We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry notes that every human is both “a reasonable creature, that has the faculty for contriving for himself” and “a depending creature, that is subject to the direction and dominion of his Maker.” We have to learn to live within the tension that while mankind indeed has a free will to make and carry out his own plans…all of that occurs under the watchful and powerful eye of a sovereign God.
Of course, Scripture teaches us never to let this reality fool us into believing that we have the final say in what we accomplish. There is one will that always supersedes our wills, namely, the divine will. God, “who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11), has the final say because He establishes our steps, as we read in today’s passage.Sometimes our plans are made and implemented and achieve the desired result…but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they are thwarted by the hand of God in order to keep us within the confines of His purposes…for ourselves and for others.
On this point James offers his own commentary: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (Jas. 4:13-15). We human beings, blessed by God with creative and powerful minds, delight in putting to use our grey matter in laying out our whole lives — education plans, marriage plans, career plans, business plans, five-year plans, retirement plans. But in the midst of our elaborate planning sessions, we so easily forget, or neglect to give sufficient weight to, the Divine Hand that shapes our destinies.
Fortunately, our plans never can thwart the sovereign will of God. We can never sin so much or make so many poor decisions that God can no longer hit the curveballs we throw at Him…out of the park each and every time. We need to remember that while we exercise the one (making our plans), He is busy orchestrating the other (determining our steps) for both His Glory and our good.