One way to readily identify individuals who take God seriously in their lives is through their conformity to the teaching of James 4:15, wherein we read, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (NKJV)
One guidebook concerning a certain Spanish speaking country was identifying the deeply religious nature of that country, and warned that many of its citizens would, before undertaking a thing, say, “Iré mañana, si Dios quiere,” which is translated, “I will go tomorrow, if God wants.” The writer did not seem to realize that the remark was not actually unique to that specific culture, but is quite common in a multitude of languages among those who want to live their lives according to the Bible; and who humbly recognize that we are not actually in control; nevertheless they were also quite right to see such a phrase as a hallmark of general piety.
The habit of saying, “If the Lord wills,” or simply, “Lord willing,” is in some ways a very small thing, and for some may be nothing more than a colloquial phrase uttered by rote, and without serious thought. But for many, it is a simply, sincere and serious expression of submission to God. The idea of being willing to submit one’s life into God’s hands, and go where He sends, accepting what He gives, and what He does not give, is a very important one for those who want to live lives pleasing to God.
In antiquity, Job was commended for His willingness to accept the Lord’s will in His life, even when such was not pleasant. When faced with great personal loss of family and wealth, Job, in his grief, is quoted as saying, “The Lord gave, and the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Job understood that sometimes, God’s will, and our own comfort are not always in harmony, and we need to accept that God has a plan for us greater than our own, though we may not understand it, nor enjoy the journey. Jesus, facing a cruel death on the cross, knowing the pain He was about to submit Himself to, famously prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39b; NKJV)
Jesus knew that sometimes the will of God, and the will of self were not in harmony, and it was necessary to submit Himself to the will of the Father without complaint. James, in his epistle, is reminding us that sometimes, our plans for tomorrow, and the will of God is not always in harmony, and when our plans do not turn out as we hope, for whatever reason, we need to graciously accept events as they unfold, letting God lead us. Sometimes God opens doors; sometimes God closes doors. (cf. Revelation 3:7)
Either way, we should say, with Job, “blessed be the name of the Lord. Let us also remember that accepting the will of God must always be more than simply uttering a few words. It requires, first, the right attitude, and second, the right actions. Job displayed the attitude when He was willing to bless the name of God, even in the midst of sorrow. Jesus displayed the right action, when, after praying for God’s will to be done, He arose and faced those who were coming to arrest Him. Jesus taught us, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Proper faith and submission is not about only saying the right words; it is found in also doing the right things.
Jesus told a parable of two sons who were told to go and work in their father’s vineyard. The first said he would, but then never went. The second claimed he wouldn’t, but afterward repented and went out to work. It was the second, of course, who did the father’s will. (cf. Matthew 21:2831).
As we make our plans, we should always try to make those plans in harmony with what God wants from us. And as we make those plans, we need to humbly submit them to God for approval, telling ourselves and others, “If God wills.” But if we are going to say, “Lord willing,” when we make our plans from day to day, we should thereafter strive to actually do what the Lord wants us to be doing, so that words, plans and action are all in harmony with one another; remembering that it is those souls who are actually living according to the will of God who are going to find that eternal reward.
If you would like to learn more of God’s will for you in Christ, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.