Goal Setting with God
1. Recognize the Context: Previous context-James 4:11-12
In verse 11, James returns to the idea of guarding one’s speech. He specifically addresses speaking against a brother or sister in Christ. Criticizing and condemning a fellow Christian is equated with speaking against and condemning the law. Here James is probably referring to Leviticus 19:18, “love your neighbor as yourself.” A person who speaks against another is setting the law aside and putting themselves over the law.
In verse 12, James clarifies God is the one who has given the law and is the only one who can judge. He alone brings salvation or destruction in his role as judge. James concludes this verse with a sarcastic rhetorical question, “But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” The obvious answer, you have no right to this position, only God.
2. Read the Scripture: James 4:13-17
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
3. Reflect on the Scripture: In the final four verses of chapter 4, James redirects his emphasis to those attempting to plan their lives. Their strategy is outlined in verse 13.
go to the city-spend a year-carry out business-make money
James reminds them of the uncertainties of life. He challenges their knowledge of the future. He reminds them of life's transient nature, returning to a theme considered in chapter 1 (verses 10-11). The future is unsure, including the longevity of one’s life.
Instead, one should submit to God’s will in the planning process. The problem was not in the notion of establishing a plan. Every merchant in the first century needed a "business strategy" to succeed. James addresses a person who is goals setting without God. Followers of Christ need to approach this process differently. God should be central to every thought, idea, and plan, not merely an afterthought. Goal setting without God leads to self-reliance, boosting, and pride.
James concludes this section by reminding his readers that to know the right thing and not do it is sin (verse 17).
4. Relate to life:
Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message. To pray:
Today, prayerfully consider your approach to goals, plans, and the new year. Where is God in the process?
Today, prayerfully remember God is in control of your life. Thank him for this.
Today, prayerfully ask God to show you areas of “good” you should be doing but are not.
To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. Take some time this week to reconsider your plans, goals, and resolutions for this year. Are there things you need to change in light of God’s direction?