14 Yet you do not know [the least thing] about what may happen tomorrow. What is the nature of your life? You are [really] but a wisp of vapor (a puff of smoke, a mist) that is visible for a little while and then disappears [into thin air]. – James 4:14 AMP
This verse has been used and abused over the years. It can be very discouraging if taken by itself without considering surrounding verses as well as other passages in the Bible. We’re a puff of smoke? Growing up on tobacco road, I am very familiar with a puff of smoke. I was in constant contact with people who smoked my entire childhood, and I can tell you from those experiences that a puff of smoke is there one minute and gone the next.
Our life being a brief puff of smoke could paint a very dismal picture of life. Here one minute and gone the next? What’s the point in living? How are our seemingly insignificant lives going to make a difference in the lives of anyone, including our children? There has to be more to life, right? You bet there is! It is called Christianity. It is about a relationship with the Savior of the world. And without Him, our lives will be pointless. Sure, we would have fruit without Him, but I don’t think anyone would like to eat it. What’s hard to grasp is that Christians are taking this what’s the point attitude and applying it to their life as well.
The truth of this verse is that James is talking about boasting about tomorrow. He’s talking about people knowing exactly what they will do over the course of the next day, even the next year. Read the verse following today’s verse.
15 You ought instead to say, If the Lord is willing, we shall live and shall do this or that. – James 4:15 AMP
Christians should always seek God’s will. I can tell you this: it’s not God’s will for Christians to read this verse and immediately have a defeated mindset. It is not God’s will for believers to think that they’ll be gone in a minute so nothing else matters. It is not enough for every Christian to be soft and cozy in their salvation and trudge through life. Take a look at these passages by the apostle Paul.
15 Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), 16 Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity] because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:16 AMP
5 Behave yourselves wisely [living prudently and with discretion] in your relations with those of the outside world (the non-Christians), making the very most of the time and seizing (buying up) the opportunity. – Colossians 4:5 AMP
As Christians we are supposed to be wise and make the most of our time. We are to buy up every opportunity we can to glorify God. But how in the world do we do that if we’re all just a puff of smoke?
My seventh and eighth grade history teacher smoked a pipe. I don’t remember much about what I learned in his class, but I do remember that he would sometimes smoke his pipe between classes. Yes, that was actually allowed all those years ago. But to this day, I can close my eyes and remember the smell of that pipe. That is where our lives can have an impact on the world.
You see, a puff of smoke may only be around for a moment, but the impressions can last lifetimes. We can have such an effect by the way we raise our children, the way we treat fellow believers, and the way we interact with those in the world. But we must choose whether our actions are godly or ungodly. We must decide whether they will be the sweet aroma from the pipe of that irritating smoke from a campfire that just keeps following you around.
Now I’m not saying we have to all start smoking pipes or build a campfire every day. I’m saying that everything we do has an impact on those around us. A godly lifestyle on our part not only impacts our children and our peers, but it also impacts our grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. And in the same manner, an ungodly lifestyle will also have an impact, although the results will likely meet with disaster. If you are not victorious and fail to live a godly example for your children, they will have to deal with more mess in the world than you did.
So the choice is all yours. Your life is a puff of smoke. Will you live it for God and make the most of your opportunities? Will you plod through life with no godly direction or purpose? Will you seize the day for Him, or will your days cease without Him? Choosing God will be the best choice you ever make. And those whose life you touch will be able to remember a puff of smoke they will never forget.