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Reflections: The Lord willing' and the creeks don't rise

My First5 study of the book of James has prompted serious thought about the practicalities of Christian living, including James 4:15, which says, “. . . You ought to say, ‘If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that” (BSB).  


In context, James may have originally been addressing believers who traveled for business to different cities throughout the Roman empire, gathering wares to sell or marketing their own products, as he refers to “spending a year, carrying on business, making a profit.” Unlike today, where business is easily conducted online and necessary travel is usually by airplane, these trips involved significant time on the road and often many months spent in the different location. Such travel was not without risk, both financially and in terms of thieves, shipwreck and other concerns.


Clearly, though, James is not saying believers should not make plans to support themselves and their families and be generous; there is much in the Bible about the importance of preparing, planting crops, calculating costs, and sharing with those in need. Rather, he seems to be telling his readers to hold their plans loosely because they don’t know what might happen. The important thing is to develop life principles focused on relationship with God and commitment to His plans and purposes. Jesus expressed this in Matthew 6:33, in the context of food, clothing and other practical needs: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”


From as far back as I can remember until he passed from this life in 2021, my dad prefaced almost every statement of future plans with “the Lord willing.” This was true whether said plans were for the next day or the next year: “The Lord willing, we’ll be there for Luke’s birthday on Saturday.” “The Lord willing, we’ll to drive over to the Leslie Homecoming next week.” “The Lord willing, I’ll stop by and help you with that on my way home from work.” “The Lord willing, we’ll return to the Ozarks when we retire.”


As a teen and young adult, I was genuinely puzzled by such statements. Why wouldn’t the Lord be willing for him to see his grandkids, enjoy a community celebration, earn a living, or help a friend with a household repair? More recently, though, I’ve realized my dad lived a mindset that some people really need to learn: God is God, and we are not. Dad faithfully got up early every morning, read his Bible, and was ready to leave for work by 6 a.m., but he trusted God in areas he knew weren’t his to control.


Some of my older rural Ozarks relatives took the concept a step further with “The good Lord willin’ and the creeks don’t rise.” On dirt backroads with low-water crossings, a good hard rain made the creek rising a very real possibility. Rain was necessary for good crops and gardens, but too much of it when the hay was down was a disaster.


So much of James’ letter teaches about humility, grace and putting our lives in God’s hands even during persecution or hard times. Like my dad, I need to steward finances responsibly, plan for the future, work hard at my job or volunteer duties, and change my oil regularly. But I also need to remember that all those plans are “if the Lord is willing.”

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