The Master of My Fate (Phil Johnson)

James 4:13-17   |   Sunday, October 13, 2013   |   Code: 2013-10-13-PJ

     James 4:13-17. And while you're turning there, I'm going to reminisce a little bit to explain why I chose this text. It's a story with a moral.

     I want to take you back to August 10, 1989—24 years ago. It's a day that is burned in my memory forever, and I want to share it with you.

     Darlene and I were on vacation that year with our three boys. We drove from Los Angeles to Chicago and back in a Honda. (Our eldest was about to turn ten. His younger brothers were 8 and 6.) The whole trip was unforgettable, but this one day pretty much epitomized the whole thing. That particular day, we had front-row seats in the left-field bleachers at Wrigley field to watch the Chicago Cubs.

     Darlene and I had our very first date ever at Wrigley field, so we've always tried to get back there as often as possible. And in 1989, the Cubs moved into first place on August 9, and we managed to get seats in the front row of the bleachers on the very next day.

     It seemed like a perfect day. The Cubs were playing the Phillies, and they took a dominant lead early in the game. And I remember one particular moment of that game as if it were yesterday.

     The score was 10-3 with the Cubs leading in the fifth inning. The Cubs had already hit at least two home runs hit over our heads and out onto Waveland Avenue. I was feeling great. And this feeling of absolute well-being swept over me. I thought to myself, heaven must be like this.

     So I decided to roll my sleeves up over my shoulders and get some serious sun.

     Darlene has this thing where she starts to act like a mother when everyone is having fun. And so she asked me if I didn't want some sunscreen for my pasty-white shoulders. She carries this big bag to baseball games, and she can pull anything she wants out of the bag. So she drags out about fifteen varieties of suntan lotion and starts trying to foist them on me. But I didn't want lotion. It makes you all gummy and sticky, and I didn't want to spoil a perfect moment.

     Now here's the moment that is frozen in my mind: I was on vacation—no pressure. The Cubs were comfortably out in front, and I had front-row bleacher seats on a day when the weather was as close to heaven as Chicago ever gets. And the thing I remember most about that moment was what I said to Darlene when she started nagging me about putting on sun screen. She was warning me that I'd be sorry later if I didn't.

     I said, "This is a perfect day. We've got perfect seats at the perfect game on a perfect day. The Cubs are in first place. They're way out in front in this game. The weather is perfect. Nothing could spoil this day.


     Now you know that's not the end of the story. Here's an abbreviated summary of what happened next: almost at that very moment, another home run went over our heads. But the Phillies were batting. Before the end of the inning the Phillies got some guys on base and hit another home run our direction (as if to mock me in particular). Within ten minutes or so, the score was tied 10-10.

     But that was only the beginning of sorrows. The final score was 16-13, Phillies. The Cubs blew a seven-run lead and ended up getting blown out. And in the last two innings a thunderstorm blew in off of Lake Michigan. The sky turned incredibly dark—so dark they literally had to turn on the lights. Lightning was hitting buildings all around Wrigley field. And it began to rain so hard that by the time we got to our car, we could not have been more wet if we had actually swum in lake Michigan. We were too wet to turn on the air conditioner, and the windows were steaming up from the humidity.

     It was miserable. We were soaking wet. We were facing a ten-hour drive that evening because we were staying with relatives in Missouri.

     And my sunburn was already killing me.

     Later that night, several hours into our long drive to Missouri, Darlene looked at me and in the w=sweetest possible voice, she said, "You were absolutely right. This was an picture-perfect day. Nothing could've spoiled it." And then she whacked me on the knee, right where my sunburn was worst.

     There's a sequel to that story. Earlier this year, on July 4 Darlene and I were in Seattle, taking a 3-day break. We like to go there during the heat of the summer and go kayaking on Lake Union, right in the middle of Seattle's downtown.

     So it was sunny and hot and we're sitting in the kayak, and Darlene was blinded by the bright white of my knees, so she said, "You'd better put some sunscreen on. You'll be sorry later if you don't."

     I laughed, and because she reminds me of the Wrigley Field incident from time to time, I knew what she was doing. So I mischievously said, "This is a perfect day. Nothing could ruin this day."

     Now the biggest fireworks display in Seattle happens to be at the old gas works on Lake Union, and they were getting ready for the fireworks later that night. Security was heavy, and about the time I said, "Nothing could spoil this day," a police boat came out of a cove adjacent to us with its siren blaring, ripped past us at top speed, and the wake splashed about ten gallons of water into our kayak.

     Long story short: the kayak flipped over. My iPhone went straight to the bottom of the lake, and my reading glasses as well. Darlene and I (both wearing our shoes) could only hang onto the kayak and try to kick hard enough to get to shore, about a half mile away. A compassionate boater finally came along and towed us to shore.


     Both of those occasions—two of the most delightful moments in my life—quickly turned into painful memories, and vivid reminders of the truth spelled out for us in James 4, verses 13-17. That's where we will focus our attention this morning.

     Listen to this passage of Scripture (James 4:13-17):

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.

     The book of James is the wisdom literature of the New Testament. The epistle of James is to the New Testament what Proverbs is to the Old Testament. Portions of James read like a collection of wise sayings from Solomon. This epistle is notoriously difficult to outline, because James goes from thought to thought, sometimes with no clear logical connection. So in some ways, the format in James is just like the book of Proverbs. It is a format that would be familiar to anyone who has studied Hebrew wisdom literature.

     The verses in this section we are looking at, verses 13-17 of chapter 4, stand together as a unit.

     And I want to look at this passage from two perspectives: First, the human perspective, and then the divine perspective. And we'll take note of three lessons we learn from each viewpoint. First, here are—


1. Three lessons from the human perspective:

     In verse 13, James says, "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'—" That's the English Standard version. The King James Version starts with the words, "Go to now, you who say"

     The expression translated "go to," or "come now" is the Greek word age (a-gay). It is idiomatically identical to the English phrase, "Come on," when that phrase is used as an expression of disgust or rebuke: "Come on!"

     This is a rebuke. James is scolding people who are so sure of themselves they think they can plan their lives without reference to God. They were declaring what they would do today, and tomorrow, and for the next year. And they were obsessed with buying, and selling, and making money. Those aren't sinful things, of course, but they are mundane things. These people had left God completely out of their plans. They were speaking as if they were actually in control of their own future. Like that famous poem "Invictus," which says:

It matters not how strait the gate,

  How charged with punishments the scroll,  

I am the master of my fate:

  I am the captain of my soul.

That, of course, is some humanist's expression of scornful defiance against the sovereignty of God. And James is suggesting that same attitude is reflected in the lifestyle of someone who makes and declares his own plans for the future without realizing that God is ultimately in charge, and that He is sovereign even over the plans we make.

     James says it's arrogant—sinfully arrogant—to think we're the masters of our own fate. He reminds us that we are merely human. He has three lessons to teach from the human perspective: 1) The future is not certain; 2) our lives are not constant; and 3) we are not sovereign. Let's look at these individually:


     Lesson 1 from the human perspective: The future is not certain. In verse 14, he writes, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring." Now that's a simple, obvious statement of fact. We don't know the future. I don't think anyone here would dispute that.

     The only things we know for sure about the future are things Scripture reveals. Scripture tells us, for example, that Christ is going to return bodily to earth. We also know we will one day stand before God to give an account. Those are things about the future we know with absolute certainty.

     But we know those things only because the Word of God reveals them to us. Christ Himself promised that He will return to this earth, and that promise is as sure as His word. So there is at least one truth about the future we can count on with absolute certainty.

     But we still don't know when He is coming. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not even the angels which are in heaven," Jesus said in Mark 13:32.

     Have you ever thought about the fact that almost everything Scripture tells us about the future is cloaked in mystery? The most important prophetic book in the New Testament is the book of Revelation. It is filled with symbolism and perplexing imagery. Obviously, God has withheld from us far, far more about the future than He has revealed.

     And as for the details of our day-to-day lives—what will happen tomorrow, or next Tuesday, or even this afternoon—we simply do not know. And we have no way of finding out.

     Not only do we not know these things, but Scripture expressly forbids us even to try to find them out. We are not to probe into the future. Under the Mosaic law, people could be put to death for using divination, fortune-telling, or other occult arts to try to see into the future. The future is one of those "secret things," which Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us belongs to the Lord. From our perspective, the future is uncertain; it is unknown.

     This point is so obvious that we don't need to belabor it. But someone might say, "Hey, even getting past any question of Bible prophecy, there are some future details of life we can know with a reasonable amount of certainty, aren't there? We know the sun will rise tomorrow at a particular time, don't we? Tomorrow's sunrise and tide tables are printed every day in the newspaper.

     Ok, sure, but think about James's point: Even if you know what time the sun is supposed to rise tomorrow, you have no way of knowing whether you will actually be there to see it. And that brings us to James's next point—


     Lesson 2 from the human perspective: Our lives are not constant. Life itself is a variable. James writes this in verse 14: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." Life is brief and fragile. It passes away as quickly as a faint vapor is blown away on the wind. We cannot count on life. We could die at any moment.

     This is a constant theme in Scripture. James had made this very same point in chapter 1, verses 10-11, where he said this about the rich man: "Like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits." His point is that if all you care about is the mundane (buying, selling, and making profit), no matter how rich you might seem at this moment, you really have nothing, because your life will end—and you aren't going to get to keep anything you haven't invested in heaven.

     The stress throughout the Bible is on how short human life is. David wrote this in Psalm 39:5, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!"

     Ethan the Ezrahite, who wrote Psalm 89, said in verse 47, "How short my time is!"

     One of Moses' prayers is recorded in Psalm 90, and he says this about the human race (Ps. 90:5-10): "they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. . . . The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away." Then Psalm 102:3 says, "My days pass away like smoke."

     The prophet Isaiah underscored the brevity of life with these familiar words from Isaiah 40:6-7: "All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass." The apostle Peter quotes that passage to make the very same point in 1 Peter 1:24.

     There's also something about suffering that makes us more aware of how fleeting and fragile life can be. This is a constant theme in the book of Job. In Job 7:6, Job says, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle." Then in verse 7, he says, "my life is a breath."

     In chapter 9, verses 25 and 26, Job says, "My days are swifter than a runner; they flee away; they see no good. They go by like skiffs of reed, like an eagle swooping on the prey." And Job 14:1-2, another familiar passage, says, "Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not."

     Now all that may sound like a very pessimistic view of life. But it's a side of the truth we need to remain aware of. In the eternal scope of things, you and I are insignificant, our lives are extremely short, and we are very, very frail. Again and again, Scripture compares us to grass, and the flower of grass, which blooms one day and is cut off the next. Our lives are not constant, and we ultimately have no control over how long we live.

     That brings us to—


     Lesson 3 from the human perspective: We are not sovereign. Notice: James is rebuking these people not for making plans about the future, but for leaving God out of their planning. Verses 15-16 say this: "Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

     Look again how these people were speaking (verse 13): "WE WILL go into such and such a town and [WE WILL] spend a year there and [WE WILL] trade and buy and sell, and [WE WILL] make a profit." The emphasis is on their will, their desires, their intentions. Not a word about God—because they were thinking and speaking as if they didn't really need Him. Furthermore, according to verse 16, they were saying these things in a boasting way—as if they, not God, were in control. I know people who boast like this, and it's not pretty. In fact, this kind of boasting is deemed necessary in some business circles. You pretty much have to talk this way if you want to be taken seriously as an entrepreneur.

     The truth is, we control very little of our lives. You can make all the plans you want, but rarely (if ever) do things go exactly as we have planned.

     Don't misunderstand: Scripture is not opposed to our making plans. In fact, we are supposed to plan. In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus said,

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?

29  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,

30  saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.

It's poor stewardship not to plan. But we are not supposed to plan as if we were sovereign over the future. We are not. So when we plan, we need to plan for the uncertainty of life, rather than making our plans as if we thought we were the masters of our own fate.

     Jesus teaches us to plan for life's uncertainties. Let me give you one example of this. At the end of Matthew 24 and the beginning of Matthew 25, Jesus told two parables, one after another. In the context of these chapters, Jesus was speaking of His Second Coming. He was teaching the disciples to plan for His return. This extended passage, beginning in chapter 24, is known as the Olivet Discourse. It is one of Jesus' most important sermons—his longest message about future things. And he begins to bring it to a close with this series of parables. I want briefly to take note of two of them.

     The first of the two parables we're going to look at briefly, you'll find in Matthew 24:45-51. There are two servants in this parable. One of them was wicked, and Jesus says, verse 48:

if that wicked servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed,'

49  and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,

50  the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know

51  and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

See, this guy thought His master would delay his coming, and he wasn't prepared when he came back early. That's the point here: Be prepared in case the Master returns early. And that's the end of Matthew 24.

     Then, immediately, in verse 1 of chapter 25, Jesus begins a new parable. This is the parable of the ten virgins. You'll remember they were like bridesmaids going to a wedding feast, and the bridegroom arrived much later than they expected. Five of these girls had neglected to bring enough oil to keep their lamps burning during the wait—and verse 8 tells us that by the time they knew the bridegroom was coming, they were out of oil. They were not prepared for him to come late. Verse 10 says they had to go and buy oil, and while they were out, the bridegroom came, and they ended up shut out of the wedding feast. Now the moral of this parable is, "Be ready in case the bridegroom comes late."

     So the first parable taught them to be prepared in case He came early, and the second one was to be prepared in case He came late. Why didn't Jesus just tell them whether He was going to be early or late? Why didn't He just say, I'll come back in two-thousand and twelve years, so be ready then? Why the mystery about when He is coming? Why didn't he just set a date and have done with it?

     Because we are not supposed to know the future. We are mortal. And we couldn't control the future even if we knew it. See? Those are the same three points James is making in the passage we are studying. 1) We are not supposed to know the future. 2) We are mortal. And 3) we couldn't control the future even if we knew it.

     Now turn back to our passage in James 4, and let's look at it once more. Have you noticed that so far every point we have looked at is depressing? These are the three lessons we've already drawn from our passage: We have no way of knowing the future. Life is short and unpredictable (in other words, we could die at any time). And we ultimately have no control over what happens to us.

     Not exactly uplifting, is it? But I didn't make those things up just to be depressing; they're all right here in the passage. This is what James is saying. I'm only trying to get the sense of the passage. So don't blame me if you're getting depressed.

     But we can't stop where we are. It's only depressing because we have been looking at it from the human perspective. Look at any truth from the human perspective, and it looks pretty bleak. Now let's examine this same passage from God's perspective.

     And we are now going to take note of—


1. Three lessons from the divine perspective:

     When we look at James 4 from God's perspective, we discover three new lessons that exactly parallel what we have already seen in this passage. But suddenly these same truths that looked depressing and gloomy from an earthly perspective—take on brilliance when we see them from a heavenly perspective, And it turns out the point of this passage isn't depressing at all—it's glorious.

     What we're dealing with here is the doctrine of divine providence. Here's a simple definition for you: Providence is God's sovereign working in every detail of whatever happens, to insure that everything He has created achieves His chosen purpose. Or in more biblical terminology, Providence is God faithfully working all things after the counsel of His own will and for His good pleasure.

     Now if you know anything about me at all, you know I love the doctrine of God's sovereignty. I know a lot of people struggle with this doctrine, especially when it comes to the issue of election.

     But let's set aside our debates about predestination and free will for today. Let's not get into any argument over the doctrine of election. Instead let's contemplate the doctrine of divine providence and what it teaches us about God's moment-by-moment involvement in the lives of His creatures.

     I think this doctrine of providence is the crown jewel of all the doctrines in Scripture that are related to the matter of God's sovereignty. This is why I love God's sovereignty. I'm not a Calvinist because I like to debate theological fine points. I don't embrace the sovereignty of God because that doctrine is fodder for so many good arguments. (Those are just side benefits).

     I love the sovereignty of God because it is the whole basis for what we believe about divine providence.

     And furthermore, I believe when it comes to the matter of providence, every true Christian, in his heart of hearts, has to believe strongly in the sovereignty of God. If we didn't really believe that God is ultimately in control of everything that happens in His universe, it would be impossible to pray with any kind of confidence, wouldn't it?

     But look again at our passage. Let's see what it teaches us from the divine perspective:


     Lesson 1 from the divine perspective: The future is absolutely certain. God not only knows the future, but He has planned it and will carry it out. Verse 15, James says, "You ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

     What is the clear implication? Everything that happens is determined by God's will. We need to come to grips with this truth and affirm it. James is suggesting that if a thing is the Lord's will, it will happen: "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." If it's God's will, I will live, and nothing outside of God's own will can change that. God works "all things after the counsel of his own will," according to Ephesians 1:11.

     More than that, Scripture teaches that God has decreed everything that comes to pass. In Isaiah 46:9-10, He says, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'"

     Here's what this passage is saying: At the very beginning of all things—"from the beginning and from ancient times" (before there was time)—God declared what the end of all things would be.

     Isaiah doesn't mean, by the way, that God can tell the difference between the beginning and the end. We can all do that. But the text is saying that from ancient times—before the foundation of the world—God decreed "things not yet done." He set the universe in motion toward His chosen end. He declared that end from the beginning. And He will accomplish all His pleasure.

     Someone says, "What about evil? Are you saying God decreed that as well?" Well, certainly the appearance of evil in God's creation didn't take Him by surprise or catch Him off guard. It was part of His plan from the beginning. He doesn't delight in it. It is abhorrent to Him. He remains utterly untainted by its existence. And even in His absolute sovereignty, God is never the effectual cause or the agent of evil. James 1:13: "God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one." He "is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). God is absolutely holy, and high above sin and evil, totally untouched by it.

     So He does not concoct sin, sanction it, instigate it, condone it, approve it, or otherwise countenance it. He is never the agent of evil or the efficient cause of evil.

     But evil is not something foreign to God's plan. The sudden appearance of evil at the dawn of the universe and in the early chapters of Genesis does not mean something went haywire in God's strategy. He planned for evil to enter His universe—in other words, He decreed that it would occur—so that He might use it to bring about an even greater good.

     Not only that, but He remains fully sovereign over every act of evil that is ever committed. The Old Testament book of Job gives us a little window into the workings of the Spirit world. It reveals that even Satan himself cannot act apart from God's permission. And God never allows evil agents to act unless His purpose is to overrule their evil intentions for His own wise and holy purposes.

     He will glorify Himself in the defeat of evil, and He will make even the fruits of evil all work together for good, in accord with His good pleasure. He's doing it even now, for those who have spiritual eyes to see.

     That is what providence is all about.


     Lesson 2 from the divine perspective: God is perfectly constant. Look again at verse 14: "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." There's an implied contrast here between our lives, which are like a wispy vapor, and the way James described God in chapter 1. Here James says our lives are like a vanishing vapor; subject to change or even termination without notice. But in James 1:17, this same apostle referred to God is "the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

     Our lives are vanishing and temporary; but God is eternal and unchanging. According to 1 Timothy 6:16, "[God] alone has immortality, [and He] dwells in unapproachable light." No shadows caused by shifting or changing. Not like the earth, which is constantly rotating and always exactly half in shadow. God is constant. He does not change. He is eternal. Our lives may be uncertain, but He is not. We may be faithless, but He always remains faithful. Constant. The one true constant in all the universe.

     So here's—


     Lesson 3 from the divine perspective: God is utterly sovereign. I mentioned earlier that God knows the future because He controls it. And we have already established the fact that God is sovereign. Now let's explore this truth a little more deeply.

     To what level of detail does God's sovereignty extend? There is not so much as a stray molecule in this universe. Colossians 1:16-17 says this about Christ: "by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." That is purposely worded so as to be as comprehensive as possible. God's sovereignty over His creation extends right down to the level of molecular structure and quantum physics. If there were so much as a stray molecule in all the universe that God could not control, His sovereignty would be compromised. The tiniest thing beyond God's control would ultimately spell the undoing of everything.

     The only way God can absolutely guarantee that truth will ultimately triumph over falsehood and good will win over evil is that in spite of all the rebellion and sin of his creatures, He remains in complete control even now. Think about this: the only way God can guarantee that He will work all things together for good is if He is able to control all things.

     I know a lot of people struggle with this truth. It is not easy for our sinful minds to come to grips with. But it is taught clearly and repeatedly in Scripture. Scripture teaches us, for example, that—

     ! He controls so-called random happenings: "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord" (Prov. 16:33). Also, when Jesus said no sparrows will fall to the ground apart from the Father, and the very hairs of our heads are all numbered (Matt. 10:29-30), He was teaching that God sovereignly controls all those things.

     ! He is sovereign over all human decisions: "he king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will" (Prov. 21:1). Proverbs 16:9 echoes the very same truth as our text, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps."

     ! He is sovereign in salvation: "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures" (Jas. 1:18). Romans 8:29-30 says God is in charge of every aspect of our salvation from our election in eternity past to our glorification in eternity future.

And that's not all.

     ! God's sovereign plan even incorporates the evil acts of sinners: Joseph told his brothers, "You sold me [into Egypt; but] God sent me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). Even the single most evil act that was ever committed was ordained and used by God for the greatest good of all. Peter told the crowd at Pentecost, "This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death" (Acts 2:23). Acts 4:27-28 likewise says the hand and purpose of God predestined Christ's crucifixion. The death of Christ was not an accident, but it was the plan of God to provide the atonement we need for our sins.

     ! He appoints the powers that oversee the evil world system: Jesus Told Pilate, "You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above" (Jn. 19:11). Paul said, "There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God" (Rom. 13:1).

     ! Everything that happens is ordained by God: We've already looked at Isaiah 46:9-10, which says God decreed His whole plan for the ages before time began. Scripture teaches repeatedly that every detail of everything that happens is in accord with the eternal plan of God, who "works all things after the counsel of His [own] will" (Eph. 1:11).

     Anything that happens, we can know that God is sovereign over it. And that's what James is teaching here.

     Why do I stress these things so much?

     Did you know that it is ultimately a sin to view God as less than sovereign? If the God you worship isn't sovereign, then who you worship is not the God of Scripture, and that is idolatry. And if you know God's providence controls every aspect of life, it is sin not to acknowledge this truth.

     Back to James 4, and look at verses 16 and 17: Verse 16 says it is a sin to boast in the future. And don't miss the point of verse 17: "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." The word "so" in that verse (or "therefore" in some versions) ties it to the previous discussion. James is laying down a principle that governs all sins of omission: If you know to do good and do not do it, that's sin.

     But in this context, he has a particular sin of omission in mind. It is the sin he is writing to confront. It is the sin of failing to recognize God's providential control over our lives. Those who neglect to see that our lives are ordered and governed by the loving hand of God's providence are sinning. That's James's point. If you fail to give glory to God by acknowledging His providential care, that is a sin.

     But if you keep that truth at the forefront of your mind, it will often keep you from other sins, and it will save you from hours of depression, worry, and even anger when things don't go your way.

     I learned this lesson in a vivid way on another vacation about eight years after that horrible Cubs game. Darlene and I were going on a cruise, and we were very excited about it, but I had a stack of work on my desk I could not in good conscience leave behind, so I smuggled this stuff into a fabric briefcase without telling Darlene I was planning to work during this cruise. (I knew she would try to talk me into leaving the work behind.)

     So the cruise was leaving from Anchorage, Alaska, and we had to fly up there to get on the ship. And in a stopover on the airport on the way up, I set that briefcase down while I walked over to the drinking fountain, and Darlene noticed it, and now I knew I was caught. She said, "What's in that briefcase? You should keep a closer eye on it. You don't want to lose it."

     And I said, "On the contrary. That's a bag of correspondence I have to answer, and the best thing that could happen to it would be if it fell off our ship into the ocean. I'd have a great excuse for not answering all my mail, and I wouldn't actually have to do the work." And she was very patient, as she always is, and just rolled her eyes at the thought that I had dragged a bag of work with me along on a cruise.

     So to make a long story short, when we boarded the ship the next day, some stewards took all our luggage and loaded it on a rolling cart to push it up the gangplank. And almost as an afterthought, I put that briefcase on top of that stack and decided to let the professionals get it on the ship.

     And less than 20 minutes after we boarded, they started paging me on the ship's loudspeaker—which is something they never do on cruise ships unless it's a serious emergency. And they were asking me to come to the front desk to speak to the captain.

     So I went immediately, thinking something must be terribly wrong—someone back home was in an accident, or something serious like that. And when the girls at the front desk saw me coming, I heard one whisper to the others, "That's him!"—and they all went in the back room, out of sight.

     So now I knew something was seriously wrong. A grim-looking man dressed in an officer's uniform came over to me and said, "Mr. Johnson, I'm afraid I have some bad news. Your briefcase fell in the water."

     And he took me into an office where they had opened all my papers were spread out on every surface. Several people were on their hands and knees frantically trying to pat my stuff dry with a towel. I could see panic in every one of their eyes.

     And I just broke out laughing. I said, "I told my wife I hoped that bag would fall in the ocean. You should have let it sink." And I told them that story and reassured them that I didn't need any kind of compensation or free liquor for the week, or whatever. And they all breathed a sight of relief that was palpable.

     There was one woman in the room dressed in civilian clothes. She followed me out of the room and said, "Mr. Johnson, may I have a word with you?"

     She said, "My name is Jeanette Seal. I work for the Seward Seamen's Mission, an evangelical mission to crew members on cruise ships. I was there when your bag fell in the water. I saw something fall, I heard the splash, and I heard crew members frantically shouting, NO! NO!" I thought a baby had fallen over or something. Two men crawled down the ship's ladder, risking their lives to retrieve your briefcase. I helped fish it out, so they allowed me to come on the ship, because the crew member who dropped the bag was distraught. He was a Muslim (the ship's crew was from Indonesia), and he was saying, 'Oh God! Oh, God!' and I said, 'Mustafa, your God is not going to help you now. We need to pray for Jesus. And I prayed to Jesus that whoever owned this bag would not be seriously angry.

     "Then," she said, "when we opened your bag, I could tell immediately from the contents that you were a Christian. And then I began to pray for you, because I have seen too many Christians in situations like this behave worse than the world. And I thought if you lost your temper it would damage your testimony, and mine, and all the Christians on the ship. So I was so relieved when you reacted the way you did."

     Now I have to admit that I have lost my temper and damaged my testimony in other circumstances. Why was this incident different? I'll tell you why: The only reason I was not even tempted to get angry in this instance was because I saw so clearly the hand of God's Providence in the whole incident. I had virtually prayed aloud that my bag would fall into the ocean. Nothing could have kept it from happening. A crew member told me that in 20 years of working with this cruise line, he had never heard of a passenger's bag falling into the ocean.

     Do you know the Lord had a purpose for that? There were some Indonesian Christians on the crew who invited me to come and lead their worship service on Monday night. They work Sunday and Monday, and then at 11:00 Monday night, they have one opportunity in the week to hold a worship service.

     That was the highlight of the trip for me. And I realized as I thought about it that what enabled me to respond the way I did was that I saw the hand of God orchestrating what happened. If my bag fell in the water, I knew it was because God Himself gave it a push.

     All the trials we go through would be a whole lot easier to endure if we would have that perspective, wouldn't they? If we pondered the truth of divine providence more and could see the hand of God in all that happens to us, we would be far less likely to be frustrated, and far more likely to see that He is in charge working all things together for good.

     We know that's the case, don't we? Just remember what James says, "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."