Friday, November 10, 2006

The Christian’s Response to Trials--James 1:2-12 (Part 2)

The second way Christians must respond to life’s inevitable trials if we are to truly glorify God and demonstrate to the world the superior value of knowing the Lord Jesus is to...
PRAY (1:5-8)

Verse 5: “If any of you lacks wisdom…” The word translated “wisdom” here means “to know and understand godliness; to do what is pleasing to God.” This “wisdom” is “practical insight”. It is “the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God.” In other words, “If any of you lacks wisdom” as to how you should respond in your trials, in your suffering, in a manner that will please God—if you want to know what God would have you do—“let him ask God.” Let him pray!

Why would James go here? I think it’s because prayer is not necessarily our first response to trials. I think for many of us, humbling ourselves before God and seeking His will is not our first response. I think, perhaps, our first response might be to question God: “Why is this happening to me?” Think about it: When trials, of whatever kind, come your way, is your first concern God’s will, God’s glory, and how to please God? Or is your first concern how to stop the trial and relieve your discomfort? We don’t want to bring glory to God as much as we want to free ourselves from discomfort, pain and suffering.

And don’t let whatever the trial may be hang around too long or be too painful or severe. We might even become angry at God: “God, why did you do this to me?! Why did you let this happen?!”

But, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God. Why?

First of all, because, if we are Christians, God is for us; He is not against us.

Look at verse 5 again. James says, about God, “[He] gives generously…”—you don’t have to wrest the gift from His hand. He doesn’t resent giving to His children that which is good for them, that which they need. He’s a good Father, and He gives “generously [or “freely”] to all without reproach.”

To “reproach” (according to Webster's New World College Dictionary) is "to shame, disgrace, discredit, or blame". James says that God gives “without reproach”. In other words, He’s not bothered by His children asking Him for help. He doesn’t criticize us for asking. He doesn’t give to us grudgingly and unwillingly.

In Matthew 7 and Luke 11, we have two similar accounts of Jesus teaching His disciples about prayer. Luke includes in his account an illustration Jesus gave regarding prayer (Luke 11:5-13):

"And he said to them, 'Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him"; and he will answer from within, "Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything"? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [or “persistence”] he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; of if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!' ”

The point Jesus is aiming to get across is this: if the friend in the story will get up and give the man what he asks because of his persistent asking and begging, and if parents will give their children food when they’re hungry (and we’re “evil” sinners in the light of a holy God), “how much more” will our heavenly Father who is good and without sin and without any trace of evil intent—“how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God gives without reproach: “How much more…” Our heavenly Father doesn’t begrudge His children: “How much more…”

Matthew ends his account (Matthew 7:11) with: “How much more will you Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”. But, I like Luke’s ending: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Because, isn’t this what we need? In times of suffering and trial we need the Holy Spirit—the indwelling Christ and the wisdom He gives—so that we may know how to please God while we are in the midst of our trials.

So, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God because He is for us; He is not against us.

Secondly, we should not allow ourselves to be angry at God because, if we’re angry at God, we’re implying there is something defective in the character of God.

Think about it: If we’re angry, it means we find some fault in God. Somehow He has failed us. In some way He has not kept His word to us. In some way God has done us wrong.

But, is this legitimate? What has God done that was unfair to us? We are—all of us—rebels and traitors against God. I suppose all of us would agree with Romans 3:23—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But do we remember what sin deserves? “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That’s all we “deserve” from God: spiritual death! So, in what ways has God been unfair? The worst thing that any of us could experience in this life is still far better that what we deserve.

At its root, anger at God is a result of unbelief. In one way or another we doubt God when we’re angry at God. The one who doubts has no sure confidence in God, no secure faith in His word, no settled trust in His character. Look at verses 5 and 6:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."

The word translated “doubting” means “to be divided in one’s mind.” James tells us that the doubting person “is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind”: shifting, changing, never the same.

Such a person, James writes, “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” And why should he? To doubt God is, in effect, to call God a liar:

“You’re a liar! You can’t be trusted! You failed me! Now…give me what I ask for!”

Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? But, that’s what the doubter does. And James says “that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

James goes on to write (verse 8) that the doubter “is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James may have coined this word, “double-minded”, for it is only found here and in James 4:8. The word is literally, “two-souled”. The double-minded man is inwardly divided, with one part of his mind or soul set on God, one part set on the world. As a result, he is unstable, torn between divided loyalties.

The doubter, the double-minded man, should seriously ask himself where his commitments truly lie. Either we’re with God or not. We have no reason to doubt Him. And if we doubt, if we’re divided in our loyalties, we should not be surprised that the heavens seem like brass, that God seems distant, that our prayers seem to be in vain.

O, my friend, when we’re going through trials, of whatever kind, don’t doubt God. Don’t pull away from Him; draw close to Him! Pray! The writer to the Hebrews put it this way (Hebrews 4:15, 16):

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

When we’re suffering, when our faith is being tried—whatever the trial may be—we need mercy, we need God’s “grace to help in time of need.” And James says we should ask for wisdom: the knowledge of how we may please God in the midst of our trials, remembering that the God to whom we pray—our heavenly Father—“gives generously to all without reproach.” And we have this promise from God: “It will be given him.”
(To be continued...)

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