Dwight L. Moody said, “We can stand affliction better than prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.” A Baptist minister who suffered under Romanian communist rule said, “Ninety percent of Christians pass the test of adversity, while ninety percent of Christians fail the test of prosperity.” Prosperity can be a blessing but, more often than not, it can be a curse. For many years, America has enjoyed the fruits of prosperity. In fact, the poorest people in America have a better standard of living than most of the world. According to Forbes.com, “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” The Bible has some things to say about prosperity.
In Deuteronomy 8, God gives a warning to the people of Israel who are on the brink of entering “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths…a land of wheat…barley…vines…fig trees…pomegranates…oil olive…honey…a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness” (v. 7-9). The Promised Land would be a land of God-given abundance. However, God gave a warning before they were to partake of the privileges. He said, “Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments” (v. 11). He warned them of lifting up their hearts and saying in their hearts “my power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (v. 17). God reminded them to not forget who the source of their blessing was and to allow it to turn their eyes from Him. God is warning them against forgetting who their Sustainer, Deliverer, and Provider is. God said, “…if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods…I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish” (v. 19).
Israel was in danger of forgetting God when she was in prosperity. Her danger was forgetting the God who had so richly blessed them and lifting up her heart in pride. As Christians in America, we live in the land of plenty. We enjoy the fruits of those who have gone before us. And although none of us pray for adversity, it is often the difficult “valleys” of our life that drive us to God. It is when we are hopeless and broken that we look to the God of hope in order to be restored. God does not forbid His people to eat and enjoy physical blessing. However, He does provide us a warning against taking pride in our abundance and allowing it to turn our eyes off of God as our Sustainer. Hosea 13:6 says, “According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.” May we never take credit for the blessings God has given us but realize that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” (Jms. 1:17).
Do you have any big plans for next month? Next year? How about long term goals for the next few decades? I think it’s safe to say that most of us are looking forward to and planning for future events, whether vacations, business ventures or retirement. In and of itself, these plans are not a bad thing. In fact, many verses in Proverbs equate planning for the future with wisdom. However, our reading today reminds us of what our attitudes should be as we look ahead to our future. James 4:13-15 says, “Go to now, ye that say, To day or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
The phrase “go to now” is another way of saying, “now listen up”. James then uses the example of someone boasting of the definitive plans they have for the next year of going into a distant city for business purposes. However, James then essentially says, “wait a minute, you don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow, much less next year!” And then the familiar reminder, “for what is your life, it is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” While we all know this to be true, it is good to be reminded of this truth frequently. Think about how quickly life is going by? As I write this following the Penn State/Iowa game, the announcers referred back to last year’s classic match-up between these 2 schools. As they did, I couldn’t help but think that I couldn’t believe that game was a whole year ago already. Just like the fog that often forms on cool autumn mornings and then quickly dissipates, so too is our life. As someone who routinely reviews dozens of patient charts on a daily basis as part of my job, including many of those who have just recently passed away, I am reminded on a regular basis of the brevity of life.
So the reminder for us today from James 4 is to go ahead and make our plans, but to do so with a clear understanding of the Sovereignty of God and a submission to the knowledge that He is in control. May we not be arrogant or foolish enough to think that we are in charge of our lives.
“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us: Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: Then the proud waters had gone over our soul” (Ps. 124:2-5). Rightfully Israel gave God the credit. All too often they didn’t and we are guilty of the same. How many times has credit been ascribed to our own ability? How many doctors and scientists have received God’s praise?
I do not believe in luck. If my success depended on luck; surely I am a loser. We use that word all too frequently. If we would stop and think we would see that “luck” has nothing to do with anything. The seriously ill, or victims of accidents, are heard saying they are lucky to be alive. It is a figure of speech. But, we should pay more attention to what we say.
I was in a situation where I was taken from one hospital to another for treatment. We feel comfortable around our primary doctors, but when facing something else we are at the mercy of a stranger. I remember praying I would receive a good surgeon and not a rookie. It worried me greatly. Well one came in, did the usual, then left and I had no way of telling whether he was good. Then our good friend came in and told us he was one of the best in Ft. Worth and had operated on her mother. Well, I remember commenting on how “lucky” I was. You would think the first words out of my mouth would have been directed toward God. He, and He alone, was responsible for that chance meeting. It was He that answered our prayers; luck was not part of the equation.
We have to realize, as Israel did here, that everything is from God. If a doctor helped save our life, we need to recognize God was the orchestrator. If medication or modern science help, it is God who gave man such wisdom. In our jobs we must realize God gave us our talents to both live and utilize them for Him. I sometimes wonder what may have happened if I took a different direction in my life. If it were the case, I would not be where I am now or with whom. That’s not luck; it’s God’s divine direction. We should thank God for Jesus. Through His salvation we too can say, “Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (vss. 7-8). Jesus has defeated the master fowler (Satan). There is no reason to feel trapped!
As Robert Burns was plowing his field, his plow turned up a field mouse from its home. One of his hired hands chased after the mouse to kill it, but Burns the poet had another idea. He later showed the poem to his servant the last few lines of which are these:
The best laid schemes of mice and men“To a Mouse” by Robert Burns
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blessed, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects drear!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!
Amaziah in 2 Chronicles 25, had his best-laid plans, but the plow of God’s sovereignty turned them out. Notably, Amaziah hardly counseled God regarding his forthcoming invasion. He also failed to apply the wisdom of his grandfather, Jehoshaphat, regarding alliances with Israel. A prophet stops Amaziah’s march to war and boldly instructs him to send the Israelite mercenaries home. Amaziah’s question is much the same as our personal rebuttals to God’s course changes. “And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred talents which I have given to the army of Israel” (2 Chronicles 25:9)? There are so many holes in the question. The prophet could easily see them. His response could have been quite parental. “Well, you should have thought about it before you did it. I guess you’ll learn a lesson, won’t you?”What is wonderful about God and His message is the overwhelming grace. The simple answer was, “The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.” Burns blesses the mouse in his poem because it only knows the moment. “The present only touches you,” he said, but we can look back “on prospects drear” or forward and “guess and fear.” However, we are more blessed than the mouse, for the Lord has said, “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Your best-laid plans often do go awry but remember his way is perfect (Psalm 18:30). No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom (Luke 9:62). Let God have His way with you.
It has been stated that, “He who controls the children, controls the future.” Vladimir Lenin, the communist revolutionary, said, “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” Studies show that the average child spends eight hours a day in public school and three and a half hours on media. Studies show that the average family spends less than an hour together each day. And even that one hour is oftentimes full of many distractions. The Bible explains that children are easily influenced and unstable. They are like a tender plant that needs constant care and nourishment to grow strong. Every child will be influenced and taught by someone. Everything that comes into their mind is shaping their worldview. The questions is: who or what is influencing and teaching them? In this world there are two opposing kingdoms: God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom. And both kingdoms are vying for lordship in a child’s heart.
In the book of Deuteronomy, God rehearsed to a new generation of Israelites the commandments of God. In chapter 6, Moses looked beyond the present generation and applied the commands to future generations as well. Moses made it clear that the goal of God’s commands was to produce a multi-generational faithfulness to God. Verse 2 says, “That thou mightiest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life…” The commandments of God were to be passed on from the adult generation to the children and to the children’s children. The Israelites would soon be confronted with idolatrous people who would try to cause them to depart from the one true God. God gave the Israelites a safeguard that would keep them from going “after other gods” (v. 14). This safeguard was multi-generational faithfulness. God explained to the people that faithfulness began in the home as children were taught diligently and daily the Word of God (vv. 7-9). To neglect the next generation, would be to swing wide open the door that would lead them into idolatry.
Multi-generational faithfulness ought to be the goal of every Christian. We live in a culture that espouses many godless philosophies that are constantly encroaching upon the minds of our children. Satan knows that children are the next generation of leaders in the home, church and government and is constantly on the prowl “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). We must remember our duty to the next generation. Our duty involves teaching our children daily and diligently the commands and truths of God. This responsibility begins with parents, but particularly the father who is called to bring up his children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). A parent’s greatest goal should be for his children to love God with all their heart, soul, and might.