Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
It is easy to see how the above quote of St James leads Christians to say, “God willing”, whenever they plan to do something. Another piece of wisdom related to the idea: The best laid plans of mice and men can go astray. Or another expression related to the Apostle James’s thought: Man proposes, but God disposes. The sentiment is already found in Proverbs 19:21 – The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.
From the desert fathers a couple of sayings dealing with God’s will and the relationship of our will to God’s. Abba Isidore the Priest is quoted as saying:
‘It is the wisdom of the saints to recognize the will of God. Indeed, in obeying the truth, man surpasses everything else, for he is the image and likeness of God. Of all evil suggestions, the most terrible is that of following one’s own heart, that is to say, one’s own thought, and not the law of God. A man who does this will be afflicted later on, because he has not recognized the mystery, and he has not found the way of the saints in order to work in it. For now is the time to labor for the Lord. For salvation is found in the day of affliction: for it is written: “By your endurance you will gain your lives’ (Luke 21:19).”’ (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, pp 97-98)
Abba Nilus is credited with saying:
‘Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer.’ (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 154)
We humans have a proclivity to want things to turn out the way we wish they would. And the Fathers blame our self-will for many of our sorrows, our anger, raging, disbelief and despondency. Many saints remind us that our task is to do God’s will, not to attempt to coerce God into doing our will. As the Lord Jesus Himself prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). And He taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).