First things first: Renewing your plan

James 4:13-17 – “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

By tomorrow we would have gone through the first month of 2021. It is quite scary if you think about how time flies before we even know it. Every time the year begins, it is kind of a custom to put together a plan for a year ahead. So, it is not too late if you haven’t done anything so far, at least you still have 11 months to go.

Based on what we read just now, if you have guessed in the next 60 minutes that I am going to talk about “Planning”, you are right but, it is not refer to what we would normally expect. I really hope we can learn something about how we should plan our life moving forward such that it progresses in the right way.

Going through 2020 was a heck of experience for all of us. If we are present now, there is lots to be thankful and grateful for. As we speak, 100M people are infected in the world by the virus and more than 2M people have died. I remember how Joe Biden said in his presidential debate, “250K people are missing from their lounge room or not at their dinner table today”. Back in Nov 2020, 250K people in US have died and as we speak, the number is around 410K.

Going through 2020 has definitely changed our perspective on:

  • What are the most important things and valued in our life? Our health, family, relationship, work, etc.
  • How do we prioritise our life moving forward?
  • How do we prepare if this unfortunate event happens again?
  • But most importantly that I believe most of us might forget to ask is, why this happened in the first place?

I like to be interactive in my sermons. Let me ask a question to this audience. How many of you have thought and put together a plan for 2021? I can understand after 2020, some of us will think, heh… what’s the point? All my plans in 2020 were thrown out of the window so, better just flow with the wind.

But, hear me out here! That’s the whole point, this year 2021, you get to start from clean slate and even better, after this sermon you will have better understanding to put together a plan not only will work for you but also makes God happy.

Just imagine if you are to present your new plan to God in the boardroom. As you walk in, He stares at you with his warm and lovely eyes but at the same time pierce through your soul. And with his bass voice He says, “Good that we agreed to scrap your 2020 plan otherwise, you will not receive any salary increase, bonus and left alone working in this company anymore” 

I want an honest answer from you, and with that I mean, you are not giving me an answer just because you are at church now and listening to this sermon. If I can summarise, most of the audience will say:

  • Future plan on your health, save more money, work, study, relationship

In fact, a survey conducted on 1,000 in US came back with this result –

I can’t find similar survey conducted in Australia, unfortunately. However, there is an article in that shows:

  • Find gratitude in the little things
  • Appreciated loved ones near or far
  • Prepare for rainy days
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy
  • Take time to forge genuine connections

Source –

From your responses and the surveys, it is fair to say that “Financial stability and longevity” is considered as one of the important plans. Almost one million Australians lost their job as a result of COVID-19. People are struggling with their mortgage, day to day cost of living, their retirement planning, etc.

Given what we understand so far, let me ask few more questions:

  • How many people in this place know roughly how much their expenses cost in a month?
  • How many people in this place believe they have enough savings in the bank in case of emergency?
  • How many people in this place believe they have enough insurance to cover and protect their family or loved ones?

Based on the latest survey, Australian has been better in term of their savings in the bank –

But is that enough? The rule of thumb for emergency savings is about 3-6 months of your monthly expenses, personally, I would go for 6 months. On the Insurance side, 80% of Australians are under-insured.

So after all we have gone through in 2020, why do most of us still not know what to do? I believe the answer to that is deeper than we think. Some of us will probably say, it is about discipline, habits, financial literacy or not enough money to save, etc.

I don’t disagree with all the answers but, from my perspective the underlying reasons:

  • We deeply believe every morning our life will resume as normal, pretty much BAU
  • We also believe that we are somehow immune (that in the end everything will be ‘okay’) from all the problems that have occurred around us. Even though we say, we need to be vigilant, need to be careful, no one is immune but somehow, we don’t believe what we say
  • Let say, we entertain the thought that we are impacted with these problems, we believe we should be able to go through this and come out okay especially this group because based on your age bracket, you are not a high risk group

All of these reasons above shows us that in the depths of our heart, we strongly believe in our ability and capability to manage our life and circumstances in the absence of God.

What we want to learn in the next 30 minutes from James 4:13-17

  1. Why do we believe we can manage our life without God?
  2. What does James offer in terms of the solution?
  1. Why do we believe we can manage our life without God?

We read about James 14:13-17 just now. What is our impression of these verses?

  • Vs 13-14: the verses tell us that we are not capable to predict what will happen in our future
  • Vs 15 – God determines our success and future – God willing
  • Vs 16 – our heart are filled with arrogance but, this is not for me
  • Vs 17 – See, I told you to do the right thing!


When you read the passage in a glance, there are a few potential meanings:

  • Don’t plan too much, don’t think too far ahead. There is no guarantee your plan will work because it all depends on God. Just enjoy your life as your life will disappear before you know it like a mist.
  • Let’s make a plan, align our heart (not to be arrogant) with God so our plan is according to His will. Yes, He is the only one will give us the success however, our plan, commitment and hard work are valuable too.

Let’s go through each verse:

Verse 13

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money”

The verse stars with “Now listen, you who say”. This does not sound overly friendly, does it? It is a stern warning towards the audience. Why?

Throughout the book, James has warned his audience which were fellow Christians not to speak evil towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. This included gossiping or try to defame each other. From James’ point of view, the act of speaking evil, defaming or talking down is to prove that the person feels more superior compared to the others. This is a sin that not only breaches truth but is also a breach of love and humility.

That’s why James said in Chapter 4 and 5, “who we are?” meaning, why do you think that you are better than others?

This verse in modern terms, is called a “Business Strategic Planning” statement. Why?

  • Destination – City
  • Timeframe – today or tomorrow
  • Activity – Carry on business
  • Financial – make money

From a planning point of view, this is right and ticks all the boxes. Most of us in here are professional and are used to this kind of planning. Prior to COVID-19, there is a day called “strategic day” whereby, people are locked in the room or offsite to discuss and put together a plan for the upcoming year.

I like to plan my day and am filled with some kind of satisfaction if I can go through my checklist every day and tick all the tasks that I need to complete. More ticks equal more satisfaction.  So, was James against any sort of business planning? Let’s see what Jesus says about planning.

Luke 14: 28-32

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace

It is quite obvious from what we read that Jesus is not against any good planning and therefore, it is safe to say that James is also not against planning.

Verse 14

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”

This verse is here to remind us how fragile our life is. James used the word “mist” to show how easily we can disappear from the world we are living in. One thing we can learn from COVID is how easily life can change in a split second.

As we mentioned above, somehow we deeply believe, regardless what will happen, everything will be end up okay. Once we finish from this service, most people will go for dinner, some of us might talk about what we learn tonight then, night comes, go to bed and tomorrow will be another day. What James wanted us to reflect upon:

  • What happens if today is your last day without you knowing it?
  • Would you do things, think, speak or treat people differently?
  • Would you plan your life differently?
  • Would you look at your relationship differently?
  • Would you still worry about immaterial (I think should change; do u mean petty) things, arguments, fights, etc. over knowing that you might not be here tomorrow?


If today happens to be human being’s last day on earth (not only you, me or us) then, regardless your wealth, position, achievements, fame or power, we are all the same nothing matters anymore. No one will be left to remember all the things we did or have achieved!!


  • The more important question is: Why does our heart act the way it is?

Bible records a list of events that if we trace it back to the root cause, shows us how human beings tried many times to be independent from God:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Tower of Babel, and
  • The worst rebellious human act that has ever been recorded, when we hung Jesus on the cross. And they said, “Let the blood be upon us”!

It is because of our heart’s sinful nature that we strive to be independent from God. Somewhere in our heart, we believe in our strength and ability to control our life and be independence from God.

In other words, we don’t want to lose control of:

  • Decisions on how we plan our future

Because we might not like God’s future plan for us

  • Decisions on how we use our financial wealth

Because we believe we deserve to spend the money we earn

  • Decisions on how we conduct our life

Because we know what is best for our life

So, if our heart is the root cause, what should we do?


  1. What does James offer in terms of the solution?


Verse 15

“Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”


This is the answer to the root cause. James reminded us that there is a Person who has full authority on our life. As a human being we value our life based on the world’s standard, how rich, how handsome, how successful, how powerful, etc. but if today is the last day of the human race then regardless of all your achievements, no one will be left to remember anything.

However, if we value our life based on what God sees in us then it will be a different story because, the world and its contents can perish but God is forever. What does that mean?

The plan, goals, all the efforts and all the achievements are not focused on what we can see now. Yes, definitely we will still be around for 80-100 years in this world but that is not our final destination. The world is an interim place for us to plan, build and deliver all the things that we will see and enjoy after it is gone. ETERNITY

That’s why Repentance is equivalent to a change in paradigm, change in your desire, change in way of planning, change in a way of seeing things through this world.

If you ever heard about Financial Planning Roadmap then probably you might have seen this graph before:

There is nothing wrong with planning your life. I have been working in the wealth industry for almost 20 years and I can tell you that Financial Planning is critical in our life. What we learn here is not about planning but the underlying reasons aspects that we need to reflect upon, such as:

  • Short term or long term
  • Worldly or heavenly

Colossian 3:1-4:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”

We also need to mean it when we say “God willing” and not say it as only a lip service. The easy example for this:

  • When we write “GBU” or “Pray for you with praying emoji”


Verse 16-17

16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then,

knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

The word “Boast” is used quite often by Paul in his writings but have a different context

compared to James. Paul used the word boast in a positive way, for example boast in Christ, boast in my weakness…

James is quite blunt in his message. He saw a group of Jewish successful people who were boasting their own planning and how they would make money. I believe in our walk of life we can identify few people that match James’ criteria as “boasting in your arrogant scheme”. In particular, the last 4 years we saw that a lot in American politics 

What is hard to identify is this behaviour amongst Christ believers! We are a bunch of smart people who know that boasting or being arrogant is not a good trait and we tend to do it in very subtle ways.

Ways in which individuals can boast without knowing it:

  • People who plan meticulously and are quite risk adverse, why?
  • Because this type of people will go through all scenarios, risk, impact and
  • Put together the mitigation plans to avoid the failure


He or she will bring it to God and ask for His rubber stamp of approval. This is considered a smart move because if the plan fails, then he or she can conveniently lay the blame on God who has supposedly ‘approved’ the plan. It is called the ‘Risk transfer strategy’.

If you are now wondering whether you fall into this category then, I can help you with another test:

  • Over confidence
  • Under confidence

How can we end up being like this?

The simple answer is, our sinful heart and lack of repentance!

Most of us will respond, “of course, I know that” but can you find another answer that does not involve me?

The culture

Most of us who have lived long enough in Australia must have heard of the phrase “You can be whatever you want to be” or “Everybody is a winner”. Both statements sound right but if we say these in a misleading context then it will give a completely different perspective:

  • Young generation who grows up being told that they can do anything they want, depending on the culture and value of their family, may have an incorrect perspective or understanding of who he/she is, their values and what is the real meaning of success
  • They can take success as the whole 100% of their hard work outcome (without any intervention or independence of God)
  • On the other hand, failure will completely destroy their image or self-confidence and most likely they will find someone else to blame. This is could be the reason why we see that the “I will sue you” culture is extremely prevalent in western countries

There are other factors that determine your success that are beyond your control:

  • Time
  • Family value and culture
  • Opportunities
  • Race

We and the next generation need to deeply experience the existence of God in our daily life and start to involve Him in our short and long term plan. We, through our hard work may achieve all our goals but without God in it then, it will be empty as we will continue to be unsatisfied, and keep planning to conquer our next target.

What do we need to do then or where do we start?

If we expect me to provide you with 3, 5 or 7 points then I have to disappoint you. Let me explain why.

How many people in this place have the experience to put together a plan? It could be work related, ministry related or family/relationship related. If you do, then you know communication and relationship are important to build a successful plan. Yes, off course, critical thinking, prioritisation, resource planning, etc. are also important.

What I am trying to say here, that knowing your key stakeholders and able to communicate well are critical. By knowing the stakeholders, you are able to know what are their preferences, risk appetite, strategic thinking, etc.

To be able to prepare a good plan in our life then, we need to know our project sponsor which is God and well therefore, sorry to say, there is no shortcut. Building our relationship with Him through our daily encounter with Holy Spirit will give us more awareness of what He wants in our life.

There are a few things that we can use to cross check our plan today:

  • Self-Interest
  • Self-Possessed
  • Self-Gratification

Lastly, James said that if you know all these are good but you don’t comply with it, we are sinning against Him. I know it sounds like a threat. Without knowing it, we have been neglecting the desires of God and thus have been sinning.

Some example:

  • Wearing a mask and social distancing – if we know this is the right thing to do then we should do it or otherwise we or our family will face the consequences
  • Pay your tithe and tax – they are right things to do

What have we learned so far:

  • Our sinful nature will always drive our thoughts and actions away from God
  • James used “business planning” as an example to remind us on:
    • What is our motivation in life?
    • What is the meaning of our life?
    • The root cause is our arrogance and want to be independent of God

Finally, my closing statement:

The last 3.5 years of Jesus’ life, he executed the plan that His father had put together since the beginning of time. Do you think He liked the plan? He supported the plan but did not necessarily like it. But, you say, Jesus completed the plan. Exactly, that’s the whole point. He completed the plan regardless.

Let me ask you; Didn’t Jesus know that as part of the grand plan:

  • He would be betrayed by His disciples and the very people that He tried to save?
  • He would need to endure all the pain of being flogged?
  • He was to be hung on the cross? and the most painful
  • He was to be separated from His Father?

The answer – He did. Did he like being separated from his Father? No, which is why he said the famous line: “Let the cup pass me but not according to my will but your will”

My point is, Jesus had every right to alter, change, reject or decline His father’s plan. He knew that the plan consisted of him being crucified and chose to humble himself, leaving His Godly attributes to come down as a human. It is through his obedience as a servant that he died on the cross. God’s plan would have not succeeded if Jesus did not humble Himself. (Phil 2:5-11)

So, when we find ourselves being prideful, or trying to be self-sufficient and independent from God, we remember the one Person who humbled Himself and gave up everything for us, so that we can not only enjoy our retirement planning in this world but also eternity planning with Him.

Let’s humble ourselves through our daily encounters with Him, and His wisdom and love will guide us to the right path.

We are here because we have benefited from Jesus’ act of humbling himself and fulfilling God’s plan. With our sins forgiven and minds renewed, our heart is restored. The old is gone and the new creation is here.

Pride will only let you tap into humankind’s limited abilities but humility, will open the unlimited power and resources of God into your life and thus enable you to live according to His plan.

Discussion questions:

  1. Explain both the difficulties and the necessities of planning.
  2. In your own words, why do you think we often neglect God in our planning?
  3. Why is it very hard to trust God with our plans? Share your experience.
  4. In the light of the sermon, how should we make plans? Give concrete examples.
  5. How does the gospel enable us to plan wisely?
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