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7. Humility, Patience, and Prayer: James 4 & 5

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This is part 7 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.

We finish up our lesson today on the book of James. There are 5 chapters in James and honestly it’s almost funny to me that anyone would try to do the book of James in as short of time as we have done it because there is so much in it. I’m skipping a few things that I hate to skip but this could literally take us a year to go through. There are so many things that are practical. But today we are going to finish up by talking about three aspects of being a Christian that are so important in our Christian life. We’ve talked about how to get through trials and temptations. We talked about what a temptation looks like and how to get wisdom in our temptations. We talked about the sin of discrimination, showing favoritism, and that is one of James’ soapbox issues. He’s very, very strong on that. We talked about controlling our speech and how the words of our mouth can bring death or life, the power of the tongue. We talked about how we can influence others by our words. Today we are going to finish up by talking about three aspects or characteristics of a strong Christian life that are so important. They are humility, patience and prayer. Now if you think of all of the scriptures we’ve been talking about, all these principles, they all have to do with relationships. Now we know that principles are truth. They can work inside or outside of a church. Principles are truisms that can be applied in any culture at any stage of life and in any situation.

James is writing, if you remember when we first began this study, to Christians who were scattered throughout Asia and Asia Minor because of the persecution that came to them after Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. This is probably the first book written in the New Testament. They were greatly persecuted by the Romans who believed that Christians had brought bad luck upon the Roman Empire because they just believed in and worshiped only one God instead of all these other gods. They were not well received either by the Jews and persecuted by them also. Christianity was no longer just a small little sect of strange people but had become a real force to deal with. James is writing to people to encourage them to stay strong in their faith and to endure. We talked about that too. James talks about endurance, patience and being a doer of the word. That’s another one of his themes. Don’t just say you’re a Christian, don’t just talk it you’re going to have to walk it! He called it being a doer of the word. We talked about faith and works. Your actions show your commitment to Christ is real and not just words from your mouth. He’s really talking about the word what we would call today community. Are you familiar with that word? That is such a popular word now inside and outside the church. Community means the people you are closest to, the people you live with more or less, not just your family but your friends, co-workers, neighbors and the like. This is your community. I know a lot of small groups in churches are called community groups. These are people that know you well that you work and serve with. Your community may include family members. Some people may say no family in my community, thank you! I’d rather not! But I remember reading an article in the paper that said in the past your community, your close circle of friends, was your neighbors. Well now we don’t know our neighbors, right? Very few of us know our neighbors. Now your community or your neighbors are your co-workers, the person in the cubicle next to you or on the floor above you, who ever you work with. That is your community more or less. James is writing about all these principles within the community of believers. He’s exhorting us, telling us what we need to do and what we need to watch out for and attitudes that we need to have.

We’ll start with humility. Now humility, you’ve probably heard this saying, is the one virtue that once you think you have it, you’ve lost it. Right? You can’t say, oh, I love my humility! I’m so humble! It doesn’t work that way. No. Watch those people that brag about their humility! James begins to address this in chapter 4:1-5, “ What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong- you want only what will give you pleasure.” James is saying what is the reason for so many of you quarreling and fighting? Now obviously there must’ve been people that had disagreements at this time in the church. I’m so glad we’re over that! He’s pointing out that obviously there was dissension within some of these groups as there always is, thank you to our human nature. He saying could it be that we all want our own way? Now have you ever been in a group like that? Somebody wants their way, somebody else wants their way and pretty soon it isn’t long until you have a conflict. Of course in church everyone feels like God told then that was the way to do it! Now that gets more complicated! Then you think what was God thinking when He told that person one thing and me something else and somebody else something different! Well, maybe God didn’t tell anybody anything! That might be the conclusion you have to come to! But James points out that the problem was the selfish desires. He’s saying you’re not thinking about the good of the body. You’re not thinking about the good of the whole. You’re thinking about your own selfish desires. You want your own way and that is why you are fighting and contending with each other. Now isn’t that usually the principle with any disagreement? We always want our own way. When we can’t have it or someone refuses to agree with us that our way is so incredibly brilliant it leads to disappointment or conflict. Then he says it’s not only that you want your own way and you can’t get it but that you don’t even think about praying. You don’t think about asking God for example to show you what to do about this situation. And when you do pray and you don’t get it, it makes you more angry and upset. But the reason you don’t get it is you don’t have pure motives. What is your motive? Your motive is that you will continue to get what you want. God is not a vending machine or a computer (that is a better example) where you put data in, you enter all this data, and you get a print out of exactly what you wanted. It’s not that way. He is a real living person. He is God and we have a relationship with Him. Your can’t just tag on some little phrase to a prayer and say it at a certain time of the day or do something like that and think that is particularly going to get God’s ear. You know what gets God’s ear? It is when our hearts and our motives are pure when we pray and we genuinely and truly want His will and way in our life.

It all goes back to wanting our own way. In Genesis 3, the creation account, when Satan came to Eve in the garden and he tempted her with the fruit, he said to her if you eat this fruit you can be like God. You will know evil from good and your eyes will be open. Well of course we all know that part of that came true. This is typical of a statement that is false, part of it is true and part of it is false. She did have her eyes opened. She did know at that time when she ate of the fruit, disobeyed God, the difference between good and evil but was she like God? No! No! She was not like God. In the bible it says Satan is a deceiver and Eve was deceived. In other words, she didn’t know better and was deceived. Adam himself knew the difference between right and wrong and intentionally ate the apple. Okay, we’ll talk about that at another time! Yes! But she was deceived. What did Satan say to her? Don’t you want to eat it? You mean there’s something you can’t have? Is this not human nature? The one thing you can’t have is the one thing you want. Anyone ever been around a toddler? They can do almost anything they want but the one thing they can’t touch is what they want. It’s our human nature now. Eve said but I want that and she wanted her own way and she got it. This is in essence our rebellion against God. I want my own way. When God pronounced judgment at the end of Genesis 3 on Adam and Eve, He did not curse them. He cursed the ground and He cursed the serpent. He did not curse them. But He made more or less a proclamation about the way things would be from now on. It’s interesting He didn’t go back and change anything in creation because remember what He had said? It is good. He said this is very good. He didn’t go back and change it just because Adam and Eve had messed it up. He left it the way it was but He said to Adam you would have to work the ground from now on. It will not cooperate with you and there will thorns and thistles. He said to Eve you will have pain in child bearing and your desire will be to rule over your husband. A lot of commentators will say that began the marital problems! Suddenly the whole idea of Adam and Eve living one for one and submitting one to another and living for the other wasn’t so pure any more. Adam decided he needed his own way and Eve decided she’d be getting her own way and let the games begin! There you go! From that time on we have all wanted our own way and choosing against God’s way. That is our human nature. Now that is interesting that it didn’t just come from nowhere.

It’s a mystery though of where evil first began. We will not be covering that in FOCUS. It’s not something we can figure out. But you know there is an insight in Isaiah 14. Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, is speaking about the king of Babylon or the king of Tyre and this is a type, a picture more or less, a figurative language or picture of Satan. Many people have talked about how in fact Jesus quoted this scripture in the New Testament when He talks about Satan. Isaiah says this in chapter 14:12-14, “How you have fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High’.” Now most people believe and because of the passage Jesus speaks about in the New Testament that parallels this that there was a time in heaven when there was war and one of God’s chief angels, Satan, rebelled against God. He said I would be like the Most High. I will get my own way. Of course he was cast out of heaven and that was when evil and the forces of evil began. It all goes back to us wanting our own way.

The pride of life is what the bible talks about and James connects that with fighting and quarreling and he also connects it to unanswered prayer. I think it’s interesting that he says when you want something the reason you don’t have is you don’t even ask God for it. Sometimes we don’t even think about praying. Have you ever done that? I have. I’m ashamed to admit it. Something will happen and I won’t even think about praying until it gets real bad and I’m personally uncomfortable about something in some way. Then I’m on my face rolling around on the ground praying! You know! It’s amazing how many times as Christians it takes us time before we realize we need to pray. Paul said in Corinthians, pray about everything. Lift everything up to God no matter how insignificant it may be. I have often thought, you know, I just hate to pray about seemingly small insignificant things that I know God has given me enough sense to handle but then I always go back to that verse. He said to pray about everything. So I do. I try to and I ask God to help me remember for that to be my first inclination when something happens good or bad, to pray, my first reaction. I think the more you grow as a Christian and the stronger your prayer life becomes, the more you are inclined to do that. But these people were so far from Him and so filled with their own selfishness that they didn’t even think to pray. That’s something to check about your own heart. That’s the problem. What’s the solution?

Starting in James 4:6-10, “God gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, ‘God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.’ So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts you hypocrites. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” What James is saying here is that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. God is drawn toward those who will admit their own selfish desires and their own need for Him. This passage is a classic in the New Testament because a few imperatives tell us what we want to do. Do we want to know God? Do you want to get close to Him? Do you not want to be tormented by your own will, wanting your own way, conflicts, problems, unanswered prayer, and frustration in your Christian walk? What are you going to do? If you go to this passage you will find wonderful directions. The first thing that James is saying here is that God shows favor or is attracted to those who are humble. He’s drawn to those who have humility and a humble spirit. In Luke 18, I won’t take time to read it, but Jesus tells the story of a poor man and the Pharisees that were praying. Do you remember that story? He tells of the Pharisee, a religious leader, who stood on the platform and raved, raised his hands and prayed in a loud voice, thank you God that I’m not like these other sinners. The traditional Jewish prayer was thanks that I’m a man; I’m not a sinner and all of this. Then Jesus contrasts him with a poor man, a sinner, who was on his knees and was bowing toward God and he was saying over and over, God be merciful to me a sinner. Jesus was using this as a teaching tool to his disciples and He said, “ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored” (Luke 18:14). The poor man was justified not the Pharisee who raised his hands in his pride so proud of who he was and just amazed that God would be so lucky to have him. There are so many verses throughout Scripture that support this whole idea that God is drawn to those who humble themselves before Him. I want to tell you, you know this to be true, no matter how many situations you get into, confusion or not knowing what is right to do, knowing the will of God, let me tell you this, the safest place you can be is on your knees, humbling yourself before God. You’ll be saying, Lord I know nothing. I know nothing. I don’t know of anything that is more of a detriment to a person’s spiritual life than spiritual pride. Have you ever known anybody with spiritual pride? Hmmmm! They’re usually the ones as I talked about before that will tell you how humble they are. I have a friend who has a woman she’s mentoring. My friend was telling me that she really doesn’t know what to tell her as she is alarmed by some of the things she is telling her. She’s telling her that spiritually she’s right where she needs to be; I wish my husband would follow my example in reading the bible, God is answering my prayers, I’m so fine where I am. I am doing just fabulous! My friend is as old as I am and has been a Christian forever and we had to laugh because you know the older you get you know you don’t know anything. I know nothing! In fact that’s in the Psalms. The writer said, I know nothing. I know that feeling. It’s so interesting. I really believe the closer you come to Christ in your Christian walk the less you feel like you know. The more you feel like you need Him the more dependent on Him you’ll be. It’s interesting that those people who seem to think they have it all together and they’re right where they need to be, well I’m happy for them! But you know what? We’re in pretty good company if we feel like we know nothing. My friend and I started going through Scripture as we usually do. Paul said that he was the chief of all sinners. He said that at the end of his ministry. He started out in his letters about how he was the Hebrew of Hebrews, how he was so educated and he had so much of a pedigree and in the last book, I can’t remember which one, he said he was the worse blasphemer and sinner on the face of the earth. He said I am the chief of sinners. No one is a worse sinner than I am. Paul said that. Think of David, king David, who is admired as one of the greatest men in Scriptures. Read through the Psalms and talk about how he sees himself as so needy and so poor and so desperate for God to show up in his life. He’s so grateful and appreciative of God’s love and mercy. The great people in Scripture, you will see, the closer and the more used they are by God, the more they need Him and the more humble they become. That’s not an accident. Humility is part of a growing Christian’s make up and it is also a primary characteristic of somebody that God can use. So first James says to submit to God. That would be the first big hurtle. Submit to God and recognize you need for Him. That means going against desiring your own way. Submit yourselves to God. Then he says to resist evil. Now think of all these things that James has told us in this book which we should not do. We need to watch our speech. We need to not show favoritism. We need to watch the way we talk about people. We need not to be hypocrites. All these things he’s talked about in the previous chapters. He’s saying resist those things. Put them away, get rid of them if you want to submit yourself to God and you want to draw close to Him. I love that. Draw near to Him. When we become a Christian God is seeking us out. He takes the initiative doesn’t He? His Holy Spirit comes to us and draws us to Him. But I’m convinced that there are points along the way in your Christian life, latter on in life, when it is your move. You’re a believer, you’re a child of God, you’re His daughter, you’re in His family but I believe there are times when He challenges us. Do you want to go further? Do you want to go deeper? Will you seek Me? Will you come after Me? I’m convinced many Christians maybe don’t want to do that and say I’m fine where I am. And God in His mercy and love and care for you let’s you stay there. But there are others I’m convinced that He calls to move up, to draw near to Him, to make the extra effort to come after Him, to pursue Him, to want Him and to find Him. Bruce Wilkerson in his book, Secrets of the Vine, talks about that very thing. That step of drawing near to God. It’s excellent. That’s what James is talking about here and then he says to cleanse your hands. Do you know what that means? It means to make restitution. Remember the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus? Zacchaeus was a tax collector who came to Christ. He not only received God’s forgiveness but he repaid those that he had robbed back four-fold what he had taken from them. That’s what cleanse your hands means, restitution. Don’t only ask for forgiveness but apologize. Make restitution in some way. Go to that person and take the initiative to that situation and fix as much as you can. Then he says to purify your hearts. In 1 Peter 1:22 he says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” You purify your soul by obeying the truth. How do you purify your soul? By obeying the truth that God has put before you. You purify your heart by obedience. Then he says lament and be sorry. If you took that verse out of context, you would wonder what he was talking about! But you need to take this seriously and connect it to the verses before about quarreling, fighting and not getting your own way. He says you need to take your own sins seriously and lament them. It reminds me of Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. He’s talking about those who are humble. Those who are spiritually needy. Those who are not afraid to say they are dependent on God for everything that they have and everything they need. They recognize their own sinful state.

Then verse 10 summarizes this whole thing, “ When you humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up and give you honor.” I don’t know of a better example than this but Chuck Colson back in 1973, I think, was convicted in Watergate. I’m sure some of you have read about that in your history books, you’re so young you don’t remember! But I do! He was convicted of breaking the law of the land and he tells about it in his book, Born Again, written in the late 1970’s. He tells of his conversion experience. He was out on the driveway; sitting in a car after being in a bible study and suddenly the magnitude of his sin came upon him. He was sitting in that car weeping and weeping realizing that not only had he broken the law and had sinned against the American people but he had also sinned against God. He was a broken man. God began to make something of him. He went to prison. He served his time. It was in prison that he began to grow as a Christian. He began to understand what the word of God really meant. He wanted to totally conform his mind to God’s word and to His ways. We know that out of that prison experience he developed the most powerful and influential ministry toward prisoners in the world, Prison Fellowship. All this began when one man humbled himself before God. That’s what I think about when I read this verse. You humble yourself in a car, on a cold winter night, sit there and weep and weep and you mean it and begin to change, there’s no telling what God can do with you. That’s exactly what happened to him.

All right, we’ve run out of time but aren’t you glad because the next point is patience! Well, very quickly, God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. The next few verses talk about being patient in chapter 5:7-11, “Dear brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who eagerly look for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They patiently wait for the precious harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. And take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, my brothers and sisters, or God will judge you. For look! The great Judge is coming. He is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy.” You know how we talked about the verse, James1: 12, in the first week when we looked at this book. God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. They will receive the crown of life. There are five crowns that will be given at the final judgment of believers and the crown of life is one of those. When I was here before, I shared the story about how when I went to China, three Chinese girls that our group prayed for came to Christ. Because they became believers, they were kicked out of their homes. One girl had a 5-year-old little boy that she was forbidden to see any more. There was a translator as we were praying and as they began to tell their story, what had happened to them, the translator began weeping, tears just dropping off her jaw onto her shirt and of course the rest of us were just sitting on the edge of our seat wanting to know what was happening. The translator began to tell us the story of these girls and how their husbands had kicked them out. Yet these girls had said, this is the path that God has called us to walk and we will walk it. They made a pact among themselves that they would visit village to village and teach, share and evangelize. They had won something like 65 women to Christ in the mountainous villages.

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