Last night, chatting with the middle schoolers, I decided to simply focus on James 4:13-17. We all agreed that the topic was one none of us wanted to actually discuss. Jared was pretty sure he never thinks about dying and both Jille and Katie agreed that was not very interesting. And since tonight’s subject was on dying, they were all glad I did not go with my first thought on having a craft to make our own coffin or embalm each other.
Our feelings aside, I asked everyone why they thought James would bring up the topic in the first place (introducing why this fit with our study in “Crazy Love” seemed a bit too much for this crowd). The obvious answers rolled out. “Because we might die any minute, we should do as much as possible to make an impact before we die.” “Yeh, we might die. So, we better make sure people know about Jesus!” I did not ask how many actually take their own advice. But I did ask them to prove their answers. Silence. Confused looks. Is this guy for real?
Maybe James had something else in mind. “Right, we are not supposed to make plans without saying, ”If the Lord wills…“” ‘Is that the right answer?’ I asked Noah how he felt about that. He screwed up his face and said, “that feels kinda fake. They could just be words”. I agreed. I seriously doubt James was giving us a formula for humility – ‘saying these words shows you really are humble’. NOT! By now the group was getting quieter and starting to think.
Is it wrong to make plans? If I do make plans and don’t say, ‘if the Lord wills’, am I wrong? Maybe I should stop planning and just sit back and see what God will do (this, of course is an edited version of the cynical comment Noah made; ‘since God has already planned everything it does not matter what we say or do it will happen anyway’. It did, however, open into a brief stint on how God could even exist in the first place. After all, eternity is a long time and our lives are really short in comparison.)
“So guys, if the obvious answers are not very good answers, what do you suppose James is really trying to say here?” Silence.
“You’ve made plans for the weekend. They are already cleared with Mom & Dad. There’s no homework and you can’t wait to get started on this great thing you have in mind. Mom meets you at the door when you come in from school and says, ‘get in the car, we have to go’. You melt down. ‘But Mom, I thought you said…’ ‘I’m suppose to go…’ ‘You promised…! ‘Where are we going? I thought…’ What’s happening here?
“Oh, I know, we are not suppose to get angry!!! 🙂 Right?”
“Or, maybe our anger is showing us something James is trying to tell us.”
Silence. Puzzled looks.
“Doesn’t our anger show us we have an agenda? And when that agenda gets blocked in some way, we are immediately angry because what we want is stopped.”
“Oh, I know, we are not suppose to want anything!”
“Hang with me here. Maybe our anger simply shows us we want what we want and don’t care about what God wants. Maybe James is suggesting that something in our hearts really believes it’s all about us, not Him.”
“But isn’t it wrong to be angry?”
“Let’s first consider what our anger is showing us about ourselves. Our anger, when our plans are blocked, is like pulling a curtain back on what’s happening in our hearts. I’m mad because I’m not getting my way. Now I have an opportunity. For what? An opportunity to confess (1 Jn. 1:9) that something in me is actually not concerned about what the Lord wills.”
At this point, I know I’m over their heads and over budget on time. But getting them out the door while the parents were downstairs talking and praying seemed a bit disruptive so I pressed on. Besides, I hate ending in the middle of a thought…
“So, what did you learn tonight?”
“Eternity is a long time!”
“I can’t remember.”
“It’s not about me.”
“My anger is not the problem. The problem is that I want what I want.”
“I had fun with you guys tonight. Who wants to pray?”