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Is ‘Lord Willing’ a Phrase We Should Say?

Is ‘Lord Willing’ a Phrase We Should Say?

Idioms are a common feature of everyday conversation. We hear them all the time. “It’s raining cats and dogs.” “I saw the light.” “I’m gonna hit the sack.” All these phrases are so common that we really don’t ever think about what they mean.

Similarly, when we hear someone say, “Lord willing,” we might not even notice it. We may just hear an expression we’ve heard a thousand times. Or maybe we hear something more, something deeper, an expression of dependence or flexibility. Which one is it? More importantly, should we say it?

What Does it Mean When Someone Says ‘Lord Willing’?

What someone means when they use the phrase ‘Lord willing’ may be heavily dependent upon the speaker’s own worldview. The phrase ‘Lord willing’ or ‘God willing’ is common enough in society that most major dictionaries have entries for them. However, very few definitions actually include any mention of God. Generally, the phrase expresses a person’s hope or expectation that something will go according to plan. A person may say ‘Lord willing’ in order to express their hope that nothing will go wrong or throw off their plans.

In a Christian context, we might see a different meaning. When a Christian says ‘God willing’, it could be a way of expressing his will while still leaving room for God’s will. Or, perhaps a more cynical approach could be that the Christian wishes to express his plans or his will while also appearing pious.

Either way, the phrase has become a bit of a cliché. Christians and non-Christians toss it onto the end of a sentence without much thought. An Instagram search for #godwilling will bring up a plethora of posts that may or may not be related to God, much less his will for the life of the person posting. Regardless of the sincerity of the speaker, when most of us hear ‘Lord willing,’ all we hear is ‘hopefully.’

Is the Phrase ‘Lord Willing’ in the Bible

The exact words ‘Lord willing’ are not found in the Bible. However, slight variations of the phrase appear in the New Testament multiple times. One of those times is in a command given by James, the half-brother of Jesus, in James 4:15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”

This command comes as James is admonishing his readers for their arrogance and confidence in themselves. We are told that these people would make their plans and boast about them, all the while feeling independent of God. However, James reminds them that they cannot possibly know what the next day will bring. He also reminds them of how short and fragile their lives are. When we think about human life when compared to all of creation and time, it should make us feel how small and dependent upon God we really are.

When James tells his readers, “…you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that,’” what he is saying is that followers of Christ should constantly be aware of their need for God’s help and grace in everything they do. James is not saying that Christians should not make wise plans or try to be prepared for things. What he is saying is that those plans and preparations should be made with the awareness that God could, and has the right to, change our plans. We should also do these things with humility, recognizing that God’s wisdom and ways are above ours. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, but God does, and we can trust that it will bring about his perfect will.

These words from James are modeled for us in the Apostle Paul. Paul lived a life characterized by putting the will of God above his own. He had desires and made plans, but always with the mindset that God’s will would be done. Even when trying to “put the fear of God,” if you will, into his audience, Paul still submitted to the Lord’s will over his own, saying, “But I will come to you soon if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power” (1 Cor. 4:19, emphasis added). We also see him say something similar to the Ephesian believers in Acts 18:21.

Even if the phrase ‘if the Lord wills’ is only found in the New Testament, the concept is all over Scripture. Two notable Old Testament passages that echo James’ command are Proverbs 16:9 and Proverbs 19:21. As we read this, it would be helpful for us to remember who wrote Proverbs. King Solomon, the son of King David, wrote the book of Proverbs. Solomon was considered the wisest and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. This was a very powerful man. If anyone could have had the wit and resources to force his own will to happen, it was Solomon. Yet, that is not what he tells us in these passages.

In Proverbs 16:9, Solomon tells us, The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” God is sovereign over the plans of men. We make our plans, but it is ultimately the Lord who directs where we go and what we do. Proverbs 19:21 is similar: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” We plan. We dream. We do everything we can to bring about what we want. But, in the end, we are powerless to force our own will. Only the will of our good, wise, and sovereign God will come about. Nothing can happen that is not allowed by God. These two truths line up well with the command from James and the example of Paul.

Can Christians Use This Phrase? If so, When Should They Use It?

Now that we have a more biblical understanding of what it means to say ‘Lord willing’, we might be wondering if we should use it in our daily lives. As we have seen, people might not understand what we mean. They might chalk it up to us saying, “Hopefully, we’ll do so-and-so.” Or worse, they might just assume we’re trying to sound pious and consider us hypocrites.

The thing is our obedience should not be dependent upon how we will be perceived. We can’t control what other people think. We can only control our own motives and actions. So yes, we should obey the example we find in Scripture.

Now, let us not become the hypocritical Christian who simply throws “Lord willing” into his sentence to sound humble. It is important to remember what James was saying when he gave the command. He was warning his audience not to rely on themselves or be arrogant about the plans they had made. The command to acknowledge the Lord with our speech is part of a command to humble ourselves before the Lord and understand that we depend on him for everything. We must put on the heart attitude in addition to the outward action.

When we make our plans, we should do so knowing that the Lord might have something different in mind for us. More than that, we should trust that God’s plans are better than ours. Whether we are discussing weekend plans with a coworker or talking through a big life decision with a trusted friend, we should be ready to defer to God and his will for our lives. One small way that we can do that is to say, “I will do these things if the Lord is willing.”

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Rylie FineRylie Fine is a freelance writer and editor. She is passionate about the Bible and seeks to equip other believers to study it for themselves. Rylie lives in northeast Ohio with her husband, Evan.

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