Posts Tagged 'spirituality'

THE ESSENCE OF GOD

The terms “essence” and “substance” mean pretty much the same thing when used of God. The “essence” of God is that which is behind all outward manifestations of God – that is, God’s essence is the reality of God itself, material or immaterial. The “essence” of God refers to the basic aspect of the nature of God. God is not a philosophy or an idea or even the personification of an idea. God is a Person, He has “essence” and “substance.”

1. God is Spirit

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

God is a substance, but not a material substance. God is a Spirit therefore He is a spiritual substance. As human beings, we are tripartite, that is, a person is a spirit, he has a soul, and lives in a body. When we look at people, we can’t see their immaterial parts – soul and spirit – only their material or physical part – the body. God has no body to observe and this fact enables skeptics and doubters to question God’s reality simply because we can’t observe Him or experience Him in the material realm. The Bible, however, makes plain the existence of another realm that is just as real as our material realm: the realm of the spirit. There is a dimension that exists alongside our dimension and this is the dimension in which God dwells. From Genesis onward we can observe God’s work in our dimension from His. For example, God created man in our dimension but gave him a spirit; we read about angelic (spirit) visitors, audible communications from God to people, and of theophanies, which are physical but limited manifestations of God clearly perceptible by man. From time to time, God breaks through from His realm into ours so that we may observe and experience Him, His presence, and the things of the spirit in a way that is real to us.

False worship

Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. (Deuteronomy 4:12)

You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman… (Deuteronomy 4:15, 16)

God does not have a body like ours or like anything in our material world. The ancient Israelites were surrounded by nations that worshiped idols; gods they made in the image of things they could see with their eyes. God had commanded the Israelites not to make any images that would represent God; images that looked like things in the material world. Sadly, when the faith of the Israelites wavered, the first thing they did was to craft idols to help them worship an invisible God.

Real worship

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)

The Israelites fashioned idols to represent God. Because their faith was lacking, they needed something to see to help them worship Someone they could not see. “Why” the Israelites made idols is irrelevant because God expressly told them never to do it. God is a spirit, therefore His people must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Using a “worship aid,” like an idol, is not worshiping truthfully, rather it is dishonest worship because while a person may think they are worshiping the invisible God, they are in reality devoting themselves to the idol – the thing representing God.

Because human beings are tripartite beings, they must worship God with all of their being: body, soul, and spirit. Using an idol may get the body to worship but does nothing for the soul and spirit.

Freedom through the spirit

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Other translations read like this: “The Lord is that Spirit,” referring to Jesus Christ. When people turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, away from things like the Law of Moses, we experience spiritual freedom. The Israelites under Moses could not experience God personally; they had no freedom of worship. But Christ is not confined to the written word, He is “the” or “that” Spirit which may be worshiped anywhere, any time and His presence is wherever His people may be. Not only that, the Spirit of Christ is what sets people free from the bondage to both sin and the Law.

The divine nature of Christ

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15)

The Son of God, as the second Person of the Trinity, was pure Spirit prior to His Incarnation. Through the Incarnation, the Son of God was united with human flesh to create the Man Jesus Christ – fully human and fully divine, one Person with two natures, perfectly united. The Father and the Son are equally God and united in purpose, yet two distinct Persons. Jesus Christ came to reveal God to us and to reconcile us to God.

Our invisible, immortal God

…who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:16)

On its surface, this verse seems to state the obvious. Immortality is nothing new. Angels are immortal. Demons are immortal. Even human beings are immortal in the sense that the body may die but the spirit lives on forever. However, all these immortal beings have “created immortality.” God is different because His immortality is inherent – its part of His essence. Our immortality is derived from Him.

2. God is a Person

Aristotle wrote about the “Prime Mover,” a force behind what we can see. Thomas Carlyle spoke of the “god-stuff” in religious rituals. Hegel and the other idealistic philosophers represented God as an impersonal spirit. All the smart people were wrong. God is a Spirit and He therefore must have a personality. The very fact that He relates to us must mean He is a Person, even if He is a Person at a level unfathomable by us.

Covenant maker

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14, 15)

Only people can make covenants or contracts with other people. God heard the cries of the Hebrews in Egypt and that moved Him to initiate a covenant with them through His friend Moses. God is a Person in a way that is a mystery to us, but that difference didn’t prevent Him from entering into a covenant with other people.

Deliverer

I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:5, 6)

In this 8th century BC prophecy, God revealed to Isaiah that He would raise up a deliverer who would bring an end to the Babylonian Captivity and restore the Jews to their homeland in the 6th century. It was a very precise prophecy, God named this deliverer – Cyrus.

This passage of Scripture revealed to the Jews that God is both transcendent and immanent. He is transcendent in that He exists outside of our realm. God is not limited in any way by the things that limit us, including time. He alone knows “the beginning from the end,” so it shouldn’t surprise us that God named a man who was to be born 200 years hence! But God is also immanent; He is close to us and He is able to relate to us in our world. Just as He entered into a covenant with Moses, He spoke to Isaiah.

Provider

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:30 – 32)

During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stressed the idea that we shouldn’t put our trust in material things; that we shouldn’t worry about things in our material world. God looks after all of His creation, from living animals to inanimate things like flowers. But God, as He relates to human beings, is like a Father. All human fathers look after their children, how much more does God our Father look after us? It is part of God’s nature to care for those He created.

3. God is eternal and unchanging

Eternity in His hands

The idea of the “eternity of God” means that He is infinite in relation to time. That is, He is without beginning and without end. God is completely free from the constraints of time because time is a part of our dimension, not His. That God is eternal is taught throughout the Bible: Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:2; 102:27; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Timothy 6:18.

God exists by reason of His nature, not His volition. He simply IS. God is, therefore, free from the succession of time. Eternity for God is now. In fact, we read this in 2 Peter 3:8 –

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day…

However, time does exist to God; He knows what a “day” is. Yet, He sees the past and future as clearly as He sees the present. How is this possible? It is simply because God is the cause of time!

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Unchanging, unchangeable

But the eternal God is also the unchangeable God. In theology we call this “the immutability of God.” Everything we are familiar with in our dimension changes, either for the better or for the worse. But God cannot change for the better because He is already absolutely perfect; He cannot change for the worse for the exact same reason. God is exalted over all things, even the possibility of change. God can never be any wiser, more compassionate, more truthful or more gracious. He is all these things in their totality.

I the Lord do not change. (Malachi 3:6)

God cannot possibly change, therefore when He speaks – when He makes a promise or gives His Word – His words are eternal in their force! That’s why God’s covenant with Israel, for example, is eternal.

Every single attribute of God; every aspect of His character is unchanging. From eternity past to eternity yet to come, nothing about God will change because He cannot change.

Similarly, Jesus Christ cannot change:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

What applies to God the Father must also apply to God the Son. Therefore, there is no expiration date on any of the benefits we have received through Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sins never stops; victory over sin never ends, and our salvation never needs to be re-upped!

God is completely reliable

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Because God doesn’t change, He doesn’t change His mind, even though it may appear like He does to us. He can be counted on to do all things He said He would do, the way He said He would do them. He will not – He cannot – treat us differently than He has promised. Therefore, no matter what, He cannot love us less. He cannot help us more. He cannot disregard any of the promises He has made to His children. God already knows the end from the beginning. All this may be mysterious to us, but there are no mysteries to God. Nothing is hidden from Him, nothing is unknown to Him, and nothing takes Him by surprise.

When we consider these things about God – the fact that He is a Spirit, and a Person, that He is eternal and immutable – we should worship and exalt Him. Understanding these points of theology is not an intellectual exercise! The more we learn about God, the greater our wonder of Him grows. How can we not humbly bow down and worship a God who is so great?

Almighty God,
The Great I AM,
Immoveable Rock,
Omnipotent, powerful,
Awesome Lord,
Victorious Warrior,
Commanding Kings of Kings,
Mighty Conqueror.
And the only time,
The only time I ever saw Him run,
Was when He ran to me,
Took me in His arms, held my head to His chest,
And said, “My son’s come home again.”
He lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes,
And said, “Son, do you know I still love you?”
He caught me by surprise,
When God ran.

God always catches us by surprise!

JEREMIAH, Part 6

Times of Drought, Times of Intercession, Part 1

Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas

Jeremiah 14:1—9

A devastating drought in Judah gave the prophet Jeremiah an opportunity to teach his people some much-needed lessons of morality. Precisely when this drought happened is unknown to us, but it must have been absolutely horrible.

Times of drought are times of testing. Maybe you have had droughts in your life; maybe you are experiencing one right now. God has every right to withhold His blessings whenever He thinks He should. We are all familiar with the drought where crops wither up and the topsoil blows away because there’s no rain. But there are other kinds of droughts you may experience:  droughts…

of peace;
of joy;
of spiritual power and fruitfulness;
of God’s presence.

God may be behind these droughts for a single salutary purpose for the sufferers.  And what the purpose is may not always be evident!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)

This “drought chapter” is also the most intercessory character of Jeremiah. God allowed this terrible environmental event for a purpose, but He didn’t just leave His people high and dry. He had his man on the scene and on his knees praying for the people.

1. Evidence of the drought

We may not know from history when the drought seized the land, but it’s effects were obvious.

Mournful perplexity

Judah mourns, her cities languish; they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem. (verse 2)

From the richest to the poorest, from the highest to the lowest, this drought brought mourning and languish to all in the land. The lives of everybody had been disrupted. The whole nation was distressed, depressed, and in despair. What’s worse, the people “wailed for the land.” That’s a curious phrase; it means they remembered what it used to be like, when it rained, when the ground was green and could be tilled, the wells were full, animals roamed healthy and well-fed, and life was good because the land was blessed.

But that was then. Now there was nothing; no water, no food, and no hope. This is what happens when the Lord holds back His blessings, and we are the ones that make that happen when we stubbornly refuse to live in obedience and submission to Him. God will do whatever it takes to bring us back in line.

Empty water pots

The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. (verse 3)

They went everywhere looking for water, but none could be found. Again we see the word “cisterns.” This is highly suggestive of times of spiritual drought, when God’s refreshing and reviving Spirit is withheld from His people, when there is “languishing” in the pews and a longing for the moves of the Spirit as in years past.

It’s possible for God’s people to long for His presence, desperately cry out for Him yet remain disappointed. God’s doesn’t play games with His people; if it seems as though He is distant; if it seems like it’s been a long time since you were spiritually satisfied, there is something wrong with you, not Him. It’s possible for some believers to want more of God, but not at the expense of wanting more of the world. You can’t have both.

Dismay

…the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads. (verse 4b)

The land, the animals, and the farmers all reeled under the weight of this terrible drought. The farmers were “dismayed”; they were confused and ashamed. When the well of God’s Word becomes dry and personal experience with God chapt, empty wells and dismayed church members are in plentiful supply.

2. Cause of the drought

Although our sins testify against us, O Lord, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you. (verse 7)

Notice the use of “our” in this verse. Like all the prophets of God, Jeremiah identified himself with his people. He himself was not guilty of his people’s sins, any more than Jesus was guilty of our sins, yet both identified themselves with the people they loved.

The people brought this drought on themselves by their reckless, sinful living. It wasn’t just their sins—we all sin—it was their backsliding. That is, it was their sinful state; these people literally never stopped sinning. They felt no remorse, or if they did, they didn’t do anything about it.

Shame and emptiness are the consequences of backsliding hearts. But there are other consequences to backsliding:

Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn because there is no grass. Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyes fail for lack of food. (verses 5, 6)

Just like when Adam and Eve sinned and the earth was cursed as part of their punishment, so when God’s people backslide even irrational creatures have to suffer because God is displeased. The doe, that traditionally cares for her young, was no longer able to do so. The wild donkeys, known for their strength, hardiness, and uncanny ability to survive on so little, were dying.  Sin carries serious consequences! It’s not just the backslidden believer who incurs the Lord’s anger, but the world around him.

3. The remedy

Can this kind of drought ever end? There is a remedy. There is a cure for the backslidden heart. It lies in our attitude toward the Lord Himself:

O Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress, why are you like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only a night? (verse 8)

This is the attitude God wants His people to have. He is our only hope in times of distress. Yet, it must be more than words. From the people of Judah, unfortunately, we have a here a great example of those who cry out to the Lord using all the right words, but without a hint of repentance. They rush through their confession, but it isn’t from their hearts.

Their attitude of the first half of the verse is good: God is the only hope and Savior of Israel. But that second phrase is just awful because it shows the tendency of all believers. Underneath their nice sounding words is the tendency to blame God for all their suffering. The words were right, but in reality, they were demanding that God get them out of where they were. There is no repentance here:

Why are you like a man taken by surprise, like a warrior powerless to save? You are among us, O Lord, and we bear your name; do not forsake us! (verse 9)

Talk about arrogance! This was their perception of God. The statements of this verse couldn’t be more wrong. Is God ever taken by surprise? NO! Is God ever powerless to save? NO! Would God ever forsake His people? NO! Sin has this effect on believers; it causes them to see God in the wrong light. It’s already hard enough for the devoted Christian to keep his thoughts straight about God, imagine how difficult it would become if your mind was full of sin!

The people of Judah, some of them, at least, seemed to long for God. They could tell that He had become distant, but instead of taking responsibility for their spiritual drought, they blamed God. They could not see their role in their state.

Modern believers have the same problem. From time to time, we should all pause and take a step back and examine our spiritual lives. Do we seem to be moving closer to God or does it seem like He is afar off? Does His Word no longer interest us? Have other pursuits overtaken your desire to grow in the faith? It’s easy to become complacent and  to take our faith for granted. It’s easy to blame God for our spiritual failures. It takes guts to walk by faith. It takes guts to acknowledge when you’ve strayed off the straight and narrow. But it is part of being a child of God. Are you up to it?

IT’S ALL ABOUT INTEGRITY!

It’s so hard to find nowadays, you need a sign to help you find integrity.

1 Thessalonians 4:1—12

You hear a lot about “integrity,” especially during an election cycle. We often think of integrity in terms of one’s character and reputation. We think of a Christian with integrity as one who is dedicated and committed to Christ regardless of his environment. The test of his integrity comes when he finds himself in a difficult situation where living his faith doesn’t come easy. How he faces that demonstrates his integrity.

Living a life of integrity isn’t always easy, especially when we try to do it under our own steam. However, the Christian has help: he has the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will help us live right and make right decisions. Maintaining our integrity in a world where integrity is rare is a solid witness for Christ.

1. Live in Moral Purity, 4:1—8

a. The Christian Life. vs. 1, 2

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

The NIV’s “ask…and…urge” and the KJV’s “beseech…and exhort” are phrases that indicate the seriousness of what is to follow. Paul doesn’t threaten or warn his friends, but he wants them to know how serious his next admonition is going to be. He had just written about being “blameless and holy” in God’s presence when He returns:

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (3:13)

With verse 1 of chapter 4, Paul continues this thought. As far as he was concerned, purity in living is the goal of Christian character. Holiness isn’t so much an additional, separate grace as it is the end result of maturity in the faith. One writer has observed:

What the heart is to the body that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart holiness is to the soul.

At the end of chapter 3, Paul prayed that God would fill the Thessalonians with love in order to achieve holiness of life. While Paul understands that a holy life cannot be achieved apart from God’s help, he also knows that the believer bears a responsibility in its development; they must attain it. Human effort is not done away with by the Divine.

From what Paul wrote, the Thessalonians were well on their way in holy living. The phrase “as you are living” is Paul’s way of praising them. But his emphasis here, as it always in his writing, is on achieving, moving ever forward, making greater progress.

Paul and his friends had taught the Thessalonians about holy living “by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” In other words, holy living isn’t Paul’s idea, it’s God’s will for His people. He taught them how God wanted them to live, not how he wanted them to live. Paul didn’t teach opinions, he taught God’s Word. Like much in the Christian life, holy living doesn’t come naturally even to the most dedicated believer. We must be taught how to live right. Obedience should always be in direct proportion to knowledge; knowledge and practice go hand-in-hand.

b. Sexual Purity, vs. 3—8

The first phrase of verse 3 should be memorized by every serious Christian:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified

There is no doubt that it is God’s will for believers to be holy. Holiness is not an option. But holiness takes many forms, just like sin. So, from a general statement about what God wants, Paul gives his readers a practical example:

that you should avoid sexual immorality

J.B. Phillips translates verse 3 in a way that makes Paul’s intention a little clearer:

God’s plan is to make you holy, and that entails first of all a clean cut with sexual immorality.

God makes us holy—He sanctifies us—but we play a part in the process. In the case of the Thessalonians, they needed to make a clean break from sexual immorality. We get a glimpse, perhaps, of the true state of the believers in Thessalonica. While Paul praised them for their attempts at holy living, it seems as though more work was needed. The Christians in this church were converts from paganism; from very sensuous religions that practiced sexual rituals in their worship. Many of the members of this large church had been raised in an environment where polygamy, homosexuality, and other sexual deviances were commonplace and accepted. To grow in their new-found faith they needed to completely do away with their old attitudes toward matters of sexuality.

...each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable… (verse 4)

This verse puts to bed the abominable notion that we can’t control our urges, or that “the devil made me do it.” In fact, we are able to “control our bodies” so as to live in obedience to God’s will that we be holy people.

But there is another way to interpret verse 4, and this is reflected in the GNT:

Each of you should know how to live with your wife in a holy and honorable way…

In other words, as this interpretation suggests, sexual satisfaction is to be found within the confines of a healthy marriage.

Regardless of the precise meaning of the difficult verse 4, the sense of this paragraph is clear. The Thessalonians and all Christians are to abstain from any form of sexual immorality in their efforts to cultivate a life of purity and holiness.

2. Increase in Christian Love, 4:9, 10

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

In his letters, Paul almost always stressed love and unity within the church ahead of any teachings on morality. Here, though, the order is reversed. After dealing with the area of morality, Paul turns to the topic of love. Specifically, brotherly love between Christians. Brotherly love (philadelphias) is a translation of two words meaning, “love” and “brother.” Outside of the Bible, Greek and Jewish writers used “brotherly love” of the kind of love that exists within the family unit. The New Testament writers all glommed onto the word as a way to describe the love that ought to exist within the Church. Clearly, God wants Christians to view their relationship to each other as familial in nature.

Paul’s only directive is: “we urge you.” Paul’s teaching on “brotherly love” reveals something important as to its nature. The great apostle simply “urges” his readers to love each other as they have been “taught by God.” When it comes to “brotherly love,” it is implanted in every believer at their new birth. All they have to do is let that implanted love manifest itself.

The Christian church of Paul’s day was a true anomaly in a cold, heartless, pagan world. In a world were hatred, jealousy, and contempt reigned supreme, members of this new Christian church actually loved each other! It should be this way, today. Love for our fellows is clear evidence of the new birth; it is something unrepentant sinners don’t have.

This kind of philadelphia needs to increase in the Church.

3. A Life of Industry: Work Hard!, 4:11, 12

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you… (verse 11)

Paul moves quite naturally from relationships within the Church to the Christian’s relationship with his community. How should the Christian be seen by the community at large? According to Paul, hard working, above reproach, living and working in such a way as to bring respect from a community of sinners.

Make it your aim to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. (GNT)

Ambition (one’s “aim”) is not a bad thing, in fact, Paul encourages ambition in the right direction. To lead “a quite life” is to be distinguished from the kind of life full of busyness that leads nowhere. One can be busy doing the wrong things; things that lead away from God, and that kind of ambition is wrong. A “quiet life” means a peacefulness of the mind. When selfish ambitions are one’s aim, there can only be unrest. But when Christ is the end desire of all we do, then He will be in control and rest will follow.

This kind of attitude will lead to two things. First, believers will mind their own business. It’s tempting to be like Mrs. Kravitz on the old “Bewitched” TV show. It’s tempting to be a nosy, meddlesome neighbor. Christians are to be mindful of each other within the Church, making sure our fellow members are doing well both in the Lord and in the world, but we should never cross the line (within or without the Church) of concern into being the kind of person who has an inordinate curiosity into the private affairs of others.

Second, believers are to work hard. Christians should never be lazy; they should never become a burden to their families or to society if they can help it. In the Thessalonian church, it seems that some of the believers were not working, and becoming restless because they believed the Lord was going to return at any moment. They were, in effect, lazy and sponging off the generosity of others. That way of life is not at all glorifying to God.

…so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (vs. 12)

So, when Christians are busy working and minding their own business, they will “win the respect of outsiders,” that is, people not part of the Church will respect them. The other benefit is that they will “not be dependent on anybody.” Another way to look at the phrase is like this:

…that ye may have lack of nothing. (KJV)

God will supply all our needs, but we are expected to our part! Hard work has its rewards, and one of them is that NEEDS are met.

Of course, our world today is vastly different from the world of the New Testament. Our economy is totally different from that of first century Thessalonica. But Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians is still relevant to the church today. Maintaining an honorable independence is essential in maintaining a good testimony to unbelievers. The work of the kingdom is always moving forward, as it was in the first century, through the lives of believers who go quietly, dutifully, and respectfully about their everyday chores.

JAMES: A MAN OF PRAYER

The inspiring story of a man of prayer, Angus Buchan.

There are several men in the New Testament named James. The James we are looking at now is James, the brother of Jesus. Technically James would be the half-brother of Jesus.

Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

This is the same man who wrote the letter that bears his name, which opens like this:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ… (James 1:1a)

It’s very telling that James never mentions his familial relationship to Jesus, referring to himself instead as “a servant…of the Lord Jesus Christ.” During the early years, James had no idea who his brother really was; it took him a long time to clue in that his brother Jesus was really the Messiah. No wonder our Lord said this:

“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” (Mark 6:4)

It may have taken James a while to come on-board, but when he finally did, he was all in for the cause! James was one who believed that Christianity was not just a series of doctrines and beliefs, but a life to be lived. James was a man of tremendous faith and his letter is all about Christian ethics: how we are to live out our faith.

He was immensely practical—maybe the most practical of all the New Testament writers—and James was also a man of prayer, and we can learn a lot about the practical side of prayer by looking at his prayers.

1. Wisdom and prayer

James has a lot to say about “wisdom” in his letter, but when he writes about wisdom he’s not writing about “knowledge” or education or philosophy. James’ wisdom relates to how we deal with the trials and tribulations of life. Specifically, James wants his readers to see how wisdom is necessary for discerning God’s will for our lives when the way is unclear:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2—4)

This piece of advice can at first seem like a huge pill to swallow. Who likes trials? As Christians, we need to understand that difficult times come along for a purpose: to make us mature. The thing is, knowing this fact and accepting it are two different things. We may intellectually be able to say, “Everything happens for a purpose,” when a bad thing happens to us, but accepting it means we need to know God’s will—the “why” it happened in the first place. Then we need to know how to react in the face of that difficult time. James makes the assumption that believers undergoing hard times will have a difficult time knowing God’s will, so he goes on to say in verse 5:

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Here is where so many Christians get lost. They are able to see and understand God’s will in the big issues of life; things like death, for example. But they lose sight of God’s will when the “little things” start nibbling at their faith. Bit by bit, piece by piece their faith gets eaten up with worry, anxiety, anger, and that leads to decisions and actions that may be completely out of God’s will. This is where wisdom from above is needed.

A lot of Christians earnestly desire to live in God’s will, and most of them start out well. They read their Bibles, go to church, they fellowship with other believers, and they do all things a Christian ought to do. But then something comes along—a difficultly at work, a family problem, or maybe a financial crisis—and the wind goes out of their sails. This Christian is now faced with a decision or decisions; they stand at an intersection, wondering whether to turn right, left, or proceed straight ahead. They want to remain in God’s, but which direction keeps them in God’s will? This is the kind of wisdom James says we need. This is the kind of wisdom we need to be asking God for.

Very rarely in life are there cosmic billboards telling us which direction to take. A lot of times God’s will may be difficult to see. This is probably by design. If there were “signs” all over pointing us in the right direction, we’d spend our time looking for signs instead of looking at God. If staying in God’s will was easy, it wouldn’t take any faith.

No, we need wisdom, and if we ask for it, God is not stingy! He will give us all the wisdom we need to make the right decisions at the right times to remain in His will. Now, it’s entirely possible we may make the wrong choice. We’re only human, and God understands this. Paul knew what felt like to make the wrong choice.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. (Acts 16:6)

Paul had made the decision to go one way, but it wasn’t God’s will, so the Holy Spirit prevented them from going too far astray. Eventually Paul would venture into the province of Asia and he had great success preaching the Word there, but this was not the right time. However, Paul was a persistent man. In the very next verse, we read this:

When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

Do you see what the great apostle did when God prevented him from going in a certain direction? He persisted and tried another direction. But, it still wasn’t in God’s will, so again Paul was prevented from making the wrong decision. This may not happen all the time with us, but we can be sure that God will do His level best to gently prod us in the right direction if our hearts are right. But He lets us make the decisions.

But it all comes down to wisdom. Paul needed it, and so do we.

2. Worldliness and prayer

We hear a lot about “worldliness” and how important it is that Christians avoid it. The problem is, most of us don’t know what “worldliness” is. Some Christians think “worldliness” is listening to all that “rock and roll” music on the radio. Others think it’s going to see a movie, or wearing a skirt too short or wearing fishnet stockings and sling back shoes. James, though, knew precisely what “worldliness” was, and it has little to do with how we spend our days off or what we wear:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. (James 4:1—2)

This is what real worldliness look like. When Christians start behaving like that, they are behaving like people in the world. Getting what you want no matter what you have to do to get it…this is worldliness, and this is what concerned James.

Paul understood the wickedness of this worldly attitude because it had infested one of his churches:

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly —mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1—3)

Worldliness makes the life of the Christian miserable in so many ways. Like the alcoholic who can never get enough, so the Christian, once he has tasted of worldliness, can never get enough. What’s worse is what James wrote:

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

When we are worldly, our vision blurs. When our focus is off of God, we cannot pray correctly; we pray for what we want, not for what God wants for us. James’ advice is to take a careful look at what we are praying for, why we are praying for it, and how we are praying. Do we simply have a grocery list of things we want? Or do pray to have God’s will be done?

Prayer always works; prayer never fails, but we must pray as redeemed people. Selfish or self-centered prayers get nowhere. Worldliness will stop your prayers quicker than anything else.

3. Wellness and prayer

We all want to be well, both in mind and body. In fact, judging by the number of pharmacies and clinics in even the smallest of towns, it’s probably safe to say that health and wellness are things Americans are borderline obsessed about.

In New Testament times, people wanted to be healthy, too. James knew this. But James also knew that being healthy was linked to being in God’s will. Remember, James is Mr. Practical, and here is his advice on wellness. Even though this was his prescription for first century Christians, it works just as well today:

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:14, 15)

This is an interesting prescription that the average Christian completely misunderstands. James isn’t really asking a question. Just like when James wrote, “if any of you lacks wisdom,” he was assuming they were lacking wisdom, so here James is assuming there is a sick person among his readers. So, if somebody you know is sick, what do you do?

One of things James says is to “anoint him with oil.” The question is naturally, “What good will that do?”  Well, in all honesty, the oil does nothing.  There is more than one word translated “anoint” in the New Testament. Most of time, the word is chrio, which refers to “sacred anointing oil,” the kind used in religious ceremonies. The other word is aleipho, which refers, not to “sacred anointing oil,” but to medicine. This is the word James used, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Essentially, James is telling his readers that when there is a sick person in their midst, pray for them but make sure they take their medicine.

Remember what James is known for? James is known for being practical. What’s more practical than telling a sick person to take his medicine? James 5:14 is not referring to anointing oil, but to medicine.

But, remember, James was also a man of prayer, and that’s why he told his readers that the sick person ought to call the elders to come and pray for him. Praying for the sick is absolutely essential: the prayer of faith will make the sick person well. Does that mean the sick person will be healed instantaneously? Not necessarily. If it is God’s will, the sick person will be healed. If it’s not God’s will for that sick person to jump up, completely restored to health, then that sick person will be “raised up.” What does that mean? It means he will be made well, eventually, one way or the other. The sick person will be given the strength to face the difficult situation he is in. It all goes back to wisdom and being able to discern, understand, and most of all, accept God’s will.

How are you doing at that?

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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