“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” -James 4:13-16
Serving in Vietnam as an Infantry Officer, I began my days not knowing if I would see nightfall. As anywhere, I had not one day promised to me, but in mortal combat your life expectations were not high. As soldiers drew close to the day they rotated home, their demeanor would perceptibly change. Others called them simply “short” because their time in the combat zone was becoming short and getting shorter by the hour.
As if they could, they tried harder to keep anything from happening which might take their life in those final weeks or days. The stories were rife, true or not, of those whose lives were snatched in their last weeks or last couple of days. Of course, it was a crazy way to live, but such happened because of increasing and enervating fear of an unknown.
This illustrates the very nature of the unknown. For instance, we do not know the day of our death. Those with terminal illness may be told by a doctor that their end is near, approaching within weeks or even days. As we left the hospital for the final time, I was told that my wife had probably a week or perhaps more. She actually had less than two days before cancer took her last breath at the age of 49. But a teenager or young person especially has little expectation of death on that day when rising from their bed in the morning.
We simply do not know the moment or day ordained for us (Psalm 139:16). Truly, your future, whether years or moments, is fully unknown. In combat, I knew my survival was certainly suspect, but in peace, we are not normally expecting to die that very day when brushing our teeth in the morning. Yet the Bible clearly states, “Man is appointed to die once and, after that, the judgment.” We just do not know when that appointment has been scheduled.
According to God’s Word, your death has already been ordained. Does this surprise you? God has determined the day of your birth as well as your death. Psalm 139 says, “Every day formed for you was written before one of them came to be.” Such knowledge is kept from you.
Is this fair? Does God have the power to give you a hundred years of life more or less? Yes, of course He does! Do you trust Him enough to give you exactly what is best for you? How can God give just five years to some but a hundred years to another? The question really revolves not around fairness but rather in the unique nature of God. He is infinitely wise and infinitely loving.
There is a righteous purpose for the unknowns in your life. They are intended to positively impact how you live your life today. Contemplating the unknown is an exercise intended to draw you closer to the One who is sovereign over your life. When you seriously consider your unknowns, you are constrained to purposefully draw nearer to the One who knows what you do not and to both fear and love Him who actually holds your life in His hands.
Many treat the unknown with an attitude of nonchalance or of an unthoughtful confidence that all will continue tomorrow the same as yesterday. They seldom say, “If the Lord wills, I will do such and such tomorrow or next week.” They just plan and believe their plans will be uninterrupted, certainly not with death.
Yet, everything you do or plan to do is subservient to God’s plan, whether you acknowledge it or not. It is a far, far better thing for you to earnestly seek God’s will in whatever you do and then ask Him for the days required to accomplish it. Always appreciate that you are the servant of the Lord first in everything you do or say, praying unceasingly to Him the prayer He taught us: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
If such is the manner of your life, you will always be prepared for God to fulfill His plan, and you will never be shocked or unaccepting of it. The death of a loved one or an acquaintance will not cause you to turn against God or hate Him. You will grieve, of course, but in your grieving, you will accept your Lord’s sovereign will because of who you know He is.
The fact that there are so many unknowns ought to cause you to seek God more earnestly and with more frequency that you might know Him better, love Him more, and patiently wait for Him. You do not need to know an unknown prior to its occurrence in order to weather it; you just need to be near to God.
You cannot figure out all the answers to an unknown, so leave the answers to Him. Pursue instead what you can be certain of: that God is consistently the same, the planner of every unknown. Intimate knowledge of Him will eliminate the fears of all you do not know.
“Father, I know that all my life is portioned out for me; the changes that are sure to come I do not fear to see. I ask Thee for a present mind intent on pleasing Thee.”
(First verse of Anna L. Waring’s hymn, “Father, I Know That All My Life,” 1850)
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and weekly devotional