Look here, you people who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”
James 4:13 (New Living Translation)
Fact – you are not in control of your life; you can control your effort but you cannot determine your outcome. Life is uncertain and is a gigantic question-mark. The sure thing about our life is that we are completely unsure about it. It is impossible for anyone to tell me that they can guarantee that they will be able to do what they have planned. James gave us a glimpse of a presumptuous conversation in verse 13 – it was as if these people were sure of their plans coming to fruition.
- Who – “You who say… We are going”
- What – “Do business there”
- When – “Today or tomorrow”
- Where – “A certain town”
- Why – “Make a profit”
- How – “Stay there a year”
Sometimes we tend to think that it is us who determines what happens next, and not God. Be careful when you start to think like that. We are brought up in a meritocratic society and may tend to function like this – “So long as I attain this grade, I’ll be able to get into this school, and end up working in this job afterwards”; if you think like that, you’re not very different from the presumptuous businessmen that James was addressing.
Anything can happen in life. God used the incident of my failed MacBook Pro to teach me about the uncertainty of life and my helplessness towards it. Rain falls on both the good and the evil. I’ve learnt that life is uncertain but I’ve also learnt that there’s certainly nothing I can do about it. I can plan and work in advance to the best of my ability, but if my laptop decides without warning that it would crash on me, I have no choice but to restart my work.
Whenever you remember that you are not in control of your life, you must also remember that your life doesn’t belong to you. You do not own this life; you are only meant to steward it. The problem with us is that we think we own this life. And when that happens, we get into deep trouble because we don’t usually like to let go or give away what we own.
Remember that your life has been purchased by the precious blood of Jesus Christ and because it has been bought, it no longer belongs to you, or the devil, but to God. So never think that you own your life. Instead, submit your life to God and let Him have full control of it. We can propose but God can oppose; we can project but God can reject; we can rule but God can overrule. Let’s learn to accept His will and ask Him for wisdom and peace to deal with the unravelling of life.
Singaporean students easily get caught up in the relentless paper chase. Remember this – Jesus is greater than your grades. Do you really think that God’s plan cannot unfold in your life if you score badly or end up in the wrong school? No, God is so much bigger than that. Don’t be discouraged if you’ve made academic mistakes for there are no mistakes with God; nothing is ever wasted in His economy.
Proverbs 16:9 tells us that we can plan our course, but it is God who determines our steps. So let’s learn to commit our plans to God, for when we work, we work, but when we pray, God works! The sooner you realise you are not in control of this life, the easier it will be for you to accept that life is truly uncertain and always a question mark for you to discover and be surprised by its unknowns. It’s a good thing that life is out of your hands, but in God’s hands.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent Monday afternoons at Dunearn Secondary School, together with a class of secondary one students. First and foremost, an honest confession – I know that my strength is with developing emerging leaders, so when KK told me that I had to stand-in for him for two sessions, I couldn’t help but to brace myself for the challenge of teaching 13 year olds. I like being around young people, but handling these especially restless students required a higher calling; I applaud KK as well as the school teachers, who have done it for years.
I took a gamble today and conducted an activity that I wasn’t really confident of pulling off or sure if it would succeed. I briefed the class on the six typical roles in a committee – chairperson, secretary, treasurer, publicity coordinator, logistics coordinator and programme coordinator – and got them to plan a fictitious event from scratch. The nominated chairperson in each group would choose from the following events to plan: rock concert, CCA open house, school excursion, iJourney camp, fun fair or sports day. They were given 25 minutes to nail this.
When I handed over the time to them, I was pleased to see how involved they were. I had expected the students to get rowdy and to lose interest but they were so engrossed in the planning and creative process; I had expected them to give up or ask a barrage of questions about the various roles but they grasp their functions pretty quickly. I had given each group an imaginary budget, but after seeing how absorbed they were, I upped their budget ten-fold to encourage them to dream even bigger and get even more creative; their budget calculations, though elementary, really caught me by surprise.
I was secretly delighted at their seriousness in accomplishing the given task. When it was time to present, each chairperson was given five minutes to describe everything the group had discussed; it was truly a sight to behold as every student listened attentively and responded enthusiastically to the wacky ideas tendered. I closed the session by sharing PK’s rags-to-riches story (founder of Nike) and drilled into them the importance of planning – especially if they desired to be successful. I drew parallels from the events-planning exercise and helped them to see that planning precedes success.
I sincerely hope that they caught it and would apply it into their lives. Frankly, I’ve never seen them paying such intense attention before. I gave them another five minutes to translate what they have learnt into fulfilling their childhood dreams. During this time of reflection, one (of the more serious) girls actually planned to move up from the normal technical to the normal academic stream by the end of the year to fulfill her dreams of becoming a rich businesswoman. My heart leaped for joy with her. Pardon the cliché, but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Today, these students taught me a lesson even as I shared my lesson with them – that if you instill belief in people by giving them the key to being responsible for their own planning for success (or failure), they might just surprise you by actually taking ownership of their lives and pilgrimage to success. I was even treated to a bonus exhibition of dandy ideas! I believe that if you empower a young person to dream, they will truly dare to dream along with you. The challenge then, for youth workers like me, is to give them a platform, some perimeters, and to help their see the picture that it takes a team to realise a dream.
This was, without a doubt, the iJourney session that left the greatest impression on me thus far.