that I saw this city with my own eyes it was almost more than I could handle — the sights the sounds made me sick to the stomach. How could men be so bent, so inhuman, so evil?

Then all of the sudden, I was reminded of my purpose for being in that detestable city. I was there to call that vile city to repentance — a thought that also made me sick to my stomach. I knew that God is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. After all, I am an Israelite. If any nation had experienced the relentless grace and mercy of God, it was my people. But this! This was more than I could handle.

You must not think less of me when I tell you that anger began to well up inside of me. I was angry at these people for their evil. I was angry at the thought that these were the very ones that God had promised to use to bring about the judgment of my own people. But mostly I was angry at the thought that God was offering these people a second chance. Please understand, I did everything I could to fight back against these thoughts. After all, I had just spent three days in the belly of a fish. I knew what how severe and unrelenting the grace of God could be in a person’s life. I knew what it was like to be conquered by kindness. And I am not being dishonest to say that my repentance in the fish was genuine, but repentance is more complicated than a one and done event. I thought that my mind was settled in the fish, but when my intentions met reality, I found myself to be far weaker than I had hoped or imagined. Things that I confessed in the fish were beginning to sound like empty platitudes.

I had to stop thinking about it, or I would talk myself out of obeying God — this was a mistake I knew I could not afford to make, so I began to preach the words that God had given me. “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” I was thankful that God hadn’t given me a longer sermon. Personally, I don’t think I could have gotten many more words out of my mouth. So, on I went preaching throughout the city, “Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” Believe me, I am as aware as you are that my message was anything but profound. Yet, to my surprise and dismay, the people began to listen and then repent.

The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. (Jonah 3:5)

I was devastated. How could this be happening? I thought about taking a ship to Joppa. Not to escape God but to avoid my own people — the Israelites. I had no doubt that when they heard, “Jonah son of Amittai went and preached repentance to the Nineties,” they would kill me for sure — especially if Nineveh repented. However, when I considered the difficulty of convincing those mariners that I was not a ghost, and how unlikely it was that they would ever let me on their ship again, I gave up the idea and continued preaching.

As I preached, I consoled myself with this thought. Religious activity does not guarantee genuine repentance. Again, if there was ever a nation more prone to disingenuous repentance, it was the nation of Israel. More than once my people had repented and turned back to their evil ways, repented and turned back to their evil ways.

Certainly, I wondered if there was still a chance that their repentance was only worldly repentance rather than repentance brought about by God. For my part, I hoped that this was the case but continued preaching as I was told. You can imagine my dismay when the word of the Lord reached the king, and his actions left no doubt that the repentance of this city was genuine. There could be no doubt that the response from the people of Nineveh was a work of God in the hearts of the people.

…he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 3:6-10)

Receive The Implanted Word

— NICK HARSH —

In James 1:18 he writes, “Of his [God’s] own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” This is referring to our salvation. In kindness and of his own will, God gave us new life — he did this using the word. In the verses that follow (vs. 19-27), James shows us that, “The word that graciously and powerfully creates ‘born again’ Christians (v. 18) is also the word that demands deep-rooted and widely expressed obedience.” [1] When we are saved, we begin a life-long process of allowing God’s word to make us more and more like Jesus. The goal is to grow in our love and obedience to it. Notice, however, what James says about the word — he calls it implanted.

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

It’s clear that James is referring to more than merely hearing and affirming truth. He is talking about something that has taken up residence in our hearts.

God saves people by means of the Spirit and the word. He intends to sanctify people by the same means — saving faith and sanctifying faith have the same parents. Therefore, it’s essential that believers receive the word with meekness on a regular basis. The goal is that God’s word would dwell in us — be implanted in us — in such a way that it changes the way we live. James is not describing an academic process. He is telling us what God uses to make you and I more like Jesus. Let me give a few practical ways to do this.

READ GOD’S WORD

It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to receive God’s word with meekness is to read it. Yet unrealistic expectations can often frustrate us from making this a regular part of our lives. Sometimes we want our Bible reading time to be a nearly “transcendental” experience. We want it to be at the perfect coffee shop, with a pack of brand new highlighters, quiet kids, and a crème brûlée latte to complement what God is doing in our life. But let me encourage you, the goal of Bible reading is not that we would walk away every time having found our life verse but that we would grow in our understand of God character and be conformed to the image of his Son. Bible reading doesn’t have to be a hyper-spiritual event for God to use it in your life.

And, if you’re willing to commit 15 to 20 minutes a day, you can read through the Bible once every year. That’s about how long it takes me to make a cup of coffee in the morning.

LISTEN TO GOD’S WORD

Another practical way you can get God’s word into your life is by listening to it. Did you know that it’s not cheating to listen to your Bible? A few months ago, Pastor Cody recommended the Street Lights app to me — it puts God’s word to music. If you have the YouVersion app, you can listen to the Bible that way. Not only that but many artists have set Scripture to music — one of my favorites is called The Corner Room. They were recommended to me by Pastor Zach.

SERMONS/PODCASTS

Sermons or podcasts are another great idea. Whether you listen to our Soteria App or something else, this is a great way to receive God’s word with meekness. So perhaps once or twice a week, instead of listening to the radio on your way to work, you could listen to a sermon or podcast. It doesn’t have to be complicated. The goal is just to make God’s word a regular part of your life. Here are a few of my favorite podcasts.

MEMORIZE GOD’S WORD

Perhaps the thing God has used most in my life is Scripture memory. Over the years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to receive a lot of formal Bible training. Yet, the times that I have felt closest to God have not been when I was “waist deep” in a paper. It wasn’t the times I was trying to wrap my mind around participles or 3rd declension words in Greek. The moments I have felt closest to God were the times I memorized Scripture. Obviously, I am thankful for my education, but in most cases memorizing a passage of scripture has helped me understand it more than parsing or diagraming ever could.

I know for some this seems unattainable, but my experience is that 3 to 5 minutes a day is about all it takes to begin memorizing Scripture. My routine is pretty simple. Each morning (unless I miss, which absolutely happens), I read that weeks verse(s) ten times out loud. Then I close my Bible and go on with the rest of my day. That’s it.

Maybe you are one of those people who struggle to memorize — Bible memory doesn’t come quickly to you. Let me encourage you to just pick a verse — not three or ten, just one — and read it ten times every day this week. I think you will be amazed not only at how well you’ll remember the verse but at the ways God uses the implanted word in your life. And, should you find yourself unable to memorize the verse in a week, you will be no worse off for the time spent meditating on Scripture.

FACEBOOK < THE WORD

So often we think, “I just want to be more like Jesus,” while neglecting the means that God has given us to accomplish that. Believe me, I love Facebook and Netflix, but Facebook is not the means by which God wants to make you more like Jesus — the word is. So find ways to get it into your life. Find ways to let it dwell in you. So that when you aren’t thinking about what you’re thinking about, you’re thinking about the word. So that when you wake up at 3:00a Scripture comes to mind. As you receive the word in this way, I believe it will impact your life in ways you never knew it could.


[1] Moo, Douglas J. James. 2nd Revised ed. edition. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015, pp. 117.

Three Prayers For Sunday Morning

— NICK HARSH —

Sunday morning. For some families, these two simple words call to mind a morning filled with chaos. For others, however, Sunday mornings are slow and provide an opportunity to sleep in. Sometimes when you arrive at church, it’s clear that others have had a crazy morning. Perhaps you observe a periodic yawn, missed belt-loop, or uncombed cowlick en route to the sanctuary — the alarm clock is a strong foe, and not all are victorious. Others seem to have it together — we wish they would teach us their ways. Regardless of your pre-church routine, here are three prayers to pray on Sunday morning.

LORD, GIVE ME A CHANCE TO SERVE

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)

Those who have been made alive in Christ — given eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus — are no longer slaves to sin. Earlier in Galatians Paul writes that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” We are no longer under the law. We’ve been set free. One of the implications of our freedom is service. In light of our redemption, we should look for ways to serve others. As those who have been set free from servitude to sin we should live with eyes open to serve those for whom Christ died. Often as we gather on Sunday, the responsibilities of the coming week weigh heavy on our minds. But let us not forget that through Jesus we have been set free from servanthood to sin so that we may willingly serve believers. The point is not that we would feel guilty or serve begrudgingly. Instead, when we grasp the gospel, the natural response is to serve.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is more significant than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

You and I are never more like Jesus than when we use our freedom to serve others graciously. There is no better example of sacrificial service than Jesus. Each week we have to privilege of following his example by serving one another.

LORD, GIVE ME A CHANCE TO ENCOURAGE

The New Testament is replete with “one-another” commands — things we are to do towards one another. One of those exhortations is to encourage one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) 

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13)

Each week people come to church with the burdens of the past week fresh in their minds — we do too. Not only that but many carry with them the shame of their own sinfulness equally fresh in their minds — we do too. We can all think of moments where we fell short, moments where our lives were not consistent with the salvation we claim. As a believer, we have the opportunity to encourage one another in our walk with Jesus. At times this means cheering people on as they faithfully pursue Christ. Other times this means confronting sin and encouraging repentance. In both cases, we are called to encourage one another.

LORD, MAKE ME HOSPITABLE TOWARDS GUESTS

This is a tough one. It is easy to gather as a church, check our kids into their classes, grab our coffee, and attend the service without ever considering the people around you. Have you ever considered, though, how unusual your Sunday activities are to the person who never grew up in the church? In what other context does a group of people, with little in common, stand facing the front of a room to sing songs about death, and blood, and grace. Then we spend the better part of an hour listening to someone talk. Where else does that happen — TED Talks? Yet how sad would it be if our liturgy and activities were the only things that caused our churches to stand out? How sad would it be if the guests at our churches saw no differences between your joy and their boss’s, between your friendliness and their casher’s? Yes, it can be a bit uncomfortable introducing yourself to someone you’ve never met, but this Sunday let’s embrace the awkward and pray, “Lord, help me see guests and treat them with love and hospitality.”

His Mercy Is More by John Newton

— NICK HARSH —

A few weeks ago, we sang the song His Mercy Is More by Matt Papa. What I appreciate about the song is the way clearly-worded truth overflows from each verse. The song is full of weighty truths, delivered in poetic punches, that soothe one’s soul. What you may not know, however, is that the lyrics are originally from the following letter written by John Newton. 

I can truly say, that I bear you upon my heart and in my prayers. I have rejoiced to see the beginning of a good and gracious work in you.

And I have confidence in the Lord Jesus, that He will carry it on and complete it and that you will be amongst the number of those who shall sing redeeming love to eternity.

Therefore fear none of the things appointed for you to suffer by the way. But gird up the loins of your mind, and hope to the end. Be not impatient, but wait humbly upon the Lord.

You have one hard lesson to learn, that is, the evil of your own heart. You know something of it, but it is needful that you should know more. For the more we know of ourselves, the more we shall prize and love Jesus and His salvation.

I hope what you find in yourself by daily experience will humble you, but not discourage you: humble you it should, and I believe it does.

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you?

But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?

Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief, and the remainder of a legal spirit. And these evils are not removed in a day.

Wait on the Lord, and He will enable you to see more and more of the power and grace of our High Priest.

The more you know Him, the better you will trust Him: the more you trust Him, the better you will love Him; the more you love Him, the better you will serve Him.

This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He is teaching you these things, and I trust He will teach you to the end.

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.

Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection. And in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.

Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavour to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

I commend you to the care of the good Shepherd, and remain, for His sake,

Yours,

John Newton
March 18, 1767


John Newton, “Cardiphonia” in The Works of John Newton (vol. 2; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 140–141

THANKFUL FOR…

— NICK HARSH —

Last week at our annual Soteria Thanksgiving Meal, there was a wall designated for our church family to share things they are thankful for. Here is a list of the things that were written.

SOTERIA IS THANKFUL FOR…

My husband and beautiful girls // Baby brother // Swim team // Iowa Hawkeyes // I am saved // Mom and Dad // The Bible // Food // Family and Baseball // Family, God, Food and friends // Friends, family and Jesus // Jesus on the cross // Family and Hugs // Church // That God came to save me and everyone // Gal pals // Salvation // Cute kids // For my brain // Legos // My son Buddy // Water // God and his sovereignty // My dog // Football, Broncos, turkey, and sports // My rabbit Nibbles // My job // My mommy // My friends // Animals // Jesus as our Savior // My teachers // The students that I get to share God with everyday // Pastor Mike // God’s grace // For the big turkey, they caught // For getting baptized // For horses // For my hands // My husband // Stuffed animals // Everything God has done.

This is a great list, but it is not a completed list. How could it be? Each of us could likely think of a hundred examples of God's blessing each day. Or, consider the ways that God has blessed Soteria this year by allowing more people to believe the gospel, be baptized, and grow together in community. Each of these are good gifts from the hand of a gracious God. Indeed we serve a good God who gives good gifts to his children. James writes,

JAMES 1:17-18

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will, he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. I hope that as you celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, you’ll give thanks for the big things and the small things. Both are from God and are a reminder of his unfailing love for us.

Happy Thanksgiving Soteria!

The Best Question Asked At My Ordination

— JARED SEGERSTROM —

Two weeks ago I participated in an ordination council at Soteria. Ordination is a time for area pastors and church people to examine a man’s doctrine and character and determine whether he is called to serve in pastoral ministry. Prior to my council, I spent hours reviewing my doctrinal statement. For two weeks every shower time turned into a mock ordination council where I rehearsed how I was going to answer a particular question about spiritual gifts or the imputed righteousness of Jesus. I wanted to be ready with an answer for every question.

The Tuesday morning came, and although I was sweating through my undershirt, I felt I was as ready as I could be. Several area pastors arrived, my family drove down from Waterloo and Webster City, and even a dozen church people showed up which was a welcome surprise. Pastor Mike, who moderated my council, made it clear to everyone that the floor was open for questions from church members as well as pastors. As the examining began, I was asked good, ministry-focused questions from the area pastors, many of which I had anticipated beforehand. There are a few questions I would have liked to re-answer with more clarity, but all in all it was going well.

Then we arrived to Angelology, which in my opinion is one of the areas of doctrine which is fairly “cut and dry” with little application to real life. I was surprised to see a hand go up from one of our church members, a dear friend with a son in our youth group. Her husband died unexpectedly a few years ago, and one of the statements her children heard most often was that their father is now an angel and he is looking down on them. She shared how frustrating it was for her kids to hear that statement repeatedly. She wanted to encourage her kids and provide them with an answer for people who offered this well-intentioned, but theologically inaccurate encouragement. 

God used that question to remind me of an important truth. Every area of Christian doctrine is important for life and ministry. Even the more obscure areas of doctrine, like angels, connects to real life. God reminded me that I’m not called as a pastor to know my Bible just so I can sound smart in front of my peers or pass examinations. I need to know my Bible so that I can give people what they desperately need: truth from God’s Word which helps them navigate life by faith. 

I looked at that dear friend and gave her the best answer I could come up with.  I reminder her that her husband and her kids’ father is living in perfect fellowship with his Savior Jesus Christ. Angels are incredible creatures with some extraordinary abilities, but they don’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus that Christians enjoy. Regarding the salvation experienced by humans who place their faith in Jesus, Peter says that angels “long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12). This family can take hope that although their dad is not an angel, he is something better, a child of God who enjoys unrestricted access to his Savior as someone cleansed by the righteousness of Jesus.

I was asked many good questions that day, but the best question was the one I wasn’t expecting. I’m so thankful for a good and sovereign God working through a dear and precious saint to remind me of that important and eternal truth.

When Hope Fades

— MIKE AUGSBURGER —

OUR GOOD

All of us can relate to a parent dealing with a child because all of us have been either a parent or a child at some point. Having said that, here’s a key phrase from a parent to child: “I’m doing this for your own good.” In this scenario, the parent is always more sure of this truth than the child! As a child, you’re tempted to ask, “Really? Cause I’m just not seeing it like that!”

Romans 8:31 is one of many texts that makes the unqualified promise that God is ultimately and eternally FOR us. It reads,

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

God is absolutely, and without question, FOR us. God does give us “all things,” meaning he will always give us what we need. However, as we’ve learned from our sermon series in John 11, the “all things” doesn’t necessarily equal “all things pleasant and nice.” Like a loving parent, he will always give us what we need — what is designed for our flourishing.

OUR LIFELINE

Most Christians don’t question these truths. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus knew Jesus loved them. However, as we’ve seen in John 11, those unequivocal truths are inevitably tested in the furnace of life. Martha asks, “Jesus, why didn’t you come sooner?” Mary asserts, “Jesus, you could be sparing us this pain right now.” A senior saint in your church says, “I don’t understand the meaning of this painful arthritis!” A heartbroken young woman asks, “Why, Jesus, did my father have to die before he knew his grandkids?”

It is in the midst of this furnace that God says, “I am FOR you. I love you. Always. Period.” Yet, these circumstances fire-test our beliefs. How can we be assured of the truth? It’s a matter of how much you know, believe, and trust God’s Word. Memorize verses, read the stories of Scripture, galvanize your heart in the platinum-plated truth of God’s love for you. That is your lifeline when all hell breaks loose. Hold onto it with white-knuckled intensity!

OUR MEASUREMENT

If it is true that God is FOR us, that God loves us, that God always does what’s best for us, then it changes the way God’s love is measured. In John 11:5-6 Jesus stuns us with what sounds like sheer cruelty. John says, “Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Therefore, because he loved them, he let Lazarus die.”

Wow. What does that mean? How do we interact with truth like this? Quite simply it means you, and I cannot measure God’s love by the amount of ease and comfort in my life — it is impossible. Unfortunately, western Christianity has equated ease and comfort with God’s blessing and favor. Western Christianity has drawn up a math problem that says church attendance plus good works equals God’s blessing in my life. In reality, that arithmetic is NOT love — it’s hatred. Only unloving, inattentive parents would provide this for their children, but we know God is not unloving or inattentive. He’s good. He’s loving, and he always does what’s best for us.

If this is the wrong measuring tool, then what is the right measurement? This coming Sunday, October 21, 2018, we will answer this question from John 11:38-44. However, here it is in a nutshell: the most loving thing God could ever do for us is to let us see and experience his glory. That’s how we measure his love for us. The times we see God’s glory on display the most is not when life is a bed of cotton balls. Instead, it’s when we’re cold, naked, and sleeping on concrete. That’s when God becomes real. That’s when his glory shines through the brightest. That’s when we can go back to the truth that God is FOR us, and we hang on for dear life!

Making Plans in Pencil

— JaRED SEGERSTROM —

Few things in life bring me more enjoyment than making plans. I love putting the next few months down on my calendar, organizing it under the categories of “Family,” “Church,” and “Work.” In the last few weeks, I added graduation open houses, youth camp, and a wedding to our summer calendar. Short-term planning keeps me from overbooking and allows me to schedule fun for our family. 

I also love long-term planning. About once a month my wife and I find ourselves relaxing in the living room after our daughter has gone to bed, talking about our future. We love to dream out loud about ministry aspirations, more children, paying off those dreaded student loans, and even future trips we’d like to take (Lord of the Rings Tour in New Zealand, anyone?). Discussing these long-term plans infuses excitement into our mundane weekly activities.

Making plans is by no means an evil activity. In fact, planning the future often evidences wise stewardship. But taken too far, our planning can actually demonstrate foolishness and a selfish heart.

In his letter to dispersed Christians, James offers a caution to those who make their plans without consulting God. James 4:13-17 says,

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.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

To summarize, James tells his readers to make plans in pencil. Planning your life without seeking God’s guidance will leave you bitterly disappointed. However, humble planning marked by flexibility demonstrates wisdom and trust in God. James gives four reasons why godly people make plans in pencil.

1. We can’t predict tomorrow, but God already has.

James was speaking to thrifty business people who were determined to get rich quickly. What was wrong with their plans? They forgot that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We are all one job loss, one illness, or one tragedy away from derailed plans and uncertainty. Is the solution to make no plans whatsoever? Of course not. Instead, we make plans but commit them to our loving Father who has already written the script for our life. When we do encounter unexpected changes, we ask God for the faith to trust him and to respond in a righteous way.

2. Our lives are short, but God is eternal.

James reminds his readers that the length of our lives more closely resembles the steam coming off our morning coffee than a centuries-old river or a mile-deep ocean. Our days are limited. Our God, on the other hand, has never been bound by time. He is sovereignly moving all of history towards a finish line, which is the eternal restoration of the relationship between God and his creation. We are wise to order our lives around the only things which will enter that eternity: the souls of people and the Word of God. 

3. Our knowledge is tainted, but God’s will is trustworthy.

Have you ever made a decision based on faulty logic or incomplete information? It’s an exceptionally frustrating feeling. The fact of the matter is we don’t know as much as we think we do. Sin has affected every part of us including our intellect. Our all-knowing God, however, has a mind free from sin’s effects. We can trust him when our knowledge falls short. When we tell someone we are going to do something “Lord-willing,” we are not throwing in a superstitious Christian cliché. Instead, we are reminding ourselves and those around us that God knows better than we do. At the end of the day, I want my life to mirror the plans of my all-knowing Father, not my own tainted knowledge.

4. Our desires are evil, but God’s desires are perfect.

When we brag about our pre-determined plans to others, we simply reveal the evil desires of our heart. James 4:1 tells us that it’s those same evil desires which cause us to fight with other people. Wanting our own way, following our own dreams, and planning independently of God and his will, all reflect a heart which places self above God. We need to discard our self-exalting agenda, and instead walk in the new life we’ve been given through the shed blood of Jesus. Each morning we get up, rejoice in the new mercies waiting for us, and ask God to align our desires with His holy character.

As you write out your plans for the upcoming week, month, or even lifetime, listen to the wisdom James 4 provides. Put away your ink pen with its unpredictably short-term agenda, tainted knowledge, and selfish ambition. In its place, pick up the humble pencil and write out your plans, all the while trusting an eternally-minded God to change those plans to line up with His perfect character.