This week’s guest devotion is from Rev. David Mahsman, LCMS Career Missionary. Rev. Mahsman oversaw the renovations of The Old Latin School and currently directs its programming and use. He welcomes groups and tourists who use the building for retreats, meetings, conferences and more. Rev. Mahsman also does some traveling in the Eurasia Region to fill in for fellow missionaries when they are away, such as preaching in Trinity, Frankfurt, Germany, an English-speaking congregation sponsored by the LCMS.
–By Rev. David Mahsman
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” (James 4:13-15 ESV).
A bill of lading provides a detailed list of goods in a shipment. I’ve got one, for example, from when we shipped some household goods to Germany five years ago. It lists the shipper, the owner of the goods, the goods themselves, the destination and some fine-print legalese. Not all that interesting.
While Web surfing recently, I ran across an auction site peddling a much-more-interesting 18th-century bill of lading signed by John Hancock. What struck me wasn’t the famous autograph, but how the document was worded:
“Shipped by the Grace of God, in good Order and well Condition’d by John Hancock in and upon the good Ship called the Hayley, whereof is master, under God, for this present Voyage, James Scott and now riding at Anchor in the harbor of Boston and by God’s Grace bound for London ….”
After listing the cargo, it ends: “… and so God send the good Ship to her desir’d Port in Safety. Amen. Dated in Boston Nov. 6, 1772.”
This was a pre-printed standard business form. But look at what awareness it shows for our dependence on the grace and care of God.
Imagine a receipt from the grocery store saying something like this: “Sold by the grace of God, fresh and in good order by Aldi, 10 eggs, a loaf of bread, two liters of milk” and so on. Then ending, “… and so God send these groceries home in safety. Amen.” Not likely.
And yet, in today’s world, I suspect that more and more people are thinking about how uncertain life can be.
When we have such thoughts, I think there are at least two mistakes we can make. One is to think that everything is in our own hands and to forget the control that God has over our lives and livelihood. The other is to think about it and then worry that God is going to let things fall apart for us.
In his epistle, James tells us how people often make their plans. He writes to those 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.”
But James says we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. Life is only a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Our heavenly Father wants us to be aware of His hand in our lives. He also wants us to come to Him in prayer with our plans and our needs. Jesus taught us to pray not only “Thy will be done,” but also “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Martin Luther made a little list of what “daily bread” includes: “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
God gives daily bread to everyone—even without our prayers and even to evil people—but here we pray that God would lead us to realize that His hand feeds us and to be thankful for these blessings.
God is in control, and that’s good! So, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about life or what we will eat or drink; or about our bodies, what we will wear. He asked, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25 ESV).
Jesus also asks who can add a single hour to his or her life by worrying? The answer, of course, is no one. If anything, worry shortens life; it doesn’t lengthen it.
Therefore, says Jesus, don’t worry about what we’ll eat or drink or wear. Our heavenly Father knows what we need.
Does this mean nothing bad or frightening will ever happen to us? Of course not. Bad things do happen because we live in a broken world. We live in a world that has been ruined by sin—not only the sin of others, but by ours, too.
And it’s because of the sin that infects us all that God sent His only-begotten Son to die for us. God Himself put His glory aside and became human for our sake. He took our place under the judgment of God the Father so that through faith in Christ and what He has done for us, we now have the gift of eternal life.
We just celebrated Christmas and the greatest gift of all, the One Who began His earthly life sleeping in a feed trough for animals and ended it on a cross—all for us.
And, we are about to enter a New Year. None of us knows what will happen in 2016 or how the year will end. But there is no need to worry. We don’t enter the New Year alone, but with God Himself.
To paraphrase that old bill of lading: “Entering by the Grace of God, in good Order and well Condition’d in and upon the New Year called 2016, whereof is master, under God, for this present Voyage, our Lord Jesus Christ, and now riding at Anchor wherever we may be and by God’s Grace bound for 2017 … and so God send us to our desir’d Port in Safety. Amen.”
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, You invite us to cast all our cares upon You, for You care for us. Thank You for the assurance of Your love in Jesus Christ. Keep us mindful of Your loving hand in our lives, and see us safely into and through the New Year. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.