If the Lord Tarries…
I have recently been teaching the book of James in our Thursday evening Bible study that has been together for 20 years now. I teach in an exegetical method which means that we go verse by verse and really tear the Scripture apart to gain a better understanding of what God is trying to impart to us through the Holy Spirit. Throughout the years, we have covered about half of the Old Testament and almost all of the New Testament. In fact, Lord willing, we will complete our study of the NT by Thanksgiving.
Did you notice that I said, “Lord willing?” That’s because we tend to take for granted that the plans we have will undoubtedly come to pass. However, there are places in the Bible that we are told that we can’t control even a day of our own lives – that’s all the purview of God.
There is the biblical story of the wealthy man who intended to build larger barns for all his crops – but that evening his life was demanded of him. And there are numerous other instances of plans being made that don’t take into account the will of God. I know that I can be guilty of the same thing.
One of the concepts that we were taught in seminary is that God is in control of our lives. So, when we make plans, we should issue some statement that acknowledges that our plans will only happen if we are still around to make the engagement. As Christians we also know that some day there will be a rapture and that believers will be raptured away from the earth and, therefore, not have to live through the tribulation period here on earth.
One of my seminary professors also prefaced his sentences and statements with the statement, “if the Lord tarries…” In other words, if God delays his return, or the Second Coming as it is sometimes called, then we may be able to do whatever we had planned.
On the other hand, if the Lord returns before our planned event, then all bets are off and we will find ourselves, in the blink of an eye, raptured away from the earth. Those believers who experience the rapture will be gone instantly… In fact, a number of years ago, there was a famous series of books written about the endtimes, called the Left Behind series.
Another professor I had would sign his letters with the closing, “Remember, the return of the Lord is closer than when you first believed…” What he meant is that the rapture is closer today that when each of us accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. If you think about it, that is true! But I never met anyone else who signed their correspondence that way.
Our verse for tonight is from the book of James. It is here that we are reminded of the lack of control that we have over our own existence. James tells us, in James 4:13-15, “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.” 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. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” The King James Version uses even more eloquent language to get across this point.
My encouragement this evening is that, ultimately, God is in control of our lives and wishes for us to coordinate our will to His plan for our lives. It is a supreme act of trust and faith for most of us to do that. But my seminary friends and professors always made allowances for the will of the Lord in their everyday conversations – and that is where I learned the phrase, “if the Lord tarries…” My prayer is that we will all defer to the will of God and make more conscious decisions to yield our will to His. In the meantime, if the Lord tarries, have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…