Avoiding future mistakes


James 4:13-17


Intro: In 1899, Charles H. Duell, Commissioner in the U.S. Office of Patents said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Since then, the world has witnessed the advent of airplanes, automobiles, manned space travel, plastics, computers, cell phones, and literally millions of other devices and products that we use and take for granted every day.  I guess Mr. Duell just couldn’t see too far into the future.

In 1988, a book was distributed to nearly every pastor in America.  It’s title was: “88 Reasons Why Christ Will Return In 1988.”  In that book, the author, Edgar Whisnant, predicted that the rapture would take place on Sept. 11, 12, or 13th of 1988.  Many people believed the prediction. Trinity Broadcasting Network even went so far as to change their regular schedule and broadcasted selected videotapes telling non-believers what they should do if their loved ones suddenly disappeared.  Over 3,000,000 million copies of that book were distributed, millions more believed it, yet it never came to pass.  I suppose Mr. Whisnant couldn’t see too far into the future either.

In truth, man just doesn’t know what the future holds.  People spend millions of dollars per year calling psychics and visiting palm readers to no avail.  They still don’t know any more than they did.  By the way, did this thought ever occur to you: If those psychics know so much about the future; why don’t they know you are going to call, and why don’t they call you first?  We are able to look backward fairly clearly on the past, but we cannot look forward into the future at all.

To my mind, it is a great blessing to know that God has veiled the future.  If we were able to see it, then our lives would be altered.  If we knew that prosperity was coming, we would live carelessly.  If we knew that adversity or trouble was the forecast, then we would live with constant anxiety and fear.  Man would die a thousand deaths before his physical death ever arrived.

Certainly, God is good to keep the future a secret.  James deals with this idea in these verses.  He tells his readers that even though they cannot know the future, they should deal with it honestly.  They are told not to presume on a future which they can not control, or makes plans regarding the future without taking God into consideration.  They are also told not to postpone until the future those things God has commanded to be done today.

There were three mistakes being made by these early believers that many in our day still make.  I would like to share these three mistakes with you in an effort to prevent us from falling into the same trap into which these folks fell.  I would like for us to look into these verses together for a few minutes as I preach on the thought: Avoiding Future Mistakes.


  2. James’ readers were guilty of indifference toward the brethren, 4:1-10. Now they are said to be indifferent toward God.  He was ignored in their planning.  This is a form of worldliness!  Nothing is wrong with planning for the future, but it is a sin to leave God out of the planning process!
  3. Here is their plan! (Ill. “Come now!” – Implies a sense of urgency.)
  4. The Plan Is Constructed – Today or Tomorrow.
  5. The Place Is Chosen – He is going to go, get in on the ground floor and make his fortune.
  6. The Period Is Calculated – They would need only a year to succeed.
  7. Their Purpose Is Considered – “Buy and sell” They are going retail!
  8. Their Profit Is Computed – “Get gain” This became their focus! Putting our treasure in the wrong world is a sure road to disaster.  When we begin to love gold more than God, we are on shaky ground!
  9. Their problem was two-fold:
  10. They lived their lives with no regard for God’s will.
  11. They planned their future with no regard for God’s will.

Simply stated, many people live their lives as if God did not even exist!


(Note: One of the best known atheists in American history was a woman named Madelyn Murray O’Hair.  She was responsible for prayer being removed from the public schools in this country.  Miss O’Hair, along with her son and granddaughter were murdered for their money some years ago.  But, during her life she was famous because she was an atheist.  She said that she did not believe in God. She was an intellectual atheist, she said, “I do not believe that God exists.”  You may recall many years ago now when the first Russian Cosmonauts went into space and returned.  Listen to what one of them said when he returned from his journey in outer space, “Some people say there is a God out there, but in my travels around earth all day long I looked around and I didn’t see him.     I saw no God, nor angels, I don’t believe in God.

Well, if he’d stepped out of that capsule he’d have seen God within five seconds and he would have known that there was a God!  But, he was an intellectual atheist, he said, “I do not believe that there is a God.

Did you know that there is another kind of atheist?  And, did you know that some are sitting on these pews today?  You see, an intellectual atheist says, “I do not believe that there is a God.”  They are honest, and while I disagree with them, I can respect an honest person.  The other kind of atheist is called a “practical atheist.”  While an intellectual atheist says there is no God; a practical atheist knows there is a God, but lives as if He does not exist.

Not one person in this room is an atheist.  Everyone here believes that there is a God and you are here to honor that fact.  However, is it not safe to say that many are living their lives as if there was no God?  Is it not safe to say that many here are doing as they please; living as if God did not exist; making plans and living life with no regard for the Lord’s will?  If you fall into that category, you are a practical atheist.  You may believe in God, but you live as if He does not matter!  My friend that is a dangerous way to live your life!  You will get into trouble if you continue to follow that path!

God has a wonderful plan for your life.  And, as His child, your first consideration ought to be, “What would God have me do with my life?  What is the Lord’s will in this situation?”  The thought mentioned in verse 15 is worthy of note.  All of the future is in the hand of the Lord.  Your best course of action in this life is to find the Lord’s will for your life and follow it to the letter.  You will find the Lord’s will by submitting to Him, Rom. 12:1-2.)


(Note: When we fail to acknowledge God and His leadership for our future, we are living in pride.  We must do nothing, plan nothing and attempt to bring nothing to pass without first seeking the Lord’s will in the matter.  What I want is immaterial.  What God wants is material.  For what I want may never come to pass, but what He wants will always be done. Whatever we do, we need to be sure that God’s goals are our goals and that we always maintain a proper view of the future.  Have you been guilty of these things?  Planning and leaving God out?  Let’s not be guilty of the sin of pride and presumption.  But, rather, let us learn to trust the Lord and submit to His will for our lives. We must never leave God out of our planning.)


  2. They Failed To Grasp The Complexity Of Life – They counted on too many things going just the right way. Life is filled with too many variables. How could they know what the future held?  How can we believe that we do? (Ill. Notice their “I will’s” – This was the main characteristic of Satan’s rebellion – Isa. 14:13-15.)


(Ill. Some time ago, a Senate Sub-committee made the following predictions: Men will be working 22 hour weeks, 27 weeks per year and will retire by age 38.  This was predicted in 1967, for the future.  The year all this was to happen?  1985!  They certainly did miss that one!)  The fact is no one can know what will happen!


  1. They Failed To Grasp The Uncertainties Of Life – (Ill. Their statements in v. 13 – These people seem so certain regarding what is going to happen.) Nobody knows what curve life will throw you tomorrow. (Death, illness, accident or injury, etc.) (Ill. V. 15-16  All of life is subject to God’s will, not mine or yours!  The future is best left in His hands.  People ignore God when they make their plans because they are afraid that God will get in the way – Ill. Matt. 6:31-33. And, He will! People would do well to remember that even with our best laid plans, our lives, our futures and all that we have and are, are in the hands of Almighty God.  Only He knows what the future holds.  Therefore, the advice given in verses 15 is of note.  The phrase “If the Lord wills…” should be more than a catch word with believers.  It should be a way of life!


(Ill. When Napoleon Bonaparte mentioned to a friend his plans to invade Russia, the man tried to dissuade him by warning, “Man proposes, but God disposes.” Napoleon replied, “I dispose as well as propose.” The arrogant move of Napoleon was ultimately the turning point of his own downfall. He learned that while man may propose his plans, only God could bring them to fruition. So man must bow the stubbornness of his heart to the wisdom and might of the divine will.)


  1. They Failed To Grasp The Brevity Of Life – At its very best, life is terribly short. How could these people know whether or not they would be alive tomorrow, much less next year?  Death is coming and it comes suddenly and unannounced!
  2. 1 Chron. 29:15, “For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.”
  3. Job 7:6, “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and are spent without hope.”
  4. Job 8:9, “(For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow:)”
  5. Job 9:25-26, “Now my days are swifter than a post: they flee away, they see no good. They are passed away as the swift ships: as the eagle that hasteth to the prey.”
  6. Job 14:1-2, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.”
  7. Psa. 39:4-5, “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah.”
  8. Psa. 103:15-16, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”


      (Ill. The Rich Farmer – Luke 12:19 – His mistake?  He planned his future without God.  He presumed on years that he had not seen!)



  1. Procrastination is nothing new. There are a couple of notable examples in the Old Testament times:

1.)  Pharaoh – Ex. 8:10

2.)  Belshazzar – Dan. 5:1-31

  1. If we know that the end of life is coming, and if we know that it may come sooner than later, we are fools if we do not prepare. There are two areas of life where this is vitally important.
  2. The matter of salvation2 Cor. 6:2; Pro. 27:1 – The pits of Hell are filled with men and women who said, “I’ll do it later.”  The problem with that is the fact that later may never come! (Ill. Felix and his procrastination – Acts 24:24-27.)


(Ill. A certain king sent for his court jester one day and presented him with a stick.  He said, “Take this stick and keep it until you find a bigger fool than yourself.”  When he was lying on his deathbed, the king once again sent for his jester.  “I am going away,” the king said.  “Where?” asked the jester.  “to another country,” replied the king.  “What provisions has your majesty made for this journey and for living in the country whither thou goest?”  the jester asked.  “None,” was the answer.  The jester handed the stick to the king. “Take it,” he said.  “I have finally found a bigger fool than myself, for I only trifle with the things of time while you have trifled with the things of eternity.”


  1. The matter of service – When we put off what we know we ought to do, in the Lord’s work, it is sin!  It is the sin of omission.  There is a price to pay for this sin – Luke 12:47-48.  There are some very important areas where we need to act and act today:
  2. We are to obey God’s commands – The time to live for Jesus is now! A better day and more opportune time may never present itself.  The time to witness, to preach, the worship, to go in His name is now. (Ill. The time to work is now, John 9:4.  The time to do good is now – Pro. 3:27-28.)
  3. We are to surrender to God’s will – Where are the Isaiah’s who will hear the call of God and say, “Here am I; send me”? The time to serve Him is now.  The time to go all out for Jesus is now.
  4. Tomorrow may never come. What a tragedy it would be to have to face God with unfinished business hanging over our heads!


Conc: In one of his sermons George W. Truett, long time Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX, gave his testimony of his first efforts to win a friend to Christ.  They were in a revival meeting and the preacher was coming over to the school every day and speaking.  And he had a friend named Jim, and he and Jim went to the services one night and George Truett, just a young Christian, didn’t know how to witness or anything, but he had a burden for his friend, so he said to his friend Jim, “Jim, let’s go tonight.”  He said, “I’ll walk down the aisle with you.”  He said, “Jim, give your life to Christ tonight.” And Jim said, “I can’t do it tonight, George.  Let me off tonight.  If I still feel this way I’ll do it tomorrow night, but let me off tonight, George.”  George Truett said he went to school the next day and Jim wasn’t there.  He said he didn’t think a whole lot about it, went to school the next day and Jim was not there again, so he went over to Jim’s house, and when he got over there Jim’s mother said to him, “Haven’t you heard?

And to make a long story short, what happened is that Jim had become seriously, seriously sick with fever and with pneumonia, so George talked the mother into letting him stay there on through the afternoon and on into the night.  And late that night, in a delirium, Jim began to speak and here’s what Jim was saying in his delirium, he was saying, “Not tonight, George.  Let me off.  If I feel this way tomorrow night I’ll do it tomorrow night, but let me off tonight, George.”  And that’s the way he went out to meet God.  You don’t know what you’ll be on the morrow, your life is a vapor, it appears for a little while and it’s gone.   What have you been putting off in your life?  Have you been putting off serving the Lord?  Make up your mind to do it today!  Have you been putting off coming to Jesus for salvation?  Get to Him today, tomorrow may never come!


“The saddest words of tongue or pen,

are these four, “It might have been!”