Devotional Day 25
Come now, you who say, “Today 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. For 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.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance, and such boasting is evil. So for the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, for him it is sin.James 4: 13-17
“You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow”
Some people, even whole cultures and societies, are dependent on long-term planning. Appointments are made months in advance, “early bird” prices open six months before a conference or event, reservations are only available if arranged far ahead of time. Books are written about strategic planning and long-term goals. Many feel more secure if they think they know what’s going to happen down the line and how their agendas will further their education, their careers, their retirement, even their children’s education before they have children.
In James’ time, before long-term investments were seen as strategic and 401k retirement funds were the norm, one year was likely a long time. He wasn’t directly criticizing wise savings or smart business decisions. The problem is when we’re focused on our own agendas, our own profit, our own control over our lives. When the “unexpected” factors get in the way, adjustment is challenging and security is lost. But the reality is that things often don’t go as planned, whether on a detailed level, or because of global disasters.
“If the Lord wills“
If our lives are centered on our plans, the effects of the unexpected can be devastating, leaving us feeling insecure and helpless. But if the primary factor in planning is seeking to do the Lord’s will, we can trust that to be unchanging. We may need to ask Him how He wants us to realign, or completely shift, our immediate actions and long-term hopes.
Living a nomadic life has taught me to be ever flexible. Sometimes that makes it hard to work in the Western context. How can I plan to attend a conference in six months when I don’t even know what continent I might be on at the time? But over and over I’ve seen things fall into place, the “unexpected” popping up to fill the right windows of time. We still have to make airline reservations ahead of time (and have on occasion waited too long for the best price), but trusting that God will have a place for us in His vast, sovereign, big picture that stretches across time and space gives us hope and security.
When looking back on how things unfolded, there isn’t room for boasting. We weren’t the ones who brought all the factors together—the people we met, the doors opened, the resources supplied. “If the Lord wills” is not just a filler phrase, it is an entire mindset. And we must be ready to follow His will in the moments that were unplanned by us, but God-ordained. When we feel prompted to do something, help someone, share the blessings we’ve been given, and fail to do so, we commit the sin of omission, showing a failure to live in tune with God’s will and denying the opportunity to be a blessing to others, a manifestation of God’s love.
Freedom in Flexibility
On El Camino, some pilgrims planned their whole agenda ahead of time: the distance they would walk each day, the places they would stay each night (making reservations in advance), particularly when functioning within a limited time frame. When obstacles came up, whether an injury, pure exhaustion with the realization that self-expectations were unrealistic, or an issue from home requiring attention, they were in a difficult position when that night’s reservation was still 10 km away. Some were fine with taking a taxi the rest of the way, others were disappointed that they had “failed” to meet their goal. On a practical level, some were financially concerned, particularly if the penalty for not showing up, the cost of a taxi, or the higher price of the nearest hostel or hotel was not factored into their budget.
We were blessed to have enough time available that we had some flexibility and did not feel rushed. While we did book the albergue for our starting point, after that we intended to stay at the municipal/public albergues, which were much less expensive, but couldn’t be booked ahead of time. Beds were given based on order of arrival. There was always a little bit of uncertainty, with no guarantee that there would be enough room, but also freedom, allowing the time we needed.
When Expectations Aren’t Met
Once we booked another room when taking a day of rest (since you can only stay in the public albergue one night), but that too was arranged only one day ahead of time. Then there was the time, after our longest daily walk (about 9 hours), we arrived at the albergue only to find a handwritten note taped to the door: “We are closed today. Sorry for any inconvenience.” The feelings of exhaustion were combined with the awareness that the 50+ people expecting to stay there would’ve filled the private nearby albergues. After we walked to the nearest one, which was (not surprisingly) full, the manager who delivered the news had compassion for the two bedraggled pilgrims and found beds for us at her colleague’s albergue. Although it meant an additional 1 km of walking, it was the best one we stayed in the whole way.
Likewise, the one time we arrived at a public albergue that was full even before registration began was the only city where another public albergue was present. Although it meant backtracking 1 km, we found the place to be more peaceful and facilitated valuable conversations. It was not what we expected, but it was the right place for us to be.
God’s Hand at Work
Many pilgrims say, “The Camino always provides,” a pattern that did seem to prove itself true. But the more accurate statement in our daily lives is “God always provides,” as long as we are on His path, doing His will, surrendering our agenda, and trusting in Him. Unexpected barriers will indeed arise, providing opportunities to ask, listen, have faith, and see Him at work. Countless times we have seen God’s hand at work in situations we never would’ve chosen by preference. Those were the times when all the glory went to Him, clearly outside of our control.
Thank You, Lord, that we can always trust Your will, which far surpasses our strategic planning. Please forgive the times we get wrapped up in our own agendas instead listening for Your guidance. Help us to be more in tune with Your direction, less fixed on our own plans, and more flexible when encountering the unexpected.
- Think of a time when your plans or expectations were interrupted. What was your immediate reaction (physically, emotionally, and spiritually)? What was helpful or unhelpful in adapting to the situation?
- What current hopes and plans would be most difficult to release if asked to do so?
- Spend some time with Jesus, asking Him to show you if there are any expectations you need to surrender to Him. Invite Him to guide you as you learn to trust His will.
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