New Year’s Meditation
“Go to now, ye that say, ‘Today 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.’” —James 4:13-15
These inspired words of the Apostle James tell us what the God-pleasing attitude should be of those who call themselves Christians. How necessary this is as we begin another year of grace. We dare not yield to the desires of our sinful flesh which would have us to believe that we are completely in control of every aspect of our lives. This is, of course, the attitude of the unbelieving children of the world. “People make their plans for journeys, for the expansion of their business, for the accumulating of wealth without taking the Lord into account” (P. E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary, N. T., II, p. 512). Unfortunately such an attitude is found even among some who would like to be known as Christians. I am reminded of the well-known scientist, Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), who was probably the most prominent rocket scientist and astronautic engineer in the development of the space program during the latter part of the 1940’s. As a youth he had been confirmed as a Lutheran in Germany and, at the end of World War II, was brought to the United States to apply his knowledge of physics and rocket design to our country’s ICBM program and later to its space exploration effort. He claimed a belief in God, but, at the same time, when questioned about man launching into space stated, “Don’t tell me that man doesn’t belong out there. Man can go wherever he wants to go.” His attitude was characteristic of so many today: “I can do whatever I set my mind to do!”
Note what is missing! The Apostle tells us: “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” The hymnwriter states it so nicely: “All depends on our possessing God’s abundant grace and blessing” (TLH, 425, 1). Here we have the God-pleasing attitude of everyone who is a true believing child of God through faith in Jesus, our only Savior. Whatever our plans may be for the time which the Lord has allotted to us in our brief life span should always be motivated by our love to our dear Savior, who loved us and gave Himself for us. As the Apostle Paul confessed: “The love of Christ constraineth us” (II Corinthians 5:14). And the Apostle John says: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).
Being sincere Christians, the plans which we make should begin with prayer. “With the Lord begin thy task; Jesus will direct it. For His aid and counsel ask; Jesus will perfect it” (TLH, 540, 1). We ask Him graciously to lead and guide us so that our plans may be for His glory and for the welfare chiefly of our souls. How can our plans be pleasing to God if, for example, they involve leaving the congregation where our souls are fed with the pure Word of God for what may appear to be mere temporal gain? The Lord Jesus warns: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). Therefore, in all things, our first consideration must always be the Lord and His Word and never the serving of our flesh which would only lead to ruination. “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:6).
Having asked the Lord to lead us in the formulation of our plans, we then have the blessed assurance that He will also provide us with strength from on high and give us the necessary wisdom as we look to Him for counsel and aid. But, as we proceed to make and carry out our plans, we Christians often find that matters do not always take the turn we would like them to take. There are so many things which trouble and distress us. What are we to do? Again the answer comes from the Lord through the pen of the Apostle: “If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.”
We Christians should always bow to the gracious will of our dear heavenly Father, who loves us. Therefore “I leave all things to God’s direction; He loveth me in weal and woe. His will is good, true His affection” (TLH, 529, 1). We Christians always do the right thing in submitting to the will of our God! Look at the splendid example of Joseph. We have the revelation of God’s will for us in our Bible; but poor Joseph did not have that blessed advantage when his brothers so shamefully sold him into slavery. Nevertheless, do we read in the account that Joseph criticized the will of God? No, on the contrary, we hear Joseph tell his fear-ridden brothers: “Fear not; for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:19–20). Look at the example of pious Job after he had been deprived of almost all of his possessions and his seven sons and three daughters. He declared: “‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly” (Job 1:21–22). In the New Testament, we hear the Apostle Paul tell the members of the Christian congregation in Rome: “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the Gospel of His Son …making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you” (Romans 1:9–10). And then, at the end of that same epistle, he once again tells them: “That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed” (15:32).
What a wonderful comfort this is for us Christians as we enter upon a new year of grace: The will of God is always best — God never makes a mistake! We sing in that fine Scriptural hymn: “The will of God is always best and shall be done forever; and they who trust in Him are blest; He will forsake them never. He helps indeed in time of need; He chastens with forbearing. They who depend on God, their Friend, shall not be left despairing” (TLH, 517, 1). We do not know what the future holds for us as a Conference of local congregations or as individuals. That God alone knows. We observe how the economical situation in our country continues to deteriorate. Daily the news media report that many businesses are being forced to close because of the poor economy. This means, of course, that the unemployment rate rises. In fact, there are those in our congregations who have already lost their jobs and are having difficulty finding another one. Such times serve as a testing of our trust in the Lord and His promises. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).
We Christians must remind ourselves that we do not rest in the hand of an angry Father, but rather in the hand of Him who loves us in His dear Son. He always has our welfare at heart. Has He not proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt? When we were on our way to everlasting destruction because of our sins, “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). And even more than that! He has had this message of salvation preached to us; and through this life-giving Word the Holy Ghost has worked the saving faith within our hearts so that we have been born again, “not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (I Peter 1:23). Dressed in the spotless, all-sufficient atoning blood of the Savior, “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Come what may during this new year, we should cheerfully commend ourselves willingly into the hands of our dear Lord, knowing that He does not hate us but that He loves us. Whatever affliction there may be for us during this coming year, we know that it must be for our good (Romans 8:28), that He thereby intends to purify our faith so that we learn to turn our gaze more and more away from this life to the everlasting life in our heavenly home. We therefore declare with the Psalmist: “I delight to do Thy will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8).
—M. L. N.