We Should Pray

Today’s Reading: James 5:13-20

WE SHOULD PRAY.

Do you believe in the power of prayer? Do you believe that spending time praying to God about what is going on in your life CAN make a difference? Do you ever question if it does any good to bring your needs before the Lord? Do you find yourself doubting? Listen to these words of wisdom from James.

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. – James 5:13-16

Hardships, happiness and sickness. These three moments are often the times when I can’t figure out what to do next. I have gotten myself in a situation and I can’t figure out how to get out. Or maybe I am so happy and excited that I cannot contain myself and I find myself not knowing what to do next. It reminds me of that moment after an athlete has won the championship and they are asked what they are going to do next – “I’m going to Disneyworld!” What James is trying to show us is that we need to shout an exuberant – “I’m going to the Lord!”

Through the words of James, we hear that familiar message again – draw near to God and remain in His presence regardless of the circumstances. Then when something tragic happens in our life, such as a cancer diagnosis or hearing a doctor say “There’s nothing more that can be done,” our first response will be to disagree. There is something we can do.

WE CAN PRAY.

Let’s consider again this quote from St. Francis de Sales: “Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hitherto and will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it He will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”

We can be still and know that God is God and we are not. We can trust Him in ANY situation and wait patiently for His response to our prayers. We can count it a joy to face difficult times and submit to God’s will or plan for our lives. We can confess sin and rest peacefully in Christ.

I witnessed two healings in 2010 – Mulu from Ethiopia prayed in her native tongue for my mother-in-law to be healed of her 4th stage breast cancer and Neneye from Cali, Columbia prayed for a young boy who was about to be diagnosed with autism. Both prayed with confidence and passion, unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. Both have committed their lives to spending HOURS every day in prayer, soaking in God’s presence and then remaining in His presence as they live out their lives. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (5:16b). I now know what that means and I long to serve God as faithfully as these women have. I do not want to have to go to God when I’m in trouble or happy or sick – I want to already be there!!!

Let’s step back a little and look at the whole passage together, but this time in The Message –

Are you hungry? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven – healed inside and out.

Make this your command practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t – not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.

My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God. – James 5:13-20

How committed are we to the gospel, to winning souls for Christ? What are we willing to become in order to win the weak? There is a sense of urgency in these verses. We were saved to serve God. How does He want to use us or what does He want to do through us today? Are we willing to open ourselves up to whatever He wants us to be for the sake of others or are we going to hold tight to this issue or that, to this right of ours or to this past hurt for which we refuse to forgive.

WE CANNOT GIVE UP PRAYING.

In every situation, I want to rest in God’s presence – looking to Him for what is next, and for the strength to face it and the peace to rest in it. Lord, only you know what is ahead for me today. Father God, I long to already be in your presence drawing from your strength so that you can equip me with everything I need. Remind me today of the power of prayer. Teach me how to be still and know that you are God. Teach me patience to wait for your response and teach me joy in any situation. I submit to your perfect plan. Savior, forgive me for my sins and help me to rest peacefully in your presence.

Dear Jesus, I am yours today. Use me however you wish. Guide my thoughts, stir my heart and fill my mouth with your words that I may be who or what you want me to be. May nothing in my life be a stumbling block to others but may I be a hand extended to those who are lost or in need of my friendship. May we boldly proclaim your love to those around us and count it a joy when we face trials, knowing that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Amen.

Patience & Integrity

Today’s Reading: James 5:7-12; Psalms 43 & 64

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. – James 5:7-11 (NIV)

PATIENCE & PERSEVERANCE

When we are in the midst of suffering, James encourages us to not get impatient and begin to grumble but instead to be patient and stand firm. We can’t rush God. We often have the tendency to go ahead of God and try to push His hand but God calls for us to patiently wait on Him. It is in the midst of this waiting that we are strengthened in our faith.

It helps for us to consider others that we have seen persevere through trials and how the Lord has delivered them – like Job. What testimonies of perseverance in the face of suffering have you heard of? What stories of standing firm have you seen firsthand, either in your life or the life of someone close to you?

James, the brother of Jesus, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. When he refused to deny his faith in Jesus, he was thrown from the pinnacle of the Temple – more than 100 feet high. When he survived the fall, his enemies beat him with a club. My heart grieves as I think of the great suffering that took place shortly after James’ death. The early Church and those who called themselves Christians were persecuted, unjustly charged, imprisoned, tortured, and many put to death.

We started out our study of James with the challenge to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds. The weight of these words sits differently when we consider how harsh the persecution was during that time. We may go through difficult times, but it pales in comparison to what some of the writers of the New Testament letters went through. When we are going through a hard time in our lives, we are comforted by the words penned by men who suffered horrible deaths, all for the sake of Christ. Even now, many missionaries and pastors in other countries preach God’s word despite the threat of death. Why would they be willing to do that for the gospel?

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ…When I am with the weak, I share their weaknesses, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19, 22-23

Let’s look at what James says next:
Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. – James 5:12

TRUTH & INTEGRITY

God calls for us to be honest – men and women of integrity. If we say we are going to do something, we need to do it. If the ability to do something is out of our control, if we don’t know what tomorrow brings, then we need to be careful to not promise to do something we may not be able to follow through with. Avoid lies and exaggeration. Avoid telling only half of the truth or deceiving people by your omission of the truth.

If we consistently live a life of truthfulness, where our word alone means something because of our history of following through, then others will be able to trust us. We are God’s children and we represent Him when we call ourselves Christians. That alone is a great reason to stand strong on the foundations of truth and integrity.

So what do we do with this? We look forward and become more conscious of what we say we will do but we can also look back. What have I promised to do that I have not followed through with? How can I make that right today or this week or very soon?

Lord, please bring these words of wisdom from James back to my mind over and over again. Give me patience, helping me look to your valuable harvest – taking courage in your coming. Do a work in my heart that changes my grumbling into praise, my judgment into understanding. Oh Lord full of tenderness and mercy, I praise you that you help us when we are going through a difficult time. May the words of my mouth be evidence of what you are doing in my life. Amen.

Let me close with a quote my friend, Linda Seaman, posted on Facebook a year ago as she waited for her husband to come out of surgery. Several months later, Linda lost her husband and we watched her live out this kind of faith:

“Do not look forward to the changes and chances of this life in fear; rather look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose you are, will deliver you out of them. He has kept you hitherto and will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it He will bear you in His arms. Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow, and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.” – St. Francis de Sales, 16th century French Catholic saint

Submission is About Surrender

Today’s Reading: James 4:13 – 5:6

God has THE PERFECT PLAN for us today – the plan that offers us prosperity, hope and a future. Let’s start our day by submitting to God and whatever plan He has for us. Let’s draw near to Him so that He has our full attention.

Listen here, you who say “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise, you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. – James 4:13-16 (NLT)

SURRENDERING MY PLANS TO GOD

I am a planner. I like it when my life is rolling out just the way I expect it to. I feel most comfortable when I feel like I am in control of my circumstances. I desire for God to be in control of my life, but I want the result of that control to look just like I expected it to – MY PERFECT PLAN. Yet, in those moments when the future seems uncertain or scary, I am comforted by these Scriptures:

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book before a single one of them began. – Psalm 139:16

We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10

From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring.” – Acts 17:26-28

I am guilty of laying out my plans before God and defending their value. But sometimes God has a different plan. He has “appointed times” and boundaries for me. My faith has been put to test over the years and I have had to make a conscious decision to submit to God’s plan. On the other side of those decisions, I have to say there is no better place to be than in the center of God’s will – right where He wants me to be. And He continues to challenge me today. Am I starting to lay down my own plans for today or will I trust Him and seek His will for how He wants to use me today or tomorrow or the next day. In surrender, I need to draw near to Him, staying focused on Him, asking for wisdom, and seeking Him.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. – James 4:17 (NLT)

I can’t ignore this verse – If there is good that God has asked me to do and I choose not to do it, I am sinning. I can avoid God today so that I don’t have to take the chance that He will ask me to do something I don’t want to do OR I can submit and draw near to God. This is the great part – If I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me. Oh, how I love to be in God’s presence! It’s worth the risk.

SURRENDERING MY POSSESSIONS TO GOD

Just like I cannot hang onto my own PLANS, there is danger in holding onto my own POSSESSIONS:

Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you. – James 5:1-6 (NLT)

There are two issues to consider in this passage. First is the issue of hanging on to our worldly possessions when there are those around us who are in need. Remember back in chapter 2, when we discussed faith without deeds in reference to the physical needs of our brothers and sisters – what good is our faith if we do nothing about the needs of those around us? We are often guilty of doing unnecessary spending when the basic needs of others are not being met, yet we claim to understand what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

There’s a second issue here that I think we can miss if we read it too quickly – owing someone else. We may immediately discount this section because in our own minds we would never cheat anyone of what we owe them. So let’s consider this – how often does our desire for more than we can afford lead us into a situation of going into debt instead of waiting until the money is there?

This is the ultimate danger – greed. As Americans, we hope to be prosperous, we crave more stuff, and we love buying something new. Our closets and cabinets and garages stack up with items we never use but we continue to buy more and more stuff until there’s not enough room to store it all – so we move to a bigger house.

Lord, please reveal to me the ways in which I am holding on to earthly possessions instead of clinging to you. Lord, reveal to me any ways in which I am withholding something from someone – something that rightfully belongs to them. Redefine luxury to mean that YOU are satisfying every God-given desire in my life. I long to count on nothing but YOU. Amen.

Submission is About Focus

Today’s Reading: James 4:7-12; Psalm 2

The opposites continue in this next passage. Yesterday we studied how we are either God’s friend or God’s enemy; we want God’s way or our own way. We either let God be our source of joy or look for ways to provide joy for ourselves, right?

James has already challenged us in this chapter by pointing out that we struggle with not getting what we want, praying with wrong motives because we want it our way. This is an issue of pride – thinking we know what is best. Today James gives us the solution to this inner struggle – submission to God.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up. – James 4:7-10 (NIV)

THE BIGGEST THING THAT STANDS BETWEEN YOU AND SUBMISSION IS YOU.

So what area of your life is God calling you to submit to Him today? Is it your health, your job, your marriage, a struggle, a temptation, a friendship, anger, a grudge?

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? – James 4:11-12

When I go back and read the first 12 verses of chapter 4, I hear this strong message: Perhaps submission to God is about our FOCUS and ATTENTION.

TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OTHER PEOPLE.

Don’t quarrel with each other. Don’t covet what others have, wanting it for yourself. Don’t be a friend of the world around you. Don’t look at other people and sit in judgment of their actions, slandering and speaking against each other. That means no more criticism and gossip.

TAKE YOUR EYES OFF YOURSELF.

Don’t pray with wrong motives, seeking your own pleasure. When you focus on yourself, pride becomes an issue. Whether you are dealing with self-righteousness or low self-esteem, both are caused by thinking too much of yourself instead of focusing on God. God wants us to take our attention off ourselves, letting go of our pride and self-righteousness and trading it in for humility.

TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE RULES.

Stop coming up with an organized list of things to do in order to earn your way to Heaven. Don’t study the Scripture in order to argue with it or prove it wrong or make it fit what you want it to say. Don’t use the Bible as a weapon against fellow believers. Use God’s word as a way to better know Him, understand Him and draw near to Him. Then any conversations you have with other believers will echo the heart of God, not human judgment.

In one of the first sermons I ever heard him preach, Scott said that we tend to move in the direction of our attention. Think about it. If we are driving but focus our attention on something off to the side of the road, our car will begin to drift in that direction. If we are running on a treadmill but looking behind us at someone on the elliptical machine, we will most likely misstep and find ourselves flat on the floor.

FOCUS ON GOD.

God says – Submit to me, come near to me, wash your hands, purify your hearts, be single-minded and focused on me. The farther we are from God, the easier it is to see everything that is going on around us. If we step as close to God as we possibly can, so close that He is dwelling inside of us and He has our full attention, we will free ourselves from the distractions of the world and the opinions of what our brothers and sisters in Christ are doing around us. We will lose ourselves in service to something bigger – God.

I like how The Message rephrases James 4:11-12:
Don’t bad mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?

God is in charge. I am not. So I fall to my knees in sweet submission to the God who is calling me to draw near to Him. He has my full attention. I am ready to get lost in something bigger than me. I am ready to get lost in Him.

One of my new favorite songs is King of the World sung by Natalie Grant. This morning’s scripture brings me back to this song today.

“I tried to fit you in the walls inside my mind / I try to keep you safely in between the lines / I try to put you in the box that I’ve designed / I try to pull you down so we are eye to eye / When did I forget that you’ve always been the King of the world? / I try to take life back right out of the hands of the King of the world / How could I make you so small / When you’re the One who holds it all / When did i forget that you’ve always been the King of the world?…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6NfOJl26F4

A Fiercely Jealous Lover

Today’s Reading: James 4:1-6; Psalm 79

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3

NO MATTER WHAT WE HAVE, THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE WE DESIRE

When our girls were younger, they would ask this famous question on all our road trips, “How much longer?” They would long to be at our destination but also tire of riding in the car, so they would ask to make a stop. We would stop, stretch our legs, maybe do a little shopping or get something to eat. Getting back in the car, the famous question was repeated, “Now how much longer?” Well, the same amount of time as when we stopped the car! They would long to be where we were headed but also want to get out of the car, even though it KEPT THEM FROM THEIR GREATEST LONGING – to get where we were going.

How often do we do the same thing in our prayer life? We pray for one thing and then pray for something else that would keep us from receiving the first thing we prayed for. No matter what we have, there is something else we desire. I wonder if God rolls His eyes when we ask for two things that we cannot have simultaneously.

IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE CONDITION OF OUR HEART

I think the greatest problem that James is addressing in this passage is the heart. This is the start of a new chapter but it is really the continuation of what he has been teaching in the first three chapters. The words that we speak, the anger we display, the favoritism we show, the conflicts we have with other people, it all comes down to the condition of our heart.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” – James 4:4-6

James is again comparing opposites, showing us that we cannot be two things at once. Let’s review.

– Believe / Doubt – James calls the man who tries to believe and doubt at the same time double-minded and unstable (1:6-8).

– World tells us…but God – The world tells us we have a right to get angry or that it is not our fault because we were born with the tendency toward anger. But God has planted a different word in us and that word can save us if we accept it (1:20-21).

– Pure / Polluted – Religion that God sees as pure and faultless – to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (1:27).

– Rich / Jesus – Don’t show special attention to those who are rich when they are the same people who are exploiting you, dragging you into court and slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong. Remember to whom they belong, that you are believers in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ (2:1-7).

– Knowing / Doing – You can’t just read the word and not do it (1:22-25); you can’t obey some of the law but not all of it (2:8-12); you can’t see someone in need and do nothing (2:16).

– Praise / Curse – Just like a spring cannot produce two different kinds of water and a tree cannot bear two kinds of fruit, you can’t use your tongue to praise God and then turn around and use it to speak poorly of those He has created in His likeness (3:9-12).

– Earthly wisdom / Heavenly wisdom – You cannot have both earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom (3:13-18).

GOD IS A FIERCELY JEALOUS LOVER

We cannot look around at the world and desire what it has to offer, then turn and ask God to bless us with these worldly pleasures. Let’s read James 4:4-6 in The Message: You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

So the opposites continue. It’s either our way or God’s way; pride or humility. We are either God’s friend or God’s enemy. What is it going to be? I think all of us desire that close relationship with God but James is warning us that the world and its influence is daily pulling us away from God. In order to stay connected to God we must daily spend time in His presence, seeking HIS way in our lives and intentionally avoiding the many ways the world attempts to pollute us.

Lord, I love you so much and my desire is to draw closer to you. That you call me friend and that you pour your grace on me, these truths overwhelm me. What you give in love is far better than anything else I will ever find. Lord, show me the ways in which my attention is being drawn to earthly things instead of to you. Help me not to walk out of your presence today but dwell in you all day. Amen.

“He is jealous for me / Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree / Bending beneath the weight of His wind & mercy / When all of a sudden / I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory / And I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me. / Oh, how He loves us, oh / Oh how He love us, how He loves us all…” [How He Loves by the David Crowder Band https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FxaUYjRtkc]

Presence & Character

Today’s Reading: James 3:13-18

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are NOT GOD’S KIND OF WISDOM. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

But the WISDOM FROM ABOVE is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:13-18

PRESENCE PRODUCES CHARACTER

James stays consistent with the theme of his letter by stating again that our faith must be evident in the way we live out our lives. If we truly have faith, we cannot hang on to our old patterns of jealousy or selfishness. We have to stop finding them funny. Hollywood has caused us to laugh at our own dysfunctions, somehow making them cute or “denying the truth” that our habits are sinful. We create whole conversations where we brag, “You think that’s bad, listen to what I do.” We use humor to cover up our feelings of conviction or guilt.

True faith produces Godly wisdom, which is first of all pure. For something to be pure, it must be void of anything that does not belong in it, which adds to our list much more than just jealousy and selfishness. True faith is peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit (a tree is known by its fruit), impartial and sincere. True faith produces righteousness. We are saved by grace but the faith that God gives us is intended to make a difference in the way we live out our relationship with God.

Let’s look at those last two verses as translated in The Message: Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor (James 3:17-18).

CHARACTER REQUIRES PRESENCE

A holy life must be evidenced in the way we get along with one another. This can be hard if we are trying to produce these kinds of relationships on our own; if we are trying to pretend to love others. To truly pour out our lives as a living sacrifice to God, we must surrender ourselves completely to Him. WE must be so consumed by God as He fills us with who He is so that He can use us and the gifts He has given us to advance His Kingdom. Consider these verses:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. – Romans 12:9-21

God calls us to be intentional with our lives, living out our faith with brotherly love. But again God isn’t calling us to try to do all of these great things out of our own capacity or in our own strength. He is willing to be the source of our power and strength. In order to have God’s character, we need God’s presence in our lives. Character requires presence and presence produces character.

I do not have to do any of the things above. I only need to truly enter God’s presence and offer myself as a living sacrifice. This love described in Romans 12 will be an outflow of God’s presence in my life, not a result of my effort to be a good person. So, when God calls me to be intentional, the first place to start is to INTENTIONALLY enter God’s presence EVERY day, allowing Him to fuel the fire inside of me. It’s not my morning coffee which fuels the start of my day, it is my time in God’s presence.

With Just a Little Bit

Today’s Reading: James 3:1-12

I write these Morning Coffee devotionals because God told me to write them. Originally it was a way for me to be held spiritually accountable to my team. My goal has been to simply share what God is teaching me – to share out of the overflow of my daily time in His presence. I see myself as more of a student of the Word than a teacher. I pray God has used “my morning coffee” in your life; that there have been moments when God was teaching both of us and speaking to both of us through His Spirit as we studied God’s word together.

Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. – James 3:1-2

Controlling our tongue – Oh, how I wish I had this perfected! This is the area I find myself messing up time and time again. It’s not easy, which is the point James is making here. He uses three comparisons to help us understand the difficulty of controlling the tongue and the importance of conquering this area of our life.

A LITTLE BIT

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. – James 3:3

We were visiting with friends in Tennessee in 2014. We got up on a Monday morning and went to get the horses from the far field so the girls could ride them. The horses were getting pretty feisty with each other and didn’t seem too fond of the idea of having the saddles and gear placed on them. When Todd went to put their bridals on and place the bits in their mouths, the horses clamped down and refused to open their mouths. Todd showed me how God created horses with a place in their mouth that doesn’t have teeth – a place where he can place his thumb and force the horse to open his mouth so the bit can be put into place. Once the bits were in place, the horses calmed and cooperated with their riders. The girls were able to keep the horse’s head high and control whether the horse turned or went straight, simply because of the bit and harness.

A SMALL RUDDER

And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. – James 3:4-5a

The tongue may be small but it is mighty. It can set the course of our life, determining the direction of relationships. It can do both good and harm. What we say may seem insignificant but it has the power to speak kind words of encouragement or harsh words of condemnation.

A TINY SPARK

But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3:5b-12

The tongue is small but powerful, and cannot be tamed, it says so in verse 8. We can tame animals but we cannot tame the destructive potential of the tongue. So what do we do with that? If the tongue can steer the course of our life and destroy everything in its path yet cannot be controlled, where is hope?

Did anyone else feel convicted in verses 9 & 10? I don’t want to be the person who is praising God one minute and the next minute speaking unkindly about someone Jesus loves enough to die for. I don’t want my tongue doing the work of Satan, finding its source in Hell. I want something different. But these verses are saying that I cannot just determine to do better and change old habits if I cannot tame my tongue. Again, where is the hope?

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. – Acts 2:1-4

And therein we find the hope. I don’t have to try harder. What I need to do is take that step of letting God truly be LORD of my life – He’s in charge, I am a part of His story. At the point when I truly surrender to Him, He fills me with His Spirit and I begin to speak in foreign ways – ways that are different from my old speech patterns, ways that cannot be taught but could only be the result of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in my life. Now there’s hope!

Kevin Davis wrote a song called Ever Be and in one of the verses he writes:
“You shoulder our weakness and Your strength becomes our own /You’re making me like You…”

Lord, I give you control of my heart and my speech today. Please give me a fresh filling of your Spirit and may your praise always be on my lips! Give me the right words to say and a heart that desires to only bless and do your work with my words. I love you, Lord. Amen.

“You will be praised, You will be praised / With angels and saints we sing worthy are you Lord /
And it’s why I sing / Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips / Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips [Ever Be by Kevin Davis, Bethel Music] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byEUIzfVLAs

When Faith Defines Us

Today’s Reading: James 2:21-26 and 5:10-11

I love mornings when I can just rest in God’s presence, trusting in Him and waiting on Him. I love to study His word and let the faith of others build my faith. In his letter, James uses the faith of three individuals to show us how faith, actions and relationship work together. First, he brings our focus on Abraham.

FULLY CONVINCED IN FAITH – ABRAHAM

How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. – James 2:20-24

Romans 4:18-21 further defines Abraham’s faith: Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham KEPT HOPING – believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead – and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham NEVER WAVERED in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.

Time passed between the moment God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky & the sand on the seashore and the moment Sarah became pregnant. Time passed between the moment Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac and the moment God provided the lamb. Time passed and yet Abraham’s faith did not waver, it did not weaken. He stayed strong in his faith and continued to give glory to God, FULLY CONVINCED or absolutely persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.

Can you relate to Abraham? Perhaps time is passing for you between the promise God has given you and its fulfillment. Do not waver in unbelief. Hold tight to God’s promises giving glory to God and be FULLY PERSUADED that God does have the power to do what He has promised!

WAITING IN FAITH – JOB

Let’s skip ahead to the last chapter of James’ letter, when he talks about another individual whose faith relied on waiting on God’s timing. Let’s consider Job and the endurance that gave evidence of his faith.

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. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy. – James 5:10-11

When we are in the midst of suffering, James encourages us to not get impatient and begin to grumble but instead to be patient and stand firm. We can’t rush God. We often have the tendency to go ahead of God and try to push His hand but God calls for us to patiently wait on Him. In the midst of this waiting, we are strengthened in our faith.

We don’t always know why God is allowing something in our life but we know we can trust Him. I love this quote from Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick: “Like Job, we endure cycles of suffering and restoration, sometimes without the slightest clue as to God’s specific purpose. Being a child of God means accepting God is fully free to do as He sees fit and abiding in His core attributes. Our heritage as God’s people is to stand firmly on the platform of God’s person, knowing He moves exclusively in ways consistent with His covenant commitment, even if we cannot grasp them with finite minds” [Mercy Triumphs, Beth Moore].

DEFINED BY FAITH – RAHAB

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. – James 2:25-26

Rahab also had to go through a time of trusting and waiting. She helped the spies escape and then she waited – waited for the day of her own rescue. While the world around her continued to judge her by her past actions of sin and prostitution, God saw Rahab’s faith as evidenced in her heroic actions. Rahab was not considered righteous in spite of the sinful decisions she had made, she was counted as righteous because of her faith in the God of Israel and her willingness to put her own life at risk in order to be used by God for the preservation of His people.

Can you relate to Rahab? Do you desire to be defined by your faith but others continue to define you by your mistakes? If so, please see yourself through the eyes of a God who loves you, who calls you to faith and who has changed you.

Dear God, thank you so much for seeing us for who you created us to be, who we are and who we will become. Help us to trust you as Abraham did – to trust You to do what only You can do. Help us to live not on the basis of what we see we cannot do but on what we know YOU can do. Like Job and Rahab, let our actions be the seamless unity of believing and doing. Today, may you find that our faith is not barren but that our faith is fruitful! Amen.

When Mercy Sets the Standard

Today’s Reading: James 2:8-20

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So, if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. – James 2:8-13

Have you ever considered the concept of MERCY when discussing favoritism or the habit of judging other people? I think of mercy when I think of seeing someone in need and having pity on them, coming to their assistance. I think of mercy when I think of the need to forgive someone, regardless of whether or not they are asking for my forgiveness. But James is clearly using the concept of mercy while discussing our tendency to treat other people according to the standards WE set instead of loving them unconditionally.

MERCY SETS THE STANDARD WHEN…

Mercy is respecting where each person is coming from rather than judging or looking down on them. To truly “love your neighbor as yourself” we must stop thinking so highly of ourselves, accept each other through the eyes of our Creator, and have mercy. To truly love is to respond to someone else’s need – to go beyond accepting and put our faith into action.

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith BY my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless. – James 2:14-20

I think the key to remember in studying these verses is that we are not saved BY works, we are saved FOR works. Works should be an outflow of our faith. Mercy and love should come naturally because of the work God is doing in our lives.

MERCY SETS THE STANDARD WHEN…

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

Again, mercy should be an outflow of our faith or evidence of our faith. We can fall into a SALVATION BY WORKS mentality if we are not careful. We begin to say, “I need to try harder. I need to do better. I need to produce more fruit.” The danger in this is then we can say, “Look at these good works I accomplished for God. Look at the fruit of MY labor.”

Let us not forget the first 7 verses of John chapter 15 – God is the vine and we are the branches. It is remaining in Him that changes who we are and that change is evidenced in the life we live. Fruit is then a result of our relationship with God, daily remaining in His presence and allowing Him to work through us.

Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

When we become a living sacrifice, we are offering ourselves to God – utterly at His disposal – willing to be consumed by Him, desiring to be transformed by Him, set apart to be used by Him. Now mercy and love are a natural part of who we are because of whose we are. Now mercy sets the standards.

When My Religion is Worthless

Today’s Reading: James 1:26-2:7

Before I start enjoying some morning coffee with God, I need to remember to get out the “mirror” we talked about yesterday. It is time to be honest and open with God – allowing His Spirit to speak to me as I read His word, willing to hear anything He might have to say.

MY RELIGION IS WORTHLESS WHEN…

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:26-27

That’s good news for those of us who have given our lives for the pregnancy center ministry. That is what we do! We take care of orphans and widows:

The babies whose fathers are forcing their mothers to make a choice between staying in the relationship and the life of their unborn child
The women who are sexually active because they are searching for the love of a man, missing the love of their own father who has abandoned them physically or maybe just emotionally
The men who don’t know how to be fathers because their father was never there for them
The women who are raising children on their own because the father is no longer around
The women who chose abortion to keep the man but the man left them anyhow, either out of his own selfishness or due to the guilt of the abortion destroying their relationship

Maybe you are thinking of the ways in which you reach out to orphans and widows in your community. That is good news for us then, right? But wait a second. Before we take too much pride in what God has called us to do and given us opportunity to do, there is more to this Scripture.

MY RELIGION IS WORTHLESS WHEN…

James says that our religion is worthless if we cannot keep a tight rein on our tongue. Ouch! We don’t serve a God who is looking for more good works than sinful deeds. Our religion is not one where we just need to make sure the good outweighs the bad. We serve a God who is calling us to holiness – to a Spirit-filled life that guides both our actions and our words.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor” – well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? – James 2:1-7

MY RELIGION IS WORTHLESS WHEN…

Humans have a tendency to treat people differently – preference, prejudice, favor, stereotyping, assumptions, racism. If someone possesses something we esteem, we are naturally drawn to them. That could be physical beauty, clothing, designer shoes or purses, athleticism, jewelry, talent, celebrity status, intelligence, money, or a dynamic personality. It is all favoritism and it is all sin, and my guess is we are all guilty.

Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? – James 2:5

Over and over again, Scriptures shows that those who are poor by the world’s standards are more easily drawn toward God. Because they have less to hold on to, they tend to trust God with more of their life.

I don’t want my religion to be worthless. Lord, please fill me with your Spirit today. Give me the strength to listen to your Spirit’s leading and hold back any words that are not pleasing to you. May my mouth be an instrument for you today and not a tool for the devil. Lord, bring the words of James to my mind today when I am faced with an opportunity to let the Spirit guide me. May I trust you with more and hang on to less! Amen.