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Attitude Matters: James 4:13-17

Practical Atheism
Rick Wilcox

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.—James 4:13-17 (ESV)

In today’s sermon, Rick Wilcox examined our culture of exalting life’s winners as the truly successful. From the very beginning, we seek to excel at school, in young adult life, in careers, in marriage and family, and even in retirement. Our goal is independence and self-reliance, the essence of The Great American Dream.

In this worldview, God is an accessory to our plans, and His main job is to grant our requests and make our dreams come true. If our plans somehow get off track, either from unforeseen circumstances or sinful choices of our own, we beg Him to fix it and promise to do better next time.

Well-thought-out planning outside of God’s will is not a recent phenomenon. In our verses today, James chastised his congregation for the foolishness of making self-centered plans over which they had no control. He told them to seek to know God’s will and obey it.
WATCH >The video above

ASK > Is your life today like what you thought it would be three years ago? Or have there been some unexpected turns in the last three years? Tell the group about it.

How much notice did you have before the unexpected turn happened?

Is it possible another unexpected turn is ahead? Tell the group about plans you have for the future and all the things you depend on to make them happen.

ASK > How would you define the phrase “the will of God”?

What are some of the more common ways Christians attempt to discern God’s will?

What are some examples from your own life, or from the life of someone you know, in which a particular decision was initially deemed “the will of God” but later proved to be a colossal mistake? What happened?

How do you go about determining God’s will for your life?

READ > Ephesians 5:17–21; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8; 1 Peter 2:13–15; 1 Peter 3:17

What are some things which are clearly the will of God?

READ > Luke 12:16-34

ASK > How does this passage relate to our world today?
Considering these verses and James’ instruction, is all planning or profit-making wrong? Why or why not?

READ > Psalm 39:4-6

ASK > How do those verses relate to James 4:14?

ASK > How does James characterize our lives (i.e., the length of our lives)? Why is this significant?

Most of God’s will for our lives is already revealed in the Bible. In other words, God has already unveiled what should be the primary direction of our lives, and He makes the details clear.

Consider your approach to a typical day. How much does God and His will figure into your plans? Is His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) foremost in your thoughts?

ASK > What two specific changes do you need to make this week?
For further study this week, see the following passages:

Job 14:1–2
Psalm 89:47
Acts 21:14
Romans 15:32
1 Corinthians 16:7
Titus 2:11–12
2 Peter 3:9
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