Come now, you who say, Today or Tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and spend a year there and carry on our business and make money. Yet you do not know [the least thing] about what may happen tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You are [really] but a wisp of vapor (a puff of smoke, a mist) that is visible for a little while and then disappears [into thin air]. You ought instead to say, If the Lord is willing, we shall live and we shall do this or that [thing].
The passage today is taken from the book of James, which is a letter that was written to Jewish Christians who, as part of the early Jerusalem Church, had been scattered far and wide after the martyr Stephan's death.
It is believed that James was the oldest brother of Christ, and a leader of the important Council of Jerusalem. Paul calls him a "pillar"of the Church. Perhaps James was such a convicted Believer of the Gospel because at the beginning of Jesus's ministry, James doubted Him and His mission. Here, he speaks to the scattered Church.
He cautions those who are absorbed with managing their lives to remember that, ultimately, they are not in control of their future. It is an admonition that we, today, would do well to remember. James reminds his readers that in the Big Picture, they are really inconsequential; that all their planning and preparation will succeed only if God wills it. He indicates that their real focus should be on recognizing God's control of the affairs of the world.
Good sound advice! But all that counseling only works if you believe that God is the source of your life and your success. If one is like so many of today's non-believers, (or even what I would call passable Christians), one never gives a thought to the Master of the Universe. These people think they are the master of their own destinies; that they are in control of every aspect of their lives ---- if they only work hard enough, treat other people with respect, marry the right person, or get the best education, they will secure a prosperous and happy future. And indeed, they appear to have accomplished many of these goals without giving a thought to God. They say to themselves, "Look what I have done!" So why should God receive the credit?
When you think about it, this is arrogance on our part. We owe our very breath to God! And, yes, we may set all those lofty goals, and even achieve a good many of them, but we should acknowledge that all these efforts succeed only if God permits them. In essence, James is telling the early Church, "Don't boast about what you're going to do tomorrow, because you don't even know what might happen today!"
I think we sometimes fall into the trap of predicting our future, based on what we perceive we've done today or in the past. I would just caution you to remember that in the big scheme of things, we really are just a mist in time .... here today, gone tomorrow. What we think we do in our own strength is a lie we tell ourselves to feel significant. God is our Maker and He sees all and knows all. We would do well to honor Him for his mercy and grace in our lives.