All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 28

August 15, 2012

When Expectations Are Not Realized

From Pastor Bordwine


Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

(James 4:13-15)

How often do you have this experience? You make a plan and anticipate all the contingencies. You assume that you’ve foreseen all the necessary elements that might affect your plan in one way or another. But then the day comes to follow your plan and something completely unseen and unexpected happens that requires you to alter or even abandon your original intention. Although you thought you had all the bases covered, so to speak, you soon learn that your carefully crafted strategy is vulnerable to something that never occurred to you.

I recently began a new job in which I transport patients from one location to another. After a week of training, during which I rode with another experienced driver, I was assigned my first series of pickups during which I would be by myself. The night before, I spent a lot of time going over the stops I would be making. I familiarized myself with the roads and addresses, the clients’ names, etc. I felt that I was completely prepared to handle the transports by myself.

A big problem occurred, however, at my first pickup. I could not find the passenger! I spent 30 minutes driving around and knocking on doors trying to locate her. I had very little leeway between pickups, so this delay cut into the span of time I had to find the next client. All of a sudden, it looked like my whole night was going to be one late pickup and apology after another. This would not make my new boss happy. I began to panic. It was my first night, my first patient, and I couldn’t find her! I had been so confident just an hour before this happened. I knew exactly where I needed to go and exactly when I needed to arrive. I was not anticipating any difficulty whatsoever. One glitch rendered my plan irrelevant and my anxiety was growing.

When we think of committing our plans to the Lord, we usually have in mind the “big” issues of life—moving to a new location, getting ready for marriage, facing surgery, or something that is not common and may, in fact, be a once in a lifetime experience. It is right to do our best and then submit the matter to God and ask for His blessings and grace. I want you to notice, however, the passage quoted above from the book of James. His emphasis is not on the kind of concerns I just listed. Instead, James speaks about how we approach the very next day.

James imagines someone speaking confidently about what they are going to do “today or tomorrow.” This person has made a plan and assumes it will succeed just as expected (“make a profit”). But then James points out that such conduct is really presumptive because “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” How true! No one can say with certainty what they will do tomorrow. We can have a plan and assume that we’ve discerned all possible obstacles, but until the plan is complete, we don’t really know whether we will accomplish what we desire.

After all, James adds, we are “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” This description of our existence puts into perspective the fact that we cannot control our experiences. That is because we are not all-knowing or all-powerful. We do not master circumstances, we are subject to them. God alone controls what we experience because He is sovereign and, therefore, controls all circumstances perfectly. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring for us. Only He knows if our plan is compatible with what He has ordained.

That is why James exhorts us to take into account our limitations when making plans: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” As I already mentioned, James is focusing on everyday life. Each day should begin with the realization that our intentions, regardless of how well organized, are subject to the will of God. Once this perspective becomes part of our normal approach to goals and accomplishments, those frequent interruptions will be seen as God’s wise correction and provision according to what He judges to be most beneficial. This instruction from James is essential to our peace of mind in those unsettling moments. Rather than presume or boast, let us recognize the truth of the matter. And in this recognition understand that our heavenly Father really does ordained only that which is for our good and His glory.

By the way, my dilemma described above quickly concluded when I learned that my passenger had decided to take an earlier ride home. I was in the right place at the right time, but she was already gone. I was supposed to have been notified, but wasn’t. In the end, all my anxiety was for nothing. I was on time for the rest of the shift and I was reminded of the truth I just explained above. I needed to have that reminder and it is one I’ll probably have to have a few more times before I leave this world. At least for the immediate future, however, I will remember the lesson from James and, I expect, gain a measure of peace the next time I face a similar situation.