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. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.James 4:13-17
The other day, I was reading an article by Ben Liebing on the blog Thought Catalog called "3 Things Christians Could Learn From Muslims." The thing is this is an argument that I've made before, but I had five reasons. Liebing lists his three: 1) Prayer, 2) The Abaya, and 3) Insh'allah. I will explain these further in a moment, but it wanted to remind my readers who may not be familiar with the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life according to Islam. The Five Pillars consist of: 1) Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, 2) Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day, 3) Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy, 4) Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan, and 5) Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.
Liebing's three things are pretty basic. As Christians, we should take prayer more seriously instead of using it as a last resort. Second, the abaya, the long, flowing, usually all-black robes or coverings worn by the women, are an example of modesty. I agree with his point that often in the West, women and girls tend to dress in what I consider scandalous fashion. I see it each day at school when girls come in with skirts, dresses, or shorts that are entirely too short, or shirts that are entirely too low cut. I, personally, believe in more modest dress. That doesn't mean, women, or men for that matter, should be covered from head to toe, but there should be a judgement of decency involved. The last point, I will cover later in the post, because it is my main point.
To switch gears a bit, I have often told my Christian friends and relatives who harp on the zealous and fundamentalist behavior often shown by the media of Muslims that there are things we can learn about Islam. We can merely look at the Five Pillars to realize that Christians are not so different than Muslims (both claim the same religious heritage and God). The Shahadah is a statement of faith: "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God." The first of the Ten Commandments is "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2-3). Furthermore, the New Testament tells us that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. So our own statement of faith is that God is the one true God who "...so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." (John 3:16-18).
The other four Pillars can be more succinctly applied. Salat is the instruction to pray five times a day. Most Christians do this as well, or at least should: we pray as we wake up, give thanks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and pray before bed at night. We also pray five times a day. Zakat is giving alms to the poor, something that Jesus instructs us to do in the Sermon on the Mount: "Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:2-4). The last two Pillars are not commanded of us by God, but many Christians feel it shows their faith. We do not fast during the month of Ramadan, but many Christians fast during Lent or at other times of the year. Furthermore, everyone who I have known who traveled on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land has returned with a new and renewed sense of faith.
Those are all my reasons for things we should learn from the Islamic faith, but I think Leibing's third reason is an important one: Insh'allah. Insh'allah is Arabic for "if God is willing." This a topic that I discussed before when I was studying the Book of James, therefore the rest of this post will be rehashing something I've already written about on this blog. However, as I celebrated my 36 birthday yesterday, and "God willing" will celebrate many more, I think it is important to remember that "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13). Because God wills it, our lives are possible and we should thank him each day for our lives, our friends, and our families.
There is so much depth to James 4:13-17 to remind us of just what God wills. In the big picture, do we include God in all of our plans? Do we include him in our career or educational plans? Do we pray about the path He wants us to take? When we make plans and exclude God, no matter what the plans are, it is as if we are boasting in our own abilities.
James chapter 4, verses 13 and 14 refer to making future plans for prosperity without consulting God. Even if the plans are honorable and righteous, God may have other ideas. Our lives are but a blink of God's eye, "a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." God wants us to consult with Him for all plans.
I plan ahead. If I do not have the next step or two thought out before I get to them, I feel behind and unorganized. However, God does not work this way. Ever since I gave Him full rights to my life, I cannot seem to plan anything too far in advance. He is the ultimate schedule shifter. James notes, "you do not know what tomorrow will bring." I have to remind myself of this. Life throws sudden changes at you. Yes, I still plan ahead to the best of my ability, but I now make flexible plans instead of rigid ones. This is one way I submit my life to God, by giving Him free reign to jumble my schedule. In the end, I trust God has a better idea of what I should do with my life than I do since He sees the entire picture.
I remind myself that God has a plan for me in my prayers. I begin by asking God to forgive me of my sins, then I ask Him to guide me down the path He has chosen for me before asking Him to bless my family and friends. I pray for guidance down the path God has chosen for me, because I know it is not an easy path. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
I've learned to use verse 15 in all planning. "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." There is so much each of us wants to do with what time we have left in our lives, right? Personally, I would love to travel to Europe again, write a book, get in better shape, and be healthier. With each thing I want do to, I pray about it and say, "Lord, if it is Your will that I do this, then I will do it."
Psalm 37:4 states: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." This is a Scripture of hope. We think, "I love the Lord and so He will give me whatever my heart desires." That sounds great and all, but what about this: if we love the Lord and become very close and intimate with Him, very soon His desires become the desire of our hearts. Ask the Lord if your desire is His will and you may find that His will truly becomes your desire.
In verses 16-17, James reminds us that boasting in our arrogance is evil, and goes on to say that if we know the right thing to do and fail to do it, we are sinning. If the Lord places something upon your heart, and you do something else instead, verse 17 tells us that it is sin. In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul writes, "For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you."
Boast in the Lord and proclaim to everyone: "My God has blessed me abundantly, and He directs my path." In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." There is satisfaction in doing God's will. To actually do good is filling food. The more we eat the keener our appetite becomes. Dissatisfaction is a sure sign that we are not eagerly doing the will of God. It is a symptom of spiritual immaturity. The only way to discover the point of Christ's teaching is to practice it. The only way to godly contentment is to hunger and thirst after righteousness.
With this post, I hope I make one important point: we can learn from others. If our religious hubris follows only what we are told by our preachers and religious leaders, then we are occasionally going to follow false teachers. If we look at the universality of religions around the world we will see that there are certain basic tenets applied by all. A comparison of the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic traditions should strengthen our faith for all three have the basic foundation that God is our ultimate guide and He is our foundation. We should allow His love to shine through us each day.