“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:13-15
Just this past week, my brother and his family had to cancel their planned visit to California for Christmas. Several cases of COVID-19 in his family, including one prolonged case with double-pneumonia, made the decision unavoidable. Another relative reached out to cancel plans to take part in a smaller family gathering due to health vulnerabilities in her household. I was reminded how earlier this year we had to cancel a trip to Maine for a wedding.
Does this sound familiar to you? This past year has been the year of derailing, adjusting, cancelling, rescheduling, and postponing plans. As I think about our annual slate of ministries, I’m struck by how many beloved events we had to set aside this year: Vacation Bible School, youth group summer mission trip, Teen camp, King’s camp, fall ministry kickoff, Alpha groups, fall retreat, LEON party, Christmas at the Marrs’, and many more.
As I reflect on 2020 during this Advent season, one of the lessons that sticks out to me is this: “Make all your plans in pencil… and give God the eraser.” This doesn’t mean we can’t have plans, goals, and purposes. But it does mean that it is presumptuous to assume that what we anticipate taking place is what will actually take place. Life has a way of throwing us curve balls and no year has illustrated that better than 2020.
James 4 provides the perspective of wisdom as we think about the year to come, the changes that are in store for us, and all we look forward to doing. James advises us not to talk about the future as if we’ve already seen that movie and know what’s coming. James instead invites humility, urging us to say, “If the Lord wills we’ll do this or that.” This posture allows us to receive each day as a gift, gratefully pursuing our plans while simultaneously adjusting to unforeseen challenges. This posture enables us to survive and grow during years like 2020 in which almost nothing we envisioned last January has gone as planned. This posture reminds us that we aren’t the ones who are ultimately in charge of what is going on in the world.
As we remember God’s greatest gift in Jesus Messiah this Christmas, may we joyfully celebrate with our hopes held deep and our plans made in pencil.