Faith In The Everyday World (7) : Oh For Grace To Trust Him More!
Two Kinds of Wisdom
They had options, choices and decisions, to make every single day in this new reality of theirs.
Trying to rebuild after losing everything was like pushing the reset button, and how they would go about their daily lives would say everything about them.
How would they acquire the necessities of life? How would they go about establishing themselves in terms of work, schooling, shelter and relationships?
Put yourself into their shoes for a moment. You lose everything as you are told to be gone within just a few hours.
You flee with little more than the clothes on your back, a suitcase in your hand and maybe a little money in your purse.
You find yourself in a new world and are trying to get established as quickly as possible, with more needs than resources.
This was the predicament that the people that James wrote about were in.
More bills than money, more questions than answers, more problems than solutions, and more needs than resources.
If you have ever been stretched beyond what you have, then you know the choices are extremely difficult.
James suggests that you will need to choose the wisdom from above or the wisdom from below. It comes down to one of two ways.
At the bottom of James 3 is a little section called Two Kinds of Wisdom (Jam. 3:13-18) in which James brings it down to two possible ways of getting what you need in life.
The difference in the two approaches couldn’t be more striking.
On the one hand is what James calls “the good life” (3:13) which is “wisdom that comes from heaven” and which is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Jam. 3:17
There is a way of establishing yourself in life that can only be called the good life, which is this wisdom that comes from heaven.
Then there is another way of establishing yourself that ends up in disorder and every evil practice.
This is where you take matters into your own hands, fight your own battles, do whatever you need to do to survive as you claw your way to the top.
If the good life is wisdom from above, then this life is wisdom from below:
“Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Jam. 3:15
The outcome of this approach to life was predictable: “ For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Jam. 3:16
You Can’t Always Get What You Want!
James then outlines the kind of life in which you take matters into your own hands, which he describes in Jam. 4:1 as “fights and quarrels among you.”
So what were they quarreling, squabbling and bickering about? Who knows what it was; in fact, it doesn’t even matter what it was.
What matters was that there were certain things in life they wanted which they weren’t getting. Could have been all sorts of things.
In fact, James talks about the desires that are within everyone of us. What you do with those desires then determines the outcome that in their case deteriorated into fights and quarrels.
That’s what earthly, unspiritual wisdom says. You want something? Fight for it until you get it.
You claw your way to what you want and it doesn’t matter whom you step on to get it. It’s the law of the jungle with survival of the fittest.
They had desires, wants and needs just like every one of us does as well. They wanted a slice of the American Dream just like you and I. Nothing wrong with that at all.
These are the desires, dreams and aspirations all of us have and many of them are not wrong or evil.
For sure, there are all kinds of evil desires that should never be entertained.
The forbidden fruit that should stay off limits might be elicit gain, someone else’s possessions, addictive and destructive pleasures, or a host of other things that are clearly not ours for the taking.
But more often than not it’s about the legitimate dreams and aspirations all of us have and the normal pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. These can also get us into trouble.
You see, the question is not whether our desires, wants and needs are legitimate; the question is how we go about the acquisition.
Do we take matters into our own hands and simply go after what we want regardless, or is there another way?
Earthly wisdom says take matters into your own hands. Everyone else does it so why don’t you? You deserve this. If you don’t, it’s going to be gone. That’s earthly wisdom talking.
And where does that come from? Jam. 4:2 outlines where earthly wisdom comes from and where it goes to: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”
So where does it start? It starts with a desire as all things do.
“You desire but do not have.” No mention is made whether it’s legitimate or not. It’s simply a natural, normal human desire.
But then notice the second thing: “You do not have.” This is the desire blocked, which happens all the time.
I mean, who of us gets everything they want? Keith Richards wrote: “You can’t always get what you want.”
When that happens, when a desire is blocked, then one of two things can occur.
The first one is “you kill and you covet”, and the second one is you “ask God.”
Killing and coveting is all about taking matters into your own hands.
In other words, you have eyes for what another has and become jealous of others and what they have, which is what covet means.
Then you kill. Not (usually) literally, but figuratively, as you take matters into your own hands, lash out at others in anger and rage with predictable results of quarrels and fights.
At the end you end up no further ahead than when you started.
This is the classic dog chasing its tail scenario. It’s a vicious cycle of wanting, grabbing but not getting, which fuels the wanting even more.
This is what happens when you take matters into your own hands; this is earthly wisdom resulting in the “disorder and every evil practice” James mentions in 3:16.
So if not this way then what way? Notice what James says next: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (Jam. 4:2)
This is about putting things into God’s hands. This is prayer at work. This is living out Phil. 4:6 of “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
“You do not have because you do not ask God”, James says. Heavenly wisdom would tell you to ask God.
So we pray, we ask, seek and knock. As we present our requests to God we need to realize that is far from an automatic yes.
Prayer is not a pre-charged credit card that we can cash in at whim. Prayer is not a one-armed bandit through which we hit the jackpot.
So why would I want to pray then? If God doesn’t say yes to me, why pray? Because we need to sort out whether what we want is actually good for us instead of somehow harming us. That’s why sometimes God says no.
God’s no is not a bad no or a spiteful no but a good no, a loving no and a protective no.
Notice what James 4:3 says: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
So prayer is submitting our requests to the will of God. It’s asking is this your will, is this what you want, is this what’s best for me. That’s what prayer is.
It’s not a one-armed bandit at the slots that makes God give us what we want.
“The point is that they are motivated by selfish desires and ask simply to gratify themselves. This is not the trusting child asking for a meal but he greedy child asking for the best piece or the spoiled child demanding his or her way. They are asking God to bless their schemes; God will have no part of it.” P.H Davids, GNC
When God says no, it is never the tight-fisted answer of a stingy God.
“The implication is not that God will not give us things that give us pleasure. God is the gracious God who gives not only bread and water but also steak and wine.” P.H. Davids
Paul talks about knowing what it means to have plenty and being well fed and Jesus was not known for his fasting.
I love the tone of Mathew 7 where it says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matt. 7:7-8
And what we receive is God’s very best for us and in many ways Father knows best.
We only see the here and now. We have limited perspective and a very narrow vision.
God sees everything and he knows what will hurt and harm us and his responses and answers are always based on that.
So never doubt his goodness to you when he gives you a no.
God does not mock us. He is not here one moment and gone the next, nor does he pull the carpet out from underneath us.
I love that language of Matt. 7:9-11 where it says: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Grace to Trust Him More!
I know this is hard. Trusting God is probably the hardest thing you will ever have to do.
And the temptation to go with the flow is great as is pursuing life, liberty and happiness the way everyone else does.
But hear me when I tell you the cost of doing that is great. Taking matters into your own hands means you are on your own. Doing it the world’s way puts you at odds with God.
Is that really what you want to do? James reserves some of the strongest wording in his letter for those who have no regard for God’s will in their lives and simply go with the flow of everyone else:
“Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
So don’t go down that path. Don’t end up being your own god and don’t create your own miracles.
Trusting God may be the hardest thing you are going to have to do. You know what, it won’t get easier as the times go by because the tests will become harder and the trials stronger.
But, oh, God will give you grace, my friend. If you will humble yourself before God, He will give the grace to trust Him.
I love the refrain in an old hymn that says: “Oh for grace to trust him more.”
That’s why James talks about grace in verse 6 because it does take unbelievable grace to believe that God has our best in mind.
That when we ask for bread He doesn’t give us a stone and when we ask for fish He doesn’t give us a snake.
His answers are for our best. Oh for grace to trust him more!
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Who are the humble if not those who submit their wants, needs and desires to the Lord? That is true humility and true wisdom from above.
People of Humility
James describes how people of humility live their lives in 4:7-10: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
The humble submit to God, they resist the devil, they come near to God, they wash their hands and purify their hearts, they grieve at the chaos selfishness causes and they do not join in the laughter of the mockers.
Instead they humble themselves before the Lord. It is the humble that receive God’s grace to trust him more!
It takes grace to leave the matter with God, to abandon an illegitimate desire and to wait for God’s timing.
It takes grace to endure, grace to be patient and grace to go without. Oh for grace to trust him more!
Grace is like the oil that keeps your motor going in times when it feels like its going to seize up with frustration, anguish or even bitterness at unanswered prayer. Oh for grace to trust him more, friend.
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