I rushed home from errands, pulled the car in the garage and quickly went to close the garage door behind me. As I turned, I looked to make sure my car was in far enough (learning from past mistakes!). And I saw it. It seemed like for the first time. I stared in wonder of how blessed I was. It was a strange feeling standing there staring at my car. I’ve owned this car since 2015. And yet it was as though I had never really appreciated owning it. I realized I was having a Jesus moment.
“See what I have given you.”
“Appreciate that you are well blessed.”
As I stood there listening to Him speak to me, I was opened to the fact that so many people in the world don’t have such ready access to transportation. And yet here I was with two cars, a VW bus, two motorcycles and two Vespa scooters. All, of which, I take for granted will start when I need them, get me where I need to go, and when I need gas I can stop any number of places and pay for it. I just stood there in amazement. And in thankfulness.
An ordinary day made amazing with a whisper from Jesus.
Please join me and my special guest contributor, Madison Dooley, as we examine Living Amazed through Jesus November 1-29. Sign up today to receive your Amazed posts!
From the first day of Earth to today, God has been doing amazing things in our lives. And when Jesus preached and performed miracles, the Bible frequently says the people were amazed. Each day we get up to start a new day. Each day we put our feet on the floor, have breakfast, brush our teeth, and then go about our daily routine. We do the laundry, wash the dishes, log in another long day at work. It’s so easy to live in the humdrum of every day. But God is still doing amazing things!
I’ve spent much of my adult life being a pessimist. As I grew closer to Jesus it became almost impossible to continue looking at life, people and circumstances constantly from a negative point of view. God transformed me. And that, my friends, is pretty darn amazing.
Join me and my special guest writer as we explore all the amazing acts of Jesus starting November 1 through 29. My hope is that each day we will help you take these amazing Jesus acts and translate them into your amazing life.
Are you ready to explore and enjoy this amazing God-given life through Jesus? Join us by signing up today to receive your emailed posts!
Before I sat down to write this final word on the Book of James, I re-read through the five chapters and my highlighted notes. What struck me was how perfectly James’ words speak to the state of our current world. In February 2020, as news of the Covid19 virus started coming in from around the world we didn’t think too much about it. Another type of flu, meh. And suddenly March was upon us. Our lives were shutdown. Justified or not, our businesses closed, so many allowed fear to grip them into locking themselves in their homes, we ran out of toilet paper, our churches stopped welcoming us into their doors, and we watched rioters burn down cities. Some of us turned away from God and others of us ran toward Him.
I told my husband the other day how amazingly well spoken the disciples were. I think the tendency to think back to “ancient times” may lead us to think they weren’t as smart as us because we value “knowledge” over “wisdom.” In this short five-chapter letter, James’ gifts shine through. He is eloquent when using the metaphors of ships and rudders and forest fires and small sparks when speaking of our waggling and dangerous tongues. He turns into a great debater when providing facts about not showing favoritism and how the famed among us are typically the ones who take advantage of us. He is a fiery preacher when scolding us to submit and resist the devil. And a faithful servant reminding us to reach out to God for any and all needs.
I read an introduction to a Bible study on James once that said, “Unlike most books of the New Testament, the letter of James is best known for the people who don’t like it. People like love. They like Christ. They don’t like James.” But isn’t that the very reason this letter needed to be written? Before we are thrown into a crisis like the year 2020, before we face off with the devil, before we walk out the door to deal with unhappy, non-believers, James wants to shake us awake. To give us the tools to stand firm in the face of adversity. To be God’s faithful lights for the world. When I read James, I think of this letter as one for us everyday people. It’s a workshop full of concrete “how to’s.” There’s nothing wishy washy or confusing about James.
In the midst of the trials of the last few months, how many of us have considered it “pure joy?” (James 1:2) When out for our evening walk the other day, I told my husband how much I have appreciated what has happened. It forced me to slow down and stop fretting over filling up my daily schedule. My house got really clean. We turned to each other for loving support more than ever. We became a team and God was our head coach. I’ve been blessed to spend more time with a particular friend than I wouldn’t normally as she goes through a divorce. My BSGs (Bible study girls) started meeting in January. Two of whom I only slightly knew. We are now prayer warriors for each other. I asked my husband what positive things have come out of this for him – in the face of a very difficult work situation. He said he’s realized who he can really rely on.
I’ve learned how to be humble. I’ve learned to listen to people who have fears that I don’t have and show them grace. That person driving alone in their car with a full double breather mask pushes me to pray for them to find peace rather than make fun of them. Because that is what the Word tells us (James 1:23).
The destruction caused by favoritism, hating our neighbor, people lacking in mercy and those living in greed fills our daily news. People wanting to burn small businesses because they feel their needs are greater. Rioters standing with bullhorns yelling all night into homes because their view of the world comes first. Employees and businesses “gaming the system” to get more of the money distributed to help those struggling makes me want to cry. And, I can still picture a couple at Home Depot filling their pick-up truck to its fullest with toilet paper and laughing about it. (James 2:8, 13, 3:16, 4:17, 5:2).
And if we looked hard enough, we saw churches helping their communities by doing food drives and people volunteering to help at Food Banks. We saw neighbors supporting each other. We saw churches fighting to stay open and serve their flocks. I saw people like Christian worship leader Sean Feucht gathering people by the 100s to pray and worship God outside – at parks, at beaches, on the streets. I saw friends get on their knees and fully surrender to God. (James 2:8, 14,4:7, 5:19)
In the United States, we are going through an important presidential election. I’ve stood at street corners supporting a candidate while the opposing side hurls hatred and curse words at me. All the while they hold signs telling me to have more compassion and to love certain races. (James 3:9). I’ve watched candidate debates where the lies are piled up not only by the candidate but by the debate moderator and then by the media. All in order to disguise the true platform of the candidate. Their yes has not meant yes and their no has not meant no. (James 5:12)
I’ve said to others that this time seems unprecedent. And this letter of James seems very prescient. There is a sifting going on. Have we chosen to surrender and submit to God? (James 4:7). Have we thrown up all our worries, our hurts, our sins to God or are we taking them out on others? (James 5:13-16) Are we working to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ or are we fighting with them? (James 5:19)
James makes it clear, without a lot of flowery prose, as to the destruction we humans can wrought without our eyes firmly on God. The question is, will we listen and do or will we deceive ourselves?
Thank you for joining me on this journey through James. I look forward to you joining me with my next series called, “Living Amazed through Jesus” beginning November 1.
When my youngest daughter and I started working on our relationship I prayed, a lot. I prayed what to say the first summer she was home from college. I prayed each time I visited her. I asked God to put the right words in my mouth at the right time, with the right heart. I prayed to have my need to feel hurt and offended by her words be taken from me. I wanted God to change me so dramatically that my daughter could see that change. She needed to see that I was doing the work on my own issues. I had two God moments that have stuck with me during that time. The first was the summer after her freshmen year. I knew, from my older daughter, that life was going to change at our house. We would now have four adults living in our home – no children. And so, I prayed for the right words at the right time. James has taught us so well that when we rely on God in times of trial that wonderous solutions come to us that we might never have thought. I prayed that her newfound relationship with Jesus would also guide our conversations.
The last few words in the Book of James is really a summary. He tells us to take all of the wisdom and expectations of the five chapters and work together for the glory of God. To help those Christians who wander off God’s track and bring them back into his loving arms. To guide our children to a life of grace, wisdom and forgiveness.
Which brings me to the second of those God moments. My daughter and I were on the phone having yet another tense conversation while she was back at school. Full of misunderstandings and secret expectations (She has since told me she had long felt I had extremely high expectations of her and she didn’t want to fail me). I took a breath and prayed for God to speak through me. I stopped talking. I started listening. And finally, the right words came.
Me: “I have something to ask of you.”
Me: “I am working really hard on trusting God to handle a lot of stuff – including my fears and hopes and dreams for you.”
Her: “Uh uh.”
Me: “But I fail, a lot. I’m very impressed how you give a lot of grace and forgiveness to your friends, coaches, and teachers. What I’m asking for is that you give me some of that same grace and forgiveness for when I fail.”
Pin drop. God’s words not only diffused the situation but it called on her to look on her own faith. It asked her to treat me just like any other Christian to whom she shows love. It took me out of being “just her mom” to being a person. God was doing a mighty work in that moment.
As Christians we probably have Christian friends. We might have Christian children and spouses. We should have the expectation to which James exhorts us, which is to help keep our brothers and sisters on track. We might cringe at that thinking, again, we don’t want to be judgmental people. But by relying on our faith and reminding others of their faith helps us all to grow closer to Christ. It’s that Imperfect Progress my Bible study girls like to talk about.
What is more worthwhile than saving someone from death and covering a multitude of sin?
Faith That Works
If we are in the mindset that our faith is ours and ours alone, we won’t reach out and bring others to Christ. We won’t help our brethren when they fall. I was in a Bible study group once where a woman stated she had never had a conversation about Christ with someone other than people at her church. She seemed ok with that. It made me sad. I know that God had put multiple people in her life along the way (she was in her 80s) to help do His work. I know that because that is God’s nature.
Every person you meet is providential, not accidental.
Phil Hopper, Pastor, Abundant Life Church
So often we think about going out to foreign countries to share our faith when in our own homes and neighborhoods and schools and play groups and Bunco groups and dinner clubs there are people who need Christ. There are Christians who need our support. It’s one thing to gain wisdom from studying His Word and yet another to actually use that wisdom to glorify God.
May we be lumps of salt in the midst of society.
I like that visual. To be placed around our neighborhoods and cities for the people to gain something good. We aren’t to be stockpiling our salt for our own personal use. We should be anticipating those moments God says, “Here, help my beloved.”
In other words, if we look at our salvation as a gift from God, we must also share that gift. We must also share the love and teachings of Jesus. By using Jesus’ ways as our touchstone, we can guide others along the way.
My daughter now will give me biblically based advice when I am struggling. She reminds me to lean into and on God. She gently pushes me closer to Jesus. I had a older friend, who at the beginning of the Covid19 crisis, I checked in on. I considered him a leader in our church, a man of strong faith. He was distraught and depressed. He said to me, “I just can’t see God in any of this to be honest.” And me, a person who struggles with memorizing any scripture spoke these words back to him: “You must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a boat on the waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6) This man of great faith was silent. And then he said, “Thank you.”
As a Christian, I need my Christian friends and family to remind me of the promises God has made. I need nudges back toward His light. I may even need a whack over the head once in a while. If we choose not to help each other, think of all the opportunities we have missed to glorify Him and the people we will not have helped save from death. And as for my older daughter, I pray every day of my role in bringing her to Christ. More importantly, I pray that a Christian friend of hers will tell her their testimony and invite her on The Way.`
Last Christmas, my new son-in-law sat reading a large paperback book. I asked him about it. He introduced me to “Spurgeon On Prayer & Spiritual Warfare,” a 575-page book filled with Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on prayer. There are prayers on why to pray, how to pray, what to pray, and even when to pray. After skimming over my son-in-law’s copy, I decided I needed my own copy. I’ve only scratched the surface of the 54 sermons, but I’ve come to realize two important things about prayer: 1) Do it and 2) Do it earnestly.
How many of us truly believe in the power of prayer? Let’s back up a bit. How many of us Christians truly believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light? Unfortunately, I know quite a few people who say they are Christians but won’t stand up with assuredness that this statement is true. We are so wrapped up in the idea of being judgemental – telling people their way isn’t the right way – that we are willing to give up this foundation stone. We want to put the capstone on our faith by calling ourselves “Christians” without the foundation. In doing so, we shove aside all the teachings of Jesus and how to express our faith out of love, rather than judgement. We also tear down the place Jesus holds in the eternal world.
Let’s say we accept the statement that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light. We are now miles ahead of the Pharisees. This was their stumbling block. So, if we accept this, we need to then look at prayer from that vantage point. When Jesus is our Way and our Truth then we also accept God as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And throughout scripture we are almost begged by God and Jesus to bring Him our trials, our joys, our sorrows, and our sins.
Notice scripture doesn’t say “well, only when you feel you need to pray.” It also doesn’t say to just pray when we are sick or worried. In EVERY situation we are to pray. Upon waking, eating breakfast, hopping in our car for work (or on our computer), when a friend or colleague starts gossiping, when a friend texts you with bad news, when you look out your window and see a blue sky, when you eat lunch, when you are working on a project, when you head home from work, arrive home safely (or after an accident), when you eat dinner, when you start worrying about things on the nightly news, when you lay your head down to sleep. EVERY situation.
I have to confess that God has revealed a painful truth to me about my prayer life. When I am most worried about a situation is when I have the most difficult time praying. I have a hard time slowing my mind down, focusing on Jesus, and asking Him to take control. Back when I was a softball coach, I couldn’t stand watching a game when I was off the field. I wanted to yell out directions to the players (I yell at the TV too). But when I took my seat in the head coach’s spot, I would become calm. It’s because I had some control over the situation. So, when I need to give up my worries it’s like standing outside that fence, letting someone else be in charge. And that is very difficult for me.
We have an agreement, a covenant that God enters into with those who pray to Him and are helped by Him.
In other words, we must acknowledge that God is trustworthy and has delivered us before and He will do it again. Our part is then to glorify Him through prayer and praise. Glorify – that sounds more than just a passing “thanks, God.” I’ve been guilty of that – if I even remembered to thank Him. Which brings me to being earnest.
If we believe that Jesus is the Way and God is the powerful King of Kings, we must honor this exalted position. Would you walk into the Queen of England’s throne room casually and just say, “hey, what’s up Queenie? If it were at all possible would you be able to help me find a new job? I get it if you can’t but maybe you can try.” Casual, and not very expecting. God is God. The One most High. We should come in reverence and expectation. He CAN do all. He has done it all. We need to plead with him, put our heart into it, and rap our knuckles as hard as possible against heaven’s door.
How many of us actually have such low expectations of our prayers? We say them with rote numbness. My family used to say the exact same prayer at dinner time. It comes to mean absolutely nothing and is usually expressed with that same nothingness. My husband and I started praying in earnest this year over our evening meal. We express thankfulness and joy for good things that happened. We ask earnestly for healing of friends and family members. And we ask Him to use us and place opportunities to be His light in this world in front of us. It not only has helped us be in communion with God but it has also strengthened our marriage.
An earnest pleader comes out of his prayer closet rejoicing like a strong man ready to run his race.
I love that visual. After praying all my prayer cards in my “war room” I frequently feel emboldened to take on the world as one of God’s blessed daughters. How many of us who have children (or co-workers) and we’ve needed them to complete a task? We mention it half-heartedly. They pretend not to hear us or just roll their eyes. As a parent and coach, I eventually perfected “The Look.” That’s the look that says “mom is serious about this so it’d better get done.” That’s the look we need to have in our prayer life. Expectation that God will answer our prayers. It may sound sacrilegious to “expect God” to do something in our life but He himself has said to us over and over to trust Him, to ask Him, to plead with Him.
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
and forgive us our debts, as
we have also forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but
deliver us from the evil one.”
Do you see the glorification and exaltation of God in the first sentence? Then, the trust and reminder that God’s will is meant to rule the earth. We then ask him to provide for us. Really, using the word “give” is like demanding. Pleading with Him to forgive us. And giving us hope for the future. Man, was Jesus so great with words! How many times have we recited this and not thought about what we are saying? Next time we speak these words make it in earnest, bring some emotion to it! Beg Him to forgive you and help you.
We are ordinary people asking extraordinary things from an amazing, loving, faithful, and powerful God. Throughout the Bible, people just like us asked for victory over large armies, the rain to fall and the rain to stop, for loved ones to be healed and even raised from the dead, for our never-ending ailments to be taken away, for our life of sin to be cleansed. And God abided. He healed us. He saved us. He made it rain. He has showered us for centuries with answered prayers.
We must pray in earnest. It is a supernatural, powerful tool that Jesus gave us. Some of us use prayer like we are brushing our teeth – rote and without remembering all the benefits. Something we have to do. It’s time to take it up daily like a torch against the darkness, a sword against evil, and a golden gift presented to our Lord Most Exalted.
As I sit here typing I am enjoying the sounds of my neighbor’s roof being ripped apart by workers. Yes, enjoying. You see my new neighbors moved in about two months ago. And then they moved out. I haven’t seen them much over the two months because they had their flooring all re-done. And then re-done. The person they originally hired to install their beautiful reclaimed wood floors did a horrible job – when he showed up. So, they had to fire him and hire a new installer. And now the roof. They’ve been told for weeks the new roof would be installed any day. Last week they were told it would be on Thursday. Then Friday. Then Monday. So today the roofers finally arrived. I like my new neighbors and I know how frustrating this has been for them. So yes, I’m enjoying the noise knowing the work has finally started. It seems that there are so few people and companies we can actually rely on today who make their “yes” mean “yes.” It may sound harsh, but when we don’t make our “yes” mean “yes” and our “no” mean “no” that’s called lying.
I watched an interesting video interaction once where a pastor went up to people and asked if they sinned and had broken the 10 commandments. They all said, “no.” Then he started asking them questions. “Have you ever taken a pen from your work?” That’s stealing. “Have you ever ‘swore to God’ you would do something for someone and you didn’t?” That’s taking God’s name in vain. And on and on. It was fascinating to watch the faces of the people change. They looked humbled.
The Bible is big on trustworthiness. God’s covenant with us is His way of setting this concept in the forefront. He is trustworthy. He is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the Rock we can trust will be with us in times of trouble. And He asks us to work on being trustworthy with our promises. When we are asked by a friend not to reveal something told in confidence, we aren’t to go into that decision lightly. With God’s wisdom by our side we give our “yes” or our “no.” And we stick by it. We don’t need to swear it. We just need to mean it.
I was a PTA president at my daughters’ elementary school for two years. I frequently asked people to help on projects or events. I appreciated those who would say “no” and not be squirmy about it. I, of course, really appreciated the people who gave me an eager “yes” and meant it. The people I had the most issue with were those that said “yes” and then wouldn’t show up, wouldn’t do the work, or gave a half-hearted effort. They would swear they wanted to help. It’s those people that I felt had they said no, I would’ve been better off.
If he is a true man and has plainly said, “I will,” you have him in your hand. He was free before giving it but not free after.
What if we all thought that way when we gave our decisions? Before we answer, we are fully free to pick whichever we wish. But once we say “I will” we are fully committed. Yes, circumstances arise that may be difficult to follow through – a late order from another company, the weather, an illness, something breaks down – but knowing we have made that commitment we will move heaven and earth to fulfill that obligation. We all have experienced situations where a person or company fails in their obligation. It is their reaction to that failure that we most respond to. Are they willing to make up for the failure? Are they contrite? Or do you get a “whatever” response? We will determine then if they are trustworthy or not.
When we enter into that covenant with another person by giving our “yes” we need to be sure we aren’t impetuous. Are we making that decision to impress others or even to impress God? I was involved with a woman through Girl Scouts and PTA for many years who volunteered for everything. People on the outside thought she was amazing! Her name was on all the volunteer lists. The only problem was she never actually followed through and completed the tasks.
That’s Jesus talking. And he’s not just talking about following through with commitments we make and being honest. He’s also talking about saying “no” to things we need to say “no” to. When we are tempted to do wrong, we need to just say a firm “no.” When we are asked to take on a task and have prayed about it and God tells us “no,” we need to say the same to the asker. Not “maybe.” Not, “possibly.” Not, “I’ll see.” We don’t need some long explanation. With His wisdom tucked firmly in our back pocket to be used at a moment’s notice, we can be firm on our “no.” Sometimes it’s difficult to decide which way to turn. If only we had the breastplate described in Exodus 28:15
Included on the tunic was a pocket with a black and a white stone. When a big decision needed to be made, the faith leader would reach in and pull out the stone. Black for no and white for yes. It reminds me of those Magic 8 Balls. Although those always seemed stuck on “Maybe.”
In my post on patience I listed the reasons you should have patience. One of those was for better decision-making. When we aren’t emotional and stressed, we can think through a decision much clearer. As a Christian we have the power of prayer. We have the Word of God. How many of us, when faced with a big decision turn to both of these? And wait for an answer? I used to volunteer for anything thrown my way. Part of it was out of pride – thinking how great it was to be asked. Another part was needing to always be “doing something.” After I volunteered THEN I would ask God to work it out. Yes, a bit backwards.
I learned a long time ago at my first professional, career job that, when making especially difficult or controversial decisions, I wanted to align those decisions with my boss. That way I knew if issues came up, I was supported. That thinking has served me well throughout my working career. And when I finally applied that same concept to the rest of my life it made giving my “yes” and my “no” much easier. God is my boss. When I align my decisions with His Word, I am strengthened by the promises He has made. I know He is working all things for my good.
I’ve told my friends that looking back over my life so far, I really have only one regret. It’s that I wish I had a closer relationship with Jesus when I was the parent of young kids. My husband and I attended church fairly regularly. But I was wrapped up in childrearing worries and stresses and didn’t know how to turn all that over to God. I could’ve enjoyed many more hours of sleep had I not been such a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” person. I found myself, during a very long season of self-doubt about my parenting skills, constantly praying for patience. Literally praying every single night for about two years for patience. You see, I was so afraid of turning into my mother – screaming at my kids and losing control – that I thought patience was the answer. One Sunday, our pastor’s sermon was about praying. He said, “If you keep praying about the same problem over and over and over maybe it’s time to start praying for something different.” He had a knack for speaking on issues near and dear to me. So that night I stopped praying for patience and instead prayed for ways to help me deal with difficult situations.
As I’ve grown closer to Jesus, He has taught me a lot of lessons. He’s still teaching me. And step-by-step He has moved me closer to my original plea for patience. You see, I wasn’t ready to learn the hard stuff yet. He just wanted me to start turning to Him when I was in need, when I was broken. Patience may be a virtue but it is a heck of a hard thing to have and use regularly.
I first needed to learn what standing firm, standing safely in God’s arms even meant. I didn’t have the wisdom needed to grasp the joy in hearing that the Lord is coming near. I heard on a Joyce Meyer’s podcast this morning that God gives us a lot of leeway and grace when we first become Christians. But once we hear the Word and gain His wisdom, expectations change. We are expected to act as His children, not as children of this world. Think about that. Every time we attend church, do a Bible study, listen to a Christian podcast, see a Christian post on social media we are hearing His Word. We are learning the nature and expectations of God. And He expects us to live as He prescribes.
Wisdom that we glean from God yields patience. And when we are patient, that glorifies what we have learned from God. We cannot be steeped in the nature of God without also knowing and acting in patience. Why? Because patience means love. It means grace. It means forgiveness. Thank God He is patient with us. I never feel God rushes me to learn a lesson. In fact, my lesson in patience has taken about 26 years.
I looked up on-line “how to be patient.” I came across a website that focuses on self -improvement. Here’s their reasons why we should learn patience.
We make better decisions by assessing situations rather than going in emotional and blind.
We have less stress by understanding some things take longer than others.
Our relationships are improved because we are more flexible and understanding.
Doesn’t that all sound like something God would want from us? Being wise, giving our stress up to God, and loving and being grace-filled toward others.
They then described a 6-step process for learning patience:
Understand and counteract triggers
Increase your self-confidence
Put on your “positive glasses”
Change your attitude – “why are you in such a hurry?”
Visualize worst case scenarios
Release tension and stress through eating right, exercise, enjoying activities
Now imaging trying to do all that without God. Here’s my Christian re-do of these six steps:
Pray for God to reveal the areas where you struggle with patience (sometimes we pretend we aren’t being impatient and justify our actions)
John 16:24, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”
Recognize that God loves you. Accept He wants the very best for you.
John 16:27, “No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”
Remember that joy can be found in trials. And most of all that God has delivered for you in the past. He is faithful.
2 Thes 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”
Rejoice each and every day, if not every hour, for all the great things in your life.
Prov 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
To be honest, visualizing worst case scenarios has been helpful to me. If I’m waiting in a long line at Costco and start getting impatient I think, “Well, what have I got to be impatient for anyways?” or “Well, if I’m late because of this line I can call ahead and let them know.”
Matt 6:27, “Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Yes, eat right, exercise, enjoy new and old activities. And pray. And pray. And pray. Give up all those thoughts, those worries, those fears, those negative emotions to God. Cry out to Jesus and ask Him to remove whatever negative thought you have right then.
1 Samuel 2:1, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance.”
When we get closer to God – become fluent in His character – that is when He can work His ways in us. And God is always patient with us. My friend and I were having lunch today and she said she is starting to have more moments in her difficult life where she looks up and gives a little smile – recognizing those growth moments God has put in front of her. As for me, I described for her my process of writing and how I study the topic, pray, and then start writing. I rarely stop writing one of these posts until I am done. The words just come out of me onto the computer. My whole body is focused on getting these words down. I told her how weird it was that I was interrupted multiple times while writing this post. And as I drove home from lunch, I was listening to a praise song and it hit me. Patience. The topic of this post. And I had just been tested. I was not annoyed about the interruptions. I felt blessed hearing from a few friends. And normally I would’ve been distracted during lunch, thinking about what else I needed to write. I would’ve failed my friend who I need to support during this time in her life.
I called my friend from my car and said, “I just got it! Patience! I was tested!” And she said, “I realized that while you were telling me. And I’m glad it finally came to you.” Maybe this whole actually studying God’s Word really does work. Time to look up and smile.
Before I became a Christian and even when I was a “baby Christian” I’d hear a lot of phrases from the Bible thrown about by believers and non-believers. Passages such as “judge not, lest you be judged” (Matt 7:1) and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) are frequently taken out of context and misused. And then there’s the quotes that aren’t even in the Bible such as, “God helps those who help themselves,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” While all those sound good, we must always be careful not to put words in God’s mouth. Along with all of these I think one of the most misunderstood concepts people have is about being wealthy. Non-believers will use this against successful Christians. And believers sometimes think having wealth is a sin. When Jesus said,
This was in response to asking a wealthy ruler to give up all his power and wealth and come follow Him. The ruler was very sad because he was very wealthy and he wasn’t all that honest. It’s necessary to know that no one is saved by giving up all their wealth. What Jesus was really asking of the ruler was to be honest about what he coveted. There was much more going on in this story than a man being told to give up his wealth to follow Jesus. This is why I keep hearing over and over these days to not just read the Bible but to study it. Take, for instance, this famous poem by William Wadsworth:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze …
“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud“
If we were to just read it for what it basically says we would think he was a lonely man who thought he was a cloud. And when he saw some flowers he thought they were actually dancing. Sounds like someone on drugs. But when we study the poem, we find a beautiful short tale about a man who loves nature and finds joy whenever he sees daffodils. Therein lies the need for great Biblical teachers and pastors.
As we explore the last chapter of James, we find him being very angry with the wealthy members of the church. Not because they are wealthy, but just like the ruler Jesus admonished, they have turned their wealth into their god. They have cheated and lied all in the name of increasing their wealth. How many of us today covet our bank account in lieu of helping those in need? As an American, even our poorest are considered wealthy in relation to other countries. Just having a home, a steady job, owning one or two cars, having three meals a day, a closet full of clothes, a tv and more, far and away exceed what others have. And none of that is wrong. James condemns the wrong use of riches – using wealth as a weapon rather than a tool to build others up. I’ve heard so many people over the years actually worry that Jesus will ask them to give up all their money and become a poor missionary. I say, if that’s truly what you are worried about then be careful, that just might be what God asks you to do!
James doesn’t stop there. Our lack of patience, our lies (both little and big), our lazy prayer life, and our lack of desire to help our fellow Christians grow and be their best in the eyes of Christ, are all on display this week in James 5.
If we aren’t careful so much of James can turn into one of those misused verses or phrases. If we remember two things as we work on the final week of this study let them be this: 1) it is always about what is in our heart that Jesus cares about and 2) thankfully we are given grace each and every time we confess that we have forgotten the first.
My youngest daughter is a poster child for God’s transformation. When she was a toddler, she constantly begged me to buy her bright and shiny things she saw advertised on tv then displayed on the grocery shelves. I left the grocery store many times during one of her meltdowns. As she got older, I heard on a daily basis of her “needs.” “I need more shorts (from the expensive store).” “I need more pants.” “I need a new straightener.” “I need a new (fill in the blank).” And then there were the social status issues: “Olivia’s mom gets her those, why can’t I have that?” We started calling her the family princess. My older daughter, who to almost frustration, never asks for anything. My prayer life was filled with asking for patience. This beautiful, smart, vivacious, talented, young girl acted like a spoiled brat. Thankfully, she reserved all the negative behavior for her home life. Away from home her teachers, coaches, and friends all loved her. But they didn’t have to live with her. My husband and I decided enough was enough. He started planning frequent mission projects for the two of them to participate in. She taught vacation Bible School. She got a job. We knuckled down on all those “needs.” And then we sent her off to college, waiting for her to start begging us for money each week.
James first starts in chapter 1 that we should consider it pure joy whenever we face trials (James 1:2). I loved my daughter immensely during those younger years. I enjoyed her humor, her ability to make any situation into a song. She was a fierce, talented competitor on the field. She would burst into the house after school and shower me with love. That’s what I would thank God for, not for when things went off the rails. Without the hard stuff I might not have fully appreciated the good stuff. So, when I sent her off almost 2,000 miles away for college my house felt quiet, too quiet. And for her, she came to realize how good she had it at home. She faced terrible roommates, crazy coaches, and bored, lazy professors. But she also was led to a relationship with Jesus, thanks to being invited to attend an Athletes In Action meeting. Her “needs” became a need to live in God’s love – not the world of earthly desires. She surrendered herself fully and in turn, found what really matters in life – an eternal love plus the love and friendships that make us better. Now when she asks, she asks with the right motives. She asks for God’s will – not her’s.
This amazing, transformed, daughter of Christ has plans. But they’re God’s plans. Her creative mind and her earthly tendency to “want stuff” is still there. It’s amazing to watch her pull it back in. You can tell that peace dwells more frequently in her. Before they got married about a year ago, she and her husband went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace program. Having the desire to do it in the first place showed their spiritual maturity. They both have great jobs after having graduated college. And they could have a lot of “stuff.” But they made a plan with God in mind. My little girl who demanded so much is now so incredibly disciplined. And yes, she has thanked my husband and I many times over for instilling so many morals and values in her. But it’s God’s work that fully planted those in her heart. I truly believe the trials she went through while in college gave her a choice – to go down the earthly path or to turn and surrender to God.
James 4 was a message to my daughter.
James 4 is a message to all of us who struggle day in and day out with trying to control our lives. Trying to get all our “needs and wants” satisfied. It’s a message to all of us who have put “Self” in front of God. It’s also a message of hope that when we do what we ought to do, when we submit and surrender everything to God, He will draw near to us. We have a role to play and unless we take our required steps, God cannot finish the work in us. How many of us who struggle with money are willing to spend the next few months going through Financial Peace University?”
And lest we think “those people” are the ones that need to hear this message, the work God had to do in me with my relationship with my daughter was huge. When I finally surrendered her over to him, when I finally threw up my hands and said, “Ok, I’ve failed, I’ll try it your way,” I could start mending our relationship. When I started praying His will, and not mine, great things happened. The planning of her wedding was God’s gift to both of us. Had she been the “girl before God” she would’ve demanded expensive, well, everything. Instead she and her fiancé put together a tight budget. We made decorations. We eliminated needless activities. God sent them people who would make a cake for $60, a free videographer, an inexpensive caterer. They wanted the focus to be on Jesus. It was so darn fun.
God’s gifts to me, my two beautiful daughters, are just that – His gifts. And like my finances, and my marriage, and my home, I need to be a good steward of His gifts. So, I pray for His will be done. And may the devil flee.
A year ago I decided to take my weight gain seriously. My middle-aged hormones were wreaking havoc on my body. I had gained 35 pounds. And I was two months away from my daughter’s wedding. God wants us to take care of ourselves. 1 Corinthians 6 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” And so, along with the help of a weight loss app I finally decided to really do something about it. I was diligent. By the time my daughter’s wedding came around the dress that I had tailored a few weeks prior didn’t really fit me – it hung loosely in a number of places. About six months in I was 10 pounds away from my goal weight and decided I didn’t need the app anymore. Around that same time the Covid19 crisis struck. And here I am another seven months later with 15 pounds to lose. You got that – I, of course, gained more weight. So, at lunch today I sat across from my friend who also tries to watch her weight. I told her about a great dish the restaurant has that is low calorie. I knew exactly what to order and what not to order. And as the waitress took our order, I did exactly what I shouldn’t. I gave into my cravings. Not only that, I convinced my friend to do the same.
One of my favorite verses from the Bible is quite the tongue twister. When I heard a young pastor speak on these verses he could barely get it out without laughing.
And the do’s keep going for four more verses! James makes it a lot clearer:
We’ve probably all been there with the diet issue. But how many times do we not do what we know we should do? For some of us that might be every, single day. Sinning is our very nature. We Christians have allowed other people to use the word “sin” against us. They say it makes us judgmental. It makes us hypocrites. It shows we don’t love people. But sin is everyone’s nature – whether you are a Christian or not. You can thank Adam and Eve for that. Unlike atheists, Christians just recognize that we are sinning. But the enemy wants us to be prideful and say we don’t sin – it’s those “other people.” Throughout our day we need to recognize our sinful behavior and ask God for forgiveness. When I blame someone else for “making me upset” or I accuse others of “doing worse than me” that’s pride shining through. It also gives us cover to do the exact same thing over and over. Sinning make take the form of fear over faith, worry, improper thoughts, shame or gossip.
My daily sin is being impatient and annoyed with people. I know not to do it. But I do it. Sometimes I’m so caught up in my excuses I forget to take a moment and ask for that forgiveness – to ask for that strength not to do it again. But I had a recent revelation. I was living in transgression. That, my friends, is a sin that is done over and over for a hidden reason. After one of my prayers of forgiveness Jesus shined a light on it. My lack of humility. It was the root of my everyday sinning. I was making excuses and hiding it. And until I realized, it there was no chance of me stopping my bad behavior.
You see all the accusers of this woman about to be stoned were hiding their sins, trying to sell everyone on their pious lives. But you really can’t hide from Jesus. Satan loves when we try to hide our sins. I’ve been telling my Bible Study Girls lately that living like that creates a visual of a dark, scribbly mass living inside of us – creating chaos and hatred and all things ugly. We have a hard time doing the right things for the right reason when we live with transgressions.
And then we have iniquities – where those transgressions become a bondage to our transgressions. It drives us to repeatedly and continually commit sin. It perverts all our good intentions. For example, my sin of being annoyed with cashiers. When I do it time and again it becomes about a lack of grace, love and humility on my part (transgression). If I don’t repent and ask God to help this sin can move into an iniquity – where I actually hate cashiers. I might even call them names, or think of them as lowly people for doing such “menial” jobs. It becomes a soul crusher. And satan dances.
Because, as Christians, we make it a point to live with the mind of Christ and the knowledge of God’s Word, we know what “doing good” means. We can choose to give to the poor. Or we can choose to ignore God’s call to help the needy. And in doing so we sin. And if we consistently withhold God’s treasure from His people our sin transforms into transgression – maybe a fear of losing money, a fear of not having enough money. And those constant hidden thoughts about money may lead to an iniquity – greed, hatefulness to the needy, miserly behavior. And none of those creates a loving mind and heart.
Why do we not do what we know we ought to do? Because we have a sinful nature. We want what we want, and we want it now. The closer we try to live next to Jesus and the more we fill our minds and hearts with God, the harder it is to allow room for those sins to become soul killers.
God knows His children. He knows we need constant correction. Let’s just try to keep our lives on the slightly wandering path rather than taking the full off-ramp. Ask God right now to reveal any hidden sins in you — anything that you need to recognize that negatively motivates your behavior. He loves you and will gladly honor your request in a way that He knows you need. Don’t be afraid. Just ask. And then do what He tells you.