As a student and an athlete I was taught to set goals and then pursue these goals. I have continued this process as a coach, in my family life, with our kids and in my business.The pursuit of a goal involves time, effort, work and thus some kind of sacrifice. As a coach of Elite Athletes for over 30 years I not only expect the same thing of my players, but of myself as well. We set individual goals and team goals and then work to achieve these goals. Goals provide greater focus and with greater focus greater effort and with greater effort more success.

Now consider James 4:13-17.

13: 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."
14: 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.
15: Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."
16: But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

There are some who use this passage to defend why they should not set goals. So how do we square the positive effects that come from setting goals with what James teaches in the above passage?

To Prepare or Not To Prepare:

When I was in Seminary there was a foreign exchange student from South America who had an interesting application of this passage. He explained that he did not read, study or do research to prepare for his sermons, rather he simply showed up and delivered whatever came to mind. He justified this by saying if he prepared his sermon, his sermon would contain his thoughts. On the other hand if he did not prepare, any beneficial outcome was most definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.

The problem with this type of thinking is it rests on the false idea that the Holy Spirit is only present when and where order is brought out of chaos. But the Holy Spirit is not constrained to these events alone. The Holy Spirit is just as present when it builds upon and beyond our human work. When it brings a greater result out of what we have already built.

But if that is the case, then we are responsible to build the best we can so God, through the Holy Spirit, might create even more beyond our work. And for us to create more involves planning, setting goals and then accomplishing those goals.

In addition to this simple logic is the command in Scripture to “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength”. So if we could prepare, but choose not to prepare it could be argued that we did not love God with our mind. In light of this the exchange student’s reasoning, far from being an act of devotion to God, it is actually an excuse. For when we fail to prepare, we fail to love God fully.

Not Doing Is Not Faithful:

But how do we square what appears to be James’ pejorative comment regarding those who plan to go to another city, do business for a year or two and then return home, with a positive concept of planning, goal setting and pursuing goals?

Some, like the South America student, think they can be faithful to James’ teaching by not planning for the future. Still others would plan for the future but they would plan to not make any money and in so doing they believe they are also faithful to James’ instructions.

However, according to this reading of James, if it is wrong to make money then it is just as wrong to plan and then pursue the plan. And if this is the case, then even planning a mission trip would violate that interpretation of James' teaching. Since that cannot be the case, it is obvious this interpretation of the passage is invalid. That’s because it is not the planning or doing the plan or making the money that is at issue for James. Rather, James makes clear that once these events are planned and done, what makes them unacceptable to God is those who do these events “glory in their pride…” and “all such boasting is evil.”

So for James', it is the boasting, not the planning and doing the plan that is the issue. Because those who boast in their success give no recognition to God who made it possible. For James, this is the true evil. Taking unto ourselves what belongs to God.

This fact is made even clearer by the next verse, 17.

“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

Verse 17 is a general statement of fact. As such it is not constrained to only those who plan, or those who pursue the plan, or those who make money or those who do not give glory to God. It also refers to anyone who could do anything but does not do it. This includes those who plan, pursue the plan and make money, but then afterwards give the glory to God.

In other words, James is not saying we should not plan or set a goal. Nor is he saying we should not pursue the plan or goal. Nor is he saying we should not make money from the plan or goal. In fact James is saying quite the opposite — that if we know how to do something, and we do not plan and do it, we hold back the glory that would be God's as much as those who do something and then afterwards do not give glory to God who made it possible.

In light of this, James, far from discouraging  the act of planning and pursuing the plan, he is encouraging and promoting it with one condition; that we pray that the plan is God’s will, and when success comes, we give the credit and glory to God who made it possible.

This means the acts of planning, goal setting, pursuing these goals, creating more from the pursuit of these goals, rather than being an act of evil against God, becomes an act of love towards God.

© 2013 – 2015, VoiceWind. . .Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.

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