I recently talked with a young woman who is as intensely focused on her career goal as anybody I’ve ever met. She has a very specific objective (quite big), and she is pursuing the accomplishment of that goal with intelligence, skill, passion, commitment, and hard work. “I am GOING to do this,” she said, and there was not a trace of doubt in either her voice or the look in her eyes. I’ve never seen a person with more drive.
This young woman has put all of her eggs in this one earthly basket. She has invested so much of herself in this goal that if she should not make it, I wonder if she could handle it emotionally. When I asked her about that, she laughed. “I don’t consider failure a possibility,” she said. “Contingency plans are for wimps.”
As a Christian, I couldn’t help but think of James 4:13–15: “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’ — 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.’ ”
Those of us who are familiar with that verse try to have a better attitude about our earthly plans than this young woman, don’t we? We’ve trained ourselves to say “If the Lord wills” at the end of any sentence that contains a statement of our plans. But do we realize what we are saying? Do we really believe that our plans are contingent on the Lord’s will?
I am studying Ecclesiastes right now in my private Bible study, and I have been more strongly impressed than ever before with Solomon’s realistic admission that we are not in control of what happens in this world. We don’t KNOW what is going to happen, and we can’t CONTROL what happens. To try to do either one — know the future or control it — is as futile as trying to “shepherd the wind.”
“Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11). That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans or that we shouldn’t pursue our plans enthusiastically. But it does mean that after we’ve done everything we are capable of doing, our plans still may not materialize. Even when we’ve done everything exactly right, the Lord may keep us from reaching our objective. He may have other (and better) plans.
Anytime you and I reach a goal that we’ve been pursuing and things turn out as we wanted them to, that only happened because God ALLOWED it to happen! Nothing happens except by the Lord’s permission, and in our case, He might just as easily have withheld His permission. We could have done all the same things and if He had chosen to do so, God could have brought about a very different result.
So let’s understand that our plans really are CONTINGENT on whether the Lord allows us to complete them, and on those occasions when we HAVE completed them, let’s be very careful in talking about what “we” did. The truth of the matter is, we reached the result only because the Lord allowed it to happen!