It's somewhat fitting to have read this passage while on a pastoral planning retreat. The main thrust of our time was directed toward looking at where we believe God is leading Grace Alameda in 2018 and beyond.
Good planning doesn't just set forward future goals but also considers the steps that must be taken to get there. A weightlifter doesn't just say, "I'm going to bench 600 pounds," and then just pumps away but plans for it. He/she would have a lifting regiment, a diet plan, a workout schedule. City planners don't decide there needs to be a bridge across a water and order one on Amazon. They have to figure out construction schedules, bring in the right architects and construction workers, shuffle traffic patterns.
It would seem in some way though that our passage in James speaks against this idea. That declaring what you want for the future and planning steps to get there is an unwise endeavor for we are "a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." There is much truth in that. This passage however isn't necessarily directed at those who make plans, nor is it against working and looking toward the future. Instead, it focuses on two other important issues.
First, it's less focused on plan-making and more on the motivation for why we plan. If you consider the earlier parts of James 4, James rails against worldliness and deception, those who are in business solely for themselves at the expense of their neighbor. After our passage on the foolishness of looking to the future, James then speaks out against the rich who glory and flaunt their wealth. Note that in James 4:13, James posits the idea of someone focused on working toward the future for the specific purpose of making a profit. He has in mind one who invests for selfish reasons, not one who plans for the future. The sin is in the motivation for future planning. It is not done in consideration of what theLord wills but centered on one's arrogance, one's self-confidence in his/her ability to profit off others apart from the goodness and grace of God.
Second, the other issue to be drawn forth here is the importance of faithfulness. Bodybuilders prepare but their success is dependent on how faithful they stick with their plan. City planners have ideas but they are never brought to fruition if they are faithful in following through. Our Lord cares and values our desires and dreams when they are God given. Yet the fact is God cares much less for what we're able to accomplish ahead and more for the manner in which we accomplish anything right now. It is our faithfulness that matters to Him, complete reliance in pursuing that which the Lord wills, that which keeps us from boasting in ourselves but in God, that which knows and does the right thing and avoids sin.
This means we can hold all our dreams and hopes loosely, desiring them in submission to the Spirit's leading, trusting our God when He moves us away from there. What we are to cling tightly to instead is the gospel of Christ in every day life, resting in His grace, loving our neighbors, being good stewards of what we have now. So take no fear; plan away. Only remember Proverbs 16:9. "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."