It was just a couple of years ago that I had the privilege of traveling overseas to Czech Republic with a group of high school students and a couple of other leaders, when I found myself face-to-face with a divided heart. Here was this great opportunity to go serve God’s Kingdom in ways I had never imagined before, but I was struggling. I had never even ventured anywhere international except Whistler, Canada for my honeymoon and to Oaxaca, Mexico for a mission’s trip during high school. It was a completely foreign experience to me, both literally and figuratively.
The trip was going to cost a lot of money. It was going to involve teaching English, which I had never done before. I was leading a group of high school students who had also barely traveled prior to this event. And on top of that, among other things, my father-in-law was fighting for his life here at home after a long and very arduous battle with Multiple Myeloma. I was ready to quit—numerous times—and I nearly did … almost every week. But I stuck it out, and God had far more in store for me than I could have ever imagined. The reward He had for me, though maybe not financial or convenient, has been integral to the shaping of my faith and trust in God ever since. That is what God does. When we lay down our pride and humble our hearts despite ourselves—we allow God to be the one that makes our paths straight and our wrongs right.
We see this so clearly in our passage this week from James 4:1-12. We need God so much more than we could possibly imagine, and we can see this right out of the gate in James 4:1-4 (ESV):
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
There is no way around it, these are very head-turning words from Jesus’ half-brother James. But that is just the reality of our situation after Adam and Eve fell to temptation and sinned in the Garden of Eden way back at the very beginning of Genesis. It is also why we desperately need Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of our lives, covering our sin with His blood and making us new again. We need that “greater grace” (Js. 4:6, NASB) to make us as God designed us to be when God “formed [our] inward parts” and “knitted [us] together in [our] mother’s womb” in Psalm 139:13 (ESV). Our proud and evil hearts simply cannot be trusted without the help of the Holy Spirit, particularly in a society that tells us to follow our hearts at every turn. For as Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
There is a better way to live.
There is also a clear solution.
Despite all the wreckage and brokenness we bring to the table, our way forward is not a mystery. And the Bible lays out the steps we must take in James 4:7-10 (ESV):
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
But the choice is ours.
Psalm 37:3-6 (ESV) gives a brief glimpse into what awaits us on the other side of a completely new life surrendered to God. Here is what David says about this:
“Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.”
Truth be told, had I given up on God’s call and decided not to lead the group to the Czech Republic, I would have tragically missed out on what the Holy Spirit did while we were there. I could have “followed my heart” and given in to the temptation to give up (and I could have even justified it with reasons that made a lot of sense). It may not have always been an easy trip, but it was an incredible experience.
In one the most atheistic countries in Europe, I got a chance to see those opposed to God come to faith in Jesus Christ. I was able to play a small part due to the “greater grace” of the Holy Spirit in helping lift the veil of depression and suicidal thoughts that plagued one student, in particular. I saw some discouraged local church leaders revived because of the support we were able to help provide. And though it was never about me, I saw what my trust in God could do for my faith. It was a truly transformational experience for me.
So from one broken sinner to another, let me end by asking you to heed the same words we find in James 4:10 (ESV): “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Do not allow yourself to remain proud and hard-hearted. Give yourself and your desires over to God, and get out of the way … for the Holy Spirit makes up for all our shortcomings.
Dive deeper into this week’s passage from James 4:1-12, and follow up your reading of it with these five QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:
1. What does James mean when he says, “your passions are at within you” in James 4:1?
2. Why is “friendship with the world” compared to “enmity with God?”
3. Where in your life do you most need the “greater grace” God provides?
4. Why is pride such a big deal to God? How does it get us into trouble?
5. What will it take for you to humble yourself today and give your proud heart over to God?
IN REVIEW …
James 5:19-20: “Reconciled” / Blog post: “Find the One You Can Help Save”
James 5:13-16: “A Prayer Offered in Faith” / Blog post: “The Sweet Incense and Saving Power of Prayer”
James 5:7-12: “Wait for the Lord” / Blog post: “Patient Challenges to Our Transformation”
James 4:13-5:6: “Like A Mist” / Blog post: “Life in the Mist of Today”
James 4:1-12: “Big Problems, One Solution” / Blog Post: “A Struggle We Cannot Overcome”
James 3:13-18: “Though It Cost All You Have”
James 3:1-12: “Taming the Tongue”
James 2:14-26: “Faith and Works” / Blog post: “Faith and Belief Are Not the Same”
James 2:1-13: “Favoritism” / Blog post: “God’s Favorite Seat at the Table”
James 1: “Wisdom for Wholeness”/ Blog post: “Where Faith and Action Collide”