Practical Christianity: Humble Planning

Practical Christianity: Humble Planning | James 4:13-17
Brian Hedges | July 29, 2018

We’ll turn in Scripture this morning to James, the fourth chapter; James chapter 4. For about the last ten weeks we have been looking together through the book of James, and this is a letter that really is wisdom literature. It’s a very practical kind of literature teaching that’s driven (or that drives, rather) the gospel right into our hearts, that drives practical wisdom into our hearts, and that teaches us what it means to live with an authentic kind of faith.

So we’ve seen in this letter that James is especially concerned that we be whole Christians, that we have a whole faith, that there be an integrity to our faith, and that that faith gets expressed in very practical ways in our everyday lives. The paragraph we’re looking at this morning I think is perhaps one of the most practical of all the things that James has to say in this letter. He’s getting right down into the way we think about day-to-day life in this world. He’s talking about how we make our plans, and do we make our plans in ways that have reference to God or not. So, it’s very practical kind of stuff.

If you’ve already planned your calendar this week, and some of you that actually tend to be planners, you have more than just the next week planned (you know, you’ve planned the next three months or you’ve planned maybe the next three years of your life); this is the kind of exhortation that James gives us that reminds us of the necessity of planning under the providence of God, keeping God central in all of our thinking about our future.

It’s a really practical passage, James 4:13-17. So, a short paragraph here. I just want to read it and then kind of walk us through three steps, okay? James 4:13-17.

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such an such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ - 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. 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. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

This is God’s word.

Alright, so this is a pretty simple passage, isn’t it? I mean, there’s not a lot of complexity here, but I think kind of beneath the surface there is a theological reality that we have to reckon with and that sometimes we fail to reckon with in our lives.

So, three things I want us to consider here:

I. The Folly of Planning without Reference to God
II. The Wisdom of Living with God’s Providence in View
III. The Difference This Perspective Makes

I. The Folly of Planning without Reference to God 

Okay. First of all, just think about the folly of planning without reference to God. You see in verses 13 and 14, and what James is really addressing here is a presumption. It’s the presumptuous hear that conceives plans and does so without thinking about God’s will or God’s plan. So you see the presumption in verse 13, “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.’”

Now, he’s conceiving here a scenario where someone has made pretty specific plans for their next day and for their next year, okay. At a specific time of day, “today or tomorrow”; they’re going to go to a specific place, “such and such a town”; they are going to stay there for a specific period of time, they are going to “spend a year there”; they’re going to do something very specific, right, they’re going to trade, they’re going to buy and sell; and they expect a specific outcome. They expect a profit. That’s pretty specific planning.

This is exactly what a financial planner would tell you you should do, right? This is exactly what a life coach would tell you you should do. In fact, this is exactly what a pastor might tell you to do in certain circumstances, right? We are very much a planning society or a planning culture, and evidently they were in the first century as well, and James is addressing this person, the person who is planning their life.

He addresses them in this and essentially says, “You’re ignorant of the future. You don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.” He’s reminding them that life is more complicated than they think and that life is more fragile than they think. Alright?

So, look at the end of verse 14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” He’s just reminding them of their ignorance of the future. You don’t know tomorrow. You can make all the plans you want, but you don’t know what the next day is going to bring.

I think the best illustration of this in the movies is George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You remember that wonderful movie? I love this movie, love to watch it at Christmastime, and I know it’s July, but here it is. So, you remember there’s this scene in the movie where George Bailey says, “I know what I’m going to do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. I’m going to shake the dust of this crummy old town off my feet and I’m going to see the world!” Right?

Do you remember what happens? That night his father dies of a heart attack, and then several months later, when he’s about to leave for college, his father’s business is about to be taken over by the town crook, Mr. Potter, and so he stays in town, doesn’t go to college. And then several years after that he’s planning to go to college when his brother returns home from the war and he finds out his brother’s married, so his plans again get interrupted.

This just happens again and again and again and again through the movie, so that by the middle of the film the crisis of the film is that he’s despairing of his life. His life hasn’t gone as he’s planned, and problems have continued to happen, and he’s despairing of life. He has to be reminded that his life is actually a wonderful thing because of all of the friends, the friendships, and the ways that God has blessed him.

But I think we’re a lot like George Bailey. We have our plans. “I know what I’m going to do tomorrow, I know what I’m going to do the day after that, the day after that... I know what I’m going to do for the next year.” We build our plans, and James is saying that when you do this without reference to God, you’re presuming on God, you’re presuming on the future; you’re presuming, and you’re forgetting your ignorance, that you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Life brings lots of surprises.

Not only that, at the end of verse 14 he reminds us of the brevity and the frailty of life. He says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” This is one of those powerful biblical metaphors that remind us of how fragile life is. It’s just a mist. It’s like a morning vapor. It’s like those mornings when you walk outside on a winter morning and you can see your breath in front of your face. Have you ever tried to grab that? You can’t hold onto it. I mean, you breathe and it’s gone.

The Bible talks about our life as being a flower that is cut and withers, or like a shadow that flees away and that does not continue. Our lives go by so quickly.

One unknown author put it this way; he said,

“When as a child I laughed and wept
Time crept.
When as a youth I dreamed and talked,
Time walked.
When I became a full-grown man,
Time ran.
When older still I grew,
Time flew.
Soon I shall find in passing on
Time gone.”

You know what that’s like, don’t you? I’ve noticed that in my 40s the years go by so much faster than they did in my 20s, and I know that some of you that in your 60s and your 70s, you feel like the last 40 years, the last 50 years have just gone by in a flash. That’s how life is; it goes by quickly. Your life is a vapor, and then it vanishes.

And not only that, it’s fragile, which means your life could vanish tomorrow, it could vanish this afternoon. You could be at the end, you could encounter something that totally changes your life or that snuffs away your life in the next 24 hours.

So all of this means that when we plan without reference to God we are planning with something of an illusion of control. We think we’re in control of our lives, but we’re under a spell that soon will be broken. We don’t have life under control; God is the one who has our lives in control.

So James confronts us with the arrogance of this claim when he says (you see this in verse 16), “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” It’s what the ancient Greeks, in their mythological stories, called hubris, right? It was the fatal flaw of the hero in the Greek tragedies, hubris. It was the person who had so much self-confidence and so much pride, so much arrogance that it offended the gods and led to their downfall. In a similar way, when we plan our lives without reference to God we are guilty of pride, we are guilty of arrogance, and we are setting ourselves up for a fall.

Perhaps the heart of pride has never been expressed more clearly than in this famous poem by William Henley. The poem is called “Invictus”; I’m sure you’ve heard this before.

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pitch from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods that be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced, nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate
Nor how charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”

A person can utter those words one day and be struck down the next. That’s the reality. We’re not actually the masters of our fates, we are not the captains of our souls, and it’s arrogant for us to think so.

Even as Christians, we can fall into this trap, of thinking that we have our lives together, that we can control, that we can plan our future, and we can live as what we might almost think of as practical atheist. Practical atheist. Now, not theoretically atheist, of course we believe in God; but practically, meaning that in our day to day lives, Monday through Saturday, we are making our plans and we are living our lives as if there were no God, because we’re not really thinking about God. We’re not considering him, we’re not considering his will, we’re not looking at our lives through the lens of God’s will.

That’s the attitude that James wants to correct, and he does so in verse 15, where he says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

II. The Wisdom of Living with God’s Providence in View

That leads us to the second point, which is the wisdom of living with God’s providence in view.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” No matter how much you try to control, rough-hew, your ends, your purposes, there’s a divine being who’s shaping these things; that’s providence.

It’s important for us to understand something about the providence of God. I think James assumes the providence of God with this little phrase, “If the Lord wills.” He’s thinking about God’s will. The providence of God is something that Christians used to understand; people used to understand the Bible, they used to know the Bible. Many of you understand what we mean by the providence of God. But I don’t want to assume that this morning; I want us to actually unpack for a few minutes, what is God’s providence? What does God’s providence include? What does it mean to live our lives under the providence of God or with God’s providence in view? Okay, so give me a few minutes here and let’s unpack this.

Let me give you three aspects of God’s providence, three terms that relate to Gods providence or three ways of understanding God’s providence.

(1) Number one is preservation. This is the truth that God upholds and maintains creation. This is part of God’s providence. God preserves the world. You might think of Nehemiah 9:6, “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made the heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”

How does the world keep running? What sustains it? What keeps it going? Well, the Bible says that God preserves it, that God is the one who keeps it going. Colossians 1:17, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” That’s, of course, talking about Christ himself. So, Christ, the word of the Father, the Son of the Father; Christ, the agent of creation, is the one in whom all things hold together.

Again, Hebrews 1:3, “He,” that is, Christ, “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

One of the old hymnwriters put it like this:

“His law he enforces,
The stars in their courses,
And the sun in its orbit
Obediently shines.”

God speaks, the world was created. God speaks, and the world is upheld, the world is preserved. God keeps things going. Alright? Preservation; that’s part of the providence of God.

(2) Now, right along with that is another term we need to understand; it’s the term concurrence. Now, you know what concurrence means. Things concur when they happen at the same time, right? Two things happening at the same time, they concur, they cooperate together. Concurrence has to do with God’s work through the laws of nature and secondary causes.

The Bible teaches this as well, that not only is God directly involved in upholding the universe by the word of his power, but God is the one who is working in and through all things so that, even when there are other agents involved, they are viewed as under the hand as under the hand of a sovereign God.

Let me give you a couple of examples from Isaiah chapter 10. In the book of Isaiah, Isaiah the prophet is talking about how these foreign kingdoms, these pagan nations will come, and they will be the instrument in the hand of God to bring judgment on disobedience Israel. One of those foreign kingdoms is Assyria. Listen to how Isaiah the prophet, speaking the words of God, describes Assyria. This is Isaiah 10:5-7.

“Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands if my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few.”

That’s an amazing passage of Scripture, because it is saying that the nations, in their wickedness and their evil, they intend to come and wreak havoc on this other nation, right? They’re doing that of their own volition, they’re doing that of their own will. But God says, “He’s the rod in my hand. He is the rod of my anger, and the staff in their hands,” he says, “is my fury.”

We could just multiply examples of this in Scripture. You have people who are acting seemingly independently, autonomously. They are doing so with their own volition and will, and yet they are fulfilling the purpose of God. They are working under the hand of God.

So, secondary agents as well as the laws of nature are constantly at work in the world, but they are always acting concurrently with the providence of God, or the providence of God acting concurrently with them, so that God’s will is being done.

(3) Let me give you one more word, and this is the word government. I don’t mean the government of any nation; I mean God’s government of the world, that God governs the world. This is his direct, sovereign rule over all things, including (and I think this is especially important for us) the most minute circumstances of our lives.

Alright, let me give you some examples. Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny (or farthing)? And one of them will not fall to the ground apart from your Father.” So, I kind of jumbled the quotation there, but the picture here is that you have two sparrows that are cheap. These are cheap. These are birds that can be sold for a penny. And yet, they can’t hop along the ground or fall to the ground apart from the Father’s will. That’s what Jesus says. The Father’s will is involved in even something like that.

Then the next verse (this is Matthew chapter 10) he says, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Now, can you imagine anything more mundane than that? Right? The hairs of your head are all numbered. [There are a] greater number on some heads than on others, but still, if you think about this for a minute – I mean, the average head has to have, what, several tens of thousands of hairs, and there are seven billion people on the planet, and God knows the number of every hair on every head. I mean, this is the vast, omniscient knowledge of God, and Jesus is saying, because of this, that we must be confidence in God the Father’s care for us, because he knows these mundane details of our lives.

Or you might think of some of the proverbs. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” This is referring to the practice in the Old Testament where people would throw lots, they would cast lots in order to make a decision. It’s sort of me rolling the dice, and it seems to be random, it seems to be a game of chance, but Proverbs says its decision is from the Lord. The Lord is the one who controls the roll of the die.

Or take Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills.” Alright, so you’re moving from minute, seemingly insignificant circumstances, like a sparrow, hairs of your head, the roll of a die, to kings and kingdoms who are shaping the futured of the world, and across the entire spectrum the Bible says that God controls it, that God’s will is what governs all of these aspects of our lives.

Here’s the best definition of the providence of God that I’ve come across. This is the Heidelberg catechism; you’ve heard this, recited this, many times. “What do you understand by the providence of God?”

Answer: “God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power whereby, as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth,” there’s preservation. “…he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty; indeed, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” God’s will is what governs our lives, the providence of God.

Now, let’s apply this, okay? That was a little theology lesson. The lesson’s over, but now the application, alright? Let’s apply this.

I think we get some help from the author Jerry Bridges. He wrote a wonderful little book called Trusting God Even When Life Hurts. Jerry Bridges says that there are two ways in which we make mistakes, Christians commonly make mistakes in the way they think about the providence of God.

The first thing we do is that we apply it to good events but not the bad. So, Bridges says, “We almost always use the expression ‘the providence of God’ in relationship to apparently good events in our lives.” So, you might hear someone say, you know, “In God’s providence I found this wonderful deal on this car and I was able to buy this car and save 2,000 dollars,” or something like that. Or, “God’s providence led me to this really healthy church.” You know, “I had a chance encounter with someone, they invited me to the church, didn’t know about it, ended up at the church; that was the providence of God.”

It’s appropriate to do that, but almost nobody ever says, “In the providence of God, when I was going through the green light somebody else ran a red light, T-boned my car.” Nobody talks like that. We don’t talk that way about the providence of God. But the providence of God actually embraces not just the good events, it embraces the bad events, right?

Here’s the second way that we tend to misuse or fail to apply the providence of God, is that we imply sometimes that God intervenes at certain times in our lives; God intervenes but is not really governing all the circumstances in our lives. So, we act sometimes as if God is a disinterested spectator most of the time, but then occasionally he steps in and he does something, and we say that that’s the providence of God.

Again, it’s a mistake, and when you look at the stories of Scripture this becomes apparent. Okay, just think of the story of Joseph. Remember all the bad things that happened to Joseph? Every single one of those things that happened to him – he’s thrown into prison, right, he’s sold into slavery by his brothers, he’s thrown into prison, he’s forgotten in prison. Read the story in Genesis 39 and 40. And the refrain through that story is, “But the Lord was with him.” So, throughout this, God is at work, and in fact, at the end of the story, in Genesis chapter 50, when Jacob, his father, is finally dead and the brothers are afraid that the comeuppance is coming now, that Joseph is going to take revenge on them; Joseph says to them, “What you meant for evil, God intended for good”! So, all of the events.

I could give you story after story: Job, Ruth and Naomi, the whole David narratives; I mean, story after story in the Old Testament showing us this truth, that God in his providence is governing not just the good things but the bad things, not just the big things, but the small things. Every aspect of our lives is under the providence of God, we just don’t have eyes to see it.

A few years ago I read a really intriguing story that originally came from a neurosurgeon, a neuroscientist I guess, by the name Oliver Sacks, a British neurologist. He tells a story of a patient that he had, a wonderful older woman who was in his care. She was very smart, she was very articulate, very gifted, had a great sense of humor; but she suffered a massive stroke, and the stroke affected the back region of her brain, and it left her with this really unusual deficit, where she lost the ability to pay attention to anything that was on her left. She could pay attention to things that were on her right, but not on her left.

So, the symptoms of this were things like this: if you set a plate of food in front of her, she would eat everything on the right side of the plate, but nothing on the left, unless they turned the plate around, and then she ate that side. She just had no capacity to focus on the left side of her body, because of this stroke and how that affected her perception.

I read that and I thought, “I think that’s how we are a lot in our lives as Christians.” We pay attention to God on the right, but not on the left. We notice the blessings and we see those as under the hand of God, but we fail to see God in our trials. We see God in the big things, but we don’t see God in the little things. Our spiritual perception is off! It’s as if we’ve suffered a spiritual stroke and we don’t see God’s hand. We make our plans without paying attention to God. We don’t see the providence of God

What James is trying to do here is remind us that our lives function under the will of God and that we should make our plans accordingly. It’s folly to plan without reference to God; it is wisdom to live with God’s providence in view.

III. The Difference This Perspective Makes

That leads us to a third point, the difference that this perspective makes. Let me just give you three things, quickly.

(1) First of all, it helps us to live in humility. If James is correcting our pride and our arrogance and our hubris, what he wants is for us to be humble, right? So I tried to think of a title for this sermon and I just called it Humble Planning.

James is certainly not saying that you shouldn’t plan; in fact, he says in verse 15, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” He still wants us to “do this or that”; he still wants us to live. You live your life, but you do it in the context of God’s will, you do it with a perspective that is governed by the providence of God. You say, “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” He wants there to be a humility rather than boasting in arrogance, as he names it in verse 16.

Do you remember that story in the Old Testament of King Nebuchadnezzar? I mean, here was a man who had the most amount of power in the world that anybody could have at that time. He looks at his kingdom, he surveys his kingdom, and he’s exalted in pride, and do you remember that God humbles him? Do you remember that? God essentially takes away his sanity, where he lives like an animal. Do you remember this? He eats grass like an ox, his body is wet with the dew of heaven, his hair grows out like eagles’ feathers. I mean, that’s the story.

When he finally comes out of it, do you remember what he says? Let me read it to you. “At the end of the days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven and my reason returned to me and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and no one can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Do you know what that is? That’s the voice of humility. That’s a man who’s been humbled in his pride. He’s recognized, “I don’t have control. God has control. God reigns.”

You and I need that same perspective. Sometimes, when our lives don’t go according to plan, we have interruption after interruption after interruption, we have unexpected trial after unexpected trial after unexpected trial, whether big or small; if we respond to it in a God-honoring way, the result is it just humbles us, it just takes out the swagger, kind of deflates our inflated ego.

(2) Here’s the second difference this perspective makes: it clarifies our duty in the present moment.

Verse 17, it almost looks like a tagalong to the passage, doesn’t it? “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” It’s kind of interesting, the way that’s just thrown in there. One reason for that is because this is wisdom literature, and you have a proverbial style, as James is just – he’s probably even collecting some sayings that were common, including that in his letter. But it does connect, because if on one hand he’s seeking to correct the problem of presumption, making plans without reference to God; on the other, he also wants to correct the problems of procrastination and sins of omission, where we know the right way to think and we know the right thing to do, but we don’t do it. So he says if you know the right thing to do and you fail to do it, it’s sin.

This just clarifies, I think, for us what our responsibility is at any given point in our lives. We may not know our future – we don’t – we can make our plans, we don’t know how they’ll turn out. You can’t determine in advance all the things that are going to happen in your future, but you do know what God’s will is for you right now, today.

In fact, Elisabeth Elliott, a wonderful writer that many of you are familiar with, essentially says, “It doesn’t make any sense to pray for guidance about the future if you’re not obeying the things you already know are God’s will right now.” So that raises the question, how do you know what God’s will is?

Well, you know what God’s will is through the Bible, through Scripture. God speaks through his word. So, you may not know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you don’t know what your future’s going to be, you don’t know what the next year is going to hold; but here’s what you can know: you can know exactly what God wants for you today, and you can know that as you study his word. What does he want? He wants you to trust your Father in heaven, he wants you to follow Jesus, he wants you to depend on the Spirit, he wants you to mortify sin, he wants you to pursue holiness, he wants you to love your neighbor, he wants you to serve your local church, he wants you to share the gospel with others; he wants you to care for the needy and the vulnerable.

That’s God’s will. That’s God’s will for you today, no matter what your job is a year from now, no matter who you marry, if you’re single; no matter what happens to your children, your spouse, in the future; no matter which college you choose to go to if you’re a student. God’s will for you today is to follow Jesus and to obey his word. To him to knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

(3) And then, finally, here’s the last thing: this perspective also teaches us to trust in the Lord, to trust in the Lord. James isn’t after only theological correctness here; James wants us to live with an abiding trust in the Lord and in his goodness.

Now, it’s implied in verse 15, and it’s explicit in many, many other passages. Perhaps the most famous one of all is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

What does that mean? It means that in our day-to-day lives we keep our eyes on him, it means that we trust his heart, and it means that we know him. To acknowledge him in all our ways means to know him, it means to be in relationship with him. It means we are seeking his wisdom, it means we are living in gratitude for the ways he has guided us, that we are living in obedience to what he commands, and especially that we are living in trust, because we are confident in his goodness.

How is it that we can be confident in his goodness? The answer to that is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, I think it’s interesting here that James says, “If the Lord wills.” Now, by Lord he may be referring to God, God proper, God the Father; but several times in this letter when he uses the phrase “the Lord” he’s referring to his half-brother, Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and resurrected. He calls himself a “slave of the Lord Jesus Christ” in chapter 1, he refers to Jesus as “the Lord of glory” in chapter 2, and in chapter 5 he talks about “the coming of the Lord,” so he’s looking ahead to the return of Jesus.

So when James says, “If the Lord wills,” it may very well be that he has in mind Jesus himself. If Jesus wills, if the Lord wills. This Jesus is the same Jesus who went to the cross for us.

This is where we get our confidence to live this way. We get our confidence by looking to Jesus, who is the shepherd who not only guides his people, but he’s the shepherd who loved his sheep to the point of giving his life for his sheep, his self-sacrifice on the cross. So we can be confident that God’s will, that the Lord’s will is good for us because he’s already given us the greatest gift of all; he’s given us himself. He’s given us himself. He’s already defeated our greatest enemies, Satan, sin, and death!

I love that wonderful passage from Romans 8:32, “He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The argument is one from the greater to the lesser. If he’s already given us the greatest gift, if he’s given us his own Son, if Christ has given us himself, then surely he will give us all things that are necessary, all things that are truly good for us. Therefore we can trust him.

So we should pray these wonderful words. This comes from St. Patrick in the 5th century, and I’ll close with this. “I will arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me.”

Let’s pray.

Gracious Father, we confess this morning that in our hubris and pride we often do live as practical atheists, that all too often we make our plans without reference to you, and then we are either disappointed or disillusioned when things don’t go according to plan. These circumstances remind us that we live under your eye and under your will, that you are the one who reigns, that you have control and we do not.

So we humble ourselves this morning, we submit our lives to you, we submit our plans to you. We humbly ask you for wisdom as we make plans, we ask for blessing on the plans we make, we ask for grace for the trials we encounter, and especially we ask for a deep and abiding confidence in your sovereign goodness, in your providence, as we consider the teaching of your word and as we consider the grace that you have shown us in Jesus Christ your Son.

Father, your word teaches us that you are a shepherd and that as a shepherd you guide your people, you care for us. Part of that care is feeding us, it’s nourishing us with everything we need. As we come to the table this morning, may we be reminded of that, that in Jesus Christ we are given the bread of life, and that means eternal life, but it also means the ongoing sustaining and satisfaction of our deepest heart needs.

So as we come to the table this morning we come not just to eat the bread and the juice, but we come to feast on Christ, the living bread. We come to turn our hearts away from poor substitutes in this world, the bread that does not satisfy, and to feast ourselves on your goodness and on your grace given to us in your Son. So meet with us now as we gather around your table. We pray it in Jesus’s name, Amen.