“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…. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” So wrote James (4:13–15), a long time ago. And yet, O how relevant!
For the past couple of weeks, I was supposed to be in the States attending two conferences, preaching several times at a church, and then visiting my mom before returning home. But, obviously, I am not. In spite of a lot of logistical planning, clearly, I did not know what tomorrow would bring.
Deo Volente, the Latin phrase meaning “God willing” or “God permitting” describes the attitude that should always attend our planning. It’s the attitude James exhorts and God expects. Though we make our best laid plans, at the end of the day, it is God’s day. Therefore, every rotation of the earth should be met with the attitude of the psalmist: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Easier said than done, right? That is certainly been my experience. As Edwin recently pointed out, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9) and, later, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (16:33). Yes, even the winners, and the many losers, of Lotto are ordained by God. He permits and he prohibits.
I like a well-ordered life. I plan my plan and then I work my plan. And sometimes God says, “Surprise!” as I watch my plans go the way of most lottery tickets. I don’t get what I bargained for. Like now.
Forty-eight days into lockdown and I am learning (note: learning, not learned) to be content with God’s ordering of the world. I’m learning to be content with God’s ordering of this, his world. I am learning something of what it means to live Deo Volente. I hope and pray that you are as well.
I don’t know about you, but some days I am a better student than on other days. Some days I feel like God gives me a pop quiz to test my grasp of Deo Volente; to test my ability to joyfully trust him and be glad in the day he has ordered. He does so by disrupting my finances, or by disrupting my sermon prep, or by some crisis in the congregation, or by some issue in my home that needs to be attended to. (Why is it that pipes leak when the hardware is closed?) I have done really well with some of these, and with others, well, not so much. But still, I am learning. And God keeps re-examining me.
The people to whom James wrote were facing very, very trying times. They were in the last days of the old covenant era (5:3). Things were heating up in society and the church was receiving the brunt of the exhaust. Many were living hand to mouth and day to day wondering if they would see another day. James counsels them to live day by day, trusting in the sovereign Lord, who gives the grace we need to face what he has ordained for our life (4:6–8a).
Brothers and sisters, let’s work on living Deo Volente, and let’s remind one another of this wonderful truth. By all means, make your plans, but let’s learn to embrace the liberating truth: “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” His will is always best. Therefore, every day, we can rejoice and be glad in that.
Growing with you,