james-4

James 4

James 4 Today we’re reading James 4.

Do you tend to focus on the past or think about the future? That can be good thing if the good stuff in our past causes us to be thankful for people and opportunities and memories that God has allowed into our lives. Reflecting sometimes on the bad stuff in our past can be good, too, if we think about lessons we’ve learned from it rather than focusing on the hurt or shame or whatever other negative consequences came.

Focusing too much on the past, however, can be unhealthy. The past cannot be changed so the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” that sometimes accompanies thinking about the past only makes you feel bad in the present. Likewise, if you think your best days are behind you and think about the good times too much, it can take away your motivation to use the time you have today.

So, while some thinking about the past can be helpful, it is usually best to focus on the present and the future. Verse 13-17 here in James 4 give us some guidance in that area. Verse 13 raises the issue of the future and how we tend to make plans for the future optimistically. When we make plans for the future we often assume that the future will be exactly as we envision it with very little thought about what might disrupt our plans. Verse 15 reminds us, however, that we can’t be certain about what will happen tomorrow. The reason is that we are finite; someday our days will come to an end. Somewhere someone driving to work this morning was thinking about closing a big deal that would pay a large commission. That person was counting the money in his or her mind and what could be done with it once the check was safely cashed. Maybe that person had fun plans for the weekend, too, so they were smiling about the prospects for today and tomorrow. But that person’s life was cut short by a traffic accident or a heart attack or some other emergency that landed them in the hospital or at the bedside of someone they loved. We make plans quite naturally, but we cannot control the variables.

James does not discourage us from planning or looking forward to events in the future. Instead, according to verse 15, he encouraged us to remember that God’s will is bigger than our will and that His will may disrupt the plans we have for ourselves in the future. His command to us, then, is to plan while also submitting our plans to the sovereign will of God. This saves us from arrogance (v. 16); it also prepares us not to be overly disappointed when “life happens” and interrupts our plans.

Maybe you’re dealing with an unplanned setback in your life and struggling with the disappointment that quite naturally flows from a setback. Can you believe that God has a will for your life that is bigger than your plans? Do you trust that setbacks he allows in your life are for your good--to make you holy, to teach you to trust him, to prepare you to do good rather than living for yourself (see v. 17)? If you face an interrupted plan soon, remember this truth about God and his good will for your life. Finally, whenever you make plans, remember that God may have something else in mind for you. Some Christians actually add the phrase, “If the Lord wills...” to the things that they say about the future. There is nothing wrong with that but that’s not the point of James instruction in verse 15. Instead, James wants us to remember to submit our plans to the good will of God. If he disposes of our plans, then we hope in him. If he allows them to happen, then we thank him. This is the attitude God calls us to take into our daily lives because it is an attitude and an approach to life that glorifies him.

So...., got any plans for the weekend?

Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read James 4.

Conflict is part of the atmosphere around us, whether through sibling rivalry, office politics, presidential campaigns, or first degree murder, someone is always struggling with someone else. James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer. It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us. But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine—prayer in, goodies out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b). Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism. James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4; we made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5). But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether or desire for those things come from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.