Rev. Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor

I’ve had the privilege of having pastored for just over 30 years, and have served the Lord in various capacities for another 20 years. In those 50 years of walking with the Lord, our Heavenly Father has blessed me with rare, unique glimpses of His operation in peoples’ lives. One of those occurred as a result of the preaching of this message.

The year was 1991, and I was in my first pastorate in a small country church in Beaver Meadow, NY. I was in my fifth year of ministry there. My congregation was mostly elderly – but little did I know we would have a major revival within 2 years. The revival was so great that an addition would need to be built, an addition which included this small church’s first WELL, first running WATER, and first BATHROOM! Pretty exciting for an 125 year old church!

The message, from James 4:13-15, was from a series of messages through this exciting book of the New Testament. Nearing the end of James’ book, it is apparent that he was now making practical applications of his earlier teaching. This is the entire text:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”

The gist of the message was simple: It is possible to be a born again Christian yet live a theology which does not include a practical application of the Word of God.

The old salts used to say, “you live like a Christian on Sunday, yet live for the devil the rest of the week.” Thus we know you say you are saved on Sunday, but you make like it looks like God doesn’t have a vital part of the rest of your week.

That reminds me of the church in which the pastor and the deacon each had two parrots. The pastor was besides himself because all his two parrots would squawk was “let’s kiss, let’s kiss!”. One day while going by his parrots’ cages, the deacon overheard them saying, “let’s pray, let’s pray!”. The deacon wisely observed, “at last, my prayers are answered!”. He had parrots which understood practical Christian living!

In verse 13 the writer was giving an illustration of two people who were talking about business. They should have read Romans 12:11: “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord…”. “Not slothful in business” means “not to lag, not to be lazy”. The apostle Paul in Romans is reminding his readers that where the Lord wisely planted each one, the Lord Himself wanted them to be used. Works for us today! Not ALL servants are very visible like pastors or missionaries. Some servants for Jesus are laborers in business!

So when we get to verse 13 of James, do you notice something missing? “Today, tomorrow, we will go…we will buy and sell…we will make a profit”. What is missing??? There is NO mention of the Lord. This business here is NOT based upon Biblical Christianity! No, no! It is practical theism – a “religiousness” without the inclusion of God in its operation! The business men might have been REALLY NICE GUYS! They might have been HONEST IN BUSINESS! And…they may have understood all the theologies of the church. But their practical Christian living was ZERO. They may have been in church on Sunday, but they had no use for the Lord in the businesses in which they earned their keep.

In verse 14, James reminds his readers that tomorrow has no guarantees. A friend posts a picture on Facebook of his being with his grandchildren. Wonderful picture! The next day the unvaccinated grandfather displays symptoms of Covid-19. And the following day? His wife finds him on the couch, no longer a resident of this world. Tomorrow has no guarantees.

In fact, James says that our lives are but a vapor. Poof! Throughout Ecclesiastes is the illustration of blowing a bubble which is here for the moment then…POOF it is gone, “vanity…grasping for the wind.” Elsewhere it is illustrated:

 For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life

which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:12

Do not boast about tomorrow,
For you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Proverbs 27:1

And from our Savior and the man who, without any looking to his Lord, made plans to expand his business:

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you;

then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

Luke 12:20

Then there is the story of William Henley, who lived from 1849-1903. The online tool Wikipedia has many interesting tidbits about him. He lived in England during its late Victorian period. He was one-legged, an inspiration for the character “Long John Silver” in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. His young daughter Margaret in her own right became the choice of the name “Wendy” for J. M. Barrie’s heroine in Peter Pan.

In 1875 Mr. Henley wrote his time-treasured poem, Invictus. This work has a classic line which has been the mantra either in word or in practice for many who live their lives as if God does not need to be involved. From Mr. Henley Invictus:

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul!”

What does the Scriptures have to say about this? In verse 15 of our text, James writes “you ought to say, “If the Lord wills…”. Elsewhere we have huge practical directions:

“…took leave of them, saying, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing

Acts 18:21 [my emphasis]

“…But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills…”

1 Corinthians 4:19b [my emphasis]

The old Latin salts had a common saying which, unfortunately, has been lost down through the ages. The saying was “Deo Volente”, a forgotten rule which was properly translated, “The Lord wills”, or, better, “God willing”. On paper it is wonderfully shortened to “D.V.”.

This reminds me of the story of the conversation between a girl and her pastor:

Nancy: “Pastor, I’m 30 and still not married. Will I ever find an husband?”

Pastor: “God has a plan. One man for one woman, one woman for one man.

You can’t improve on God’s plan.”

Nancy: “I don’t want to improve on it. I want to get in on it!”

As we close, we should become familiar with Psalm 37 which is loaded with truths about practical Biblical Christianity – even in the Old Testament! Listen to the wisdom of Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

And how was the wisdom of this passage applied in our church? Well, the then 80 year old realized that his life was not being lived in a way in which Scripture was visible on a daily basis. So from that Sunday on, whenever a decision had to be voiced, old Jim could be heard with what became his pet saying, “If the Good Lord wills”!

How about you? Examine your “practical Christian living”. Do you live for the Lord Jesus on Sunday, but have no visible use for Him throughout the week? OR when you look at the activities of each day of your week, can the Savior be seen in all your plans?

Just remember old Jim: “If the Good Lord wills”!