13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
There is just something special about finishing first. In grade school I would get upset if I finished a test after someone else. I just had to be first. I was more concerned with finishing first than I was with getting everything right – though I was very concerned with getting things right too. This kind of me-first-ism continued into my teenage years, especially when it came to playing basketball. I just had to be the first, the best, the number one. It’s funny, because it is not as if I were some great player – I couldn’t even make my high school team. But when it came to playing with friends, I hated playing basketball with those who were obviously better than I was, because I hated to lose. I was obsessed with achievement.
Things have gotten better in adulthood, as I have been able to identify and actively work against this spirit of selfishness. But it still is a challenge today. Many Christians deal with similar struggles, born out of a desire to be good. But we mistake what that word actually means. We think good is synonymous with perfection, winning, and achievement. We seek out spiritual “trophies,” those super-spiritual signs that our faith is somehow more genuine or authentic than other Christians.
In college I saw this manifest itself in a very peculiar way. I went to a Christian college and we had mandatory chapel three times a week. Every once in a while, we would have a chapel service in which the worship and message would deeply touch the hearts of the students. The service would go past its time limit and students would stay to pray and sing and bask in the movement of the Spirit. Some students would even get up in front of the group to make heartfelt confessions so that they could find some closure and healing for past sins. Without fail, though, this would morph into a time of spiritual competition, as more and more students would come forward to confess “worse” and more elaborate sins. It became a game of “my forgiven sin is bigger than your forgiven sin.”
James writes about selfish ambition and asking in our prayers for things that will benefit ourselves, instead of things that fit with God’s will. At the heart of all of this is spiritual pride, a spirit of “me first,” a feeling that I am only “good” if I am “better” than others. The remedy for this, James says, is to run away from selfishness and draw near to God. When we do, we will find giving what God wants to others is always better than getting what we want.
We don’t have to be the best. We don’t have to win the trophy. We don’t have to outdo others. We don’t even have to fulfill our every whim. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” As I wrote in my song Choose, that I shared with the congregation in a sermon some weeks ago, “So seldom do I know what I need, never asking for the right thing, but You know.” God knows what we really need. And God knows that when we receive from God’s hands, we will grow stronger and closer together. There is just something about finishing first – something that keeps us separated from God and others. Let’s draw near instead of pulling away.
Think back to a time in which you have experienced conflict. Maybe you are experiencing this now in your life. We experience conflict in many areas of life: family, work, friendships, community struggles, etc. How did you deal with this conflict? How did those with whom you were struggling treat you? James writes that conflicts can often come from impure motives within us, rather than true transgressions on the part of another person. Have you experienced this in a conflict before? How so? As you reflect and write, brainstorm ways that can help you avoid the pitfall of self-induced conflicts. How might you sow “righteousness in peace” instead of conflict in your life?
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
Cloud of Witnesses:
Unfortunately, we remember Saint Nicholas most of all for his identification with the Santa Claus of popular culture. But St. Nicholas was no North Pole elf with reindeer and a bowl-full-of-jelly waistline. Nicholas, who lived in the late-third and early fourth centuries AD, was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ from the southwestern part of modern-day Turkey, near the center of Greek civilization at the time. He was a bishop who is known for his great generosity and selfless acts of mercy toward others. Take a moment to read about his life and grace-filled works, and be inspired to give generously to others. Ho, ho, ho!
Listen to the song, We Fall Down by Christ Tomlin. You can download the song here if you’d like. As you listen to this song and sing along, pay close attention to the line “We fall down, we lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.” Imagine yourself meeting Jesus face to face. Do you bring all of your accomplishments and accolades with you, or do you recognize the holiness and greatness of Jesus and surrender to his great love for you? What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
What temptations do you face in life? Is it sometimes difficult to resist those temptations? Pray this week for strength in times of trial. Ask God to give others the ability to “resist the devil” through drawing near to God in prayer as well. Trust God to lead you into submitting to the divine will. God’s will reflects what is best for us – it is not an oppressive will. As you pray, claim this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13 for yourself and those you love: No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
James writes that our “cravings…are at war within” us. This war leads to conflict with others and isolation from God. Ask God to reveal to you your desires and cravings. What is it that you long for deep within you? Picture these desires in your mind in whatever way that they become clear to you. Now ask God to reveal to you God’s desires for you. Picture these as well within your mind. How do they correspond to your personal cravings and desires? Do some of them connect? Or others “at war” with what God wants? Imagine God’s desires entering into your heart, mind, and spirit. Do some of your own desires have to evacuate your heart, mind, or spirit to make room for God’s desires? Ask God for the courage and strength to will what God wills and to give up those desires that are not of God.
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- In what ways have I worked or prayed out of selfishness?
- How have I intentionally drawn near to God?
- How have I sown righteousness in peace?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Take some intentional time of silence to be in God’s presence. When we want to draw near to a friend or a loved one, we spend time with them. During those times, we take joy in hearing them speak as they tell us about their lives and reveal their heart. It is no different with God. God wants us to draw near to him. Find a quiet place of solitude and ask God to open you to his presence and to speak to you. And then…wait. Wait with expectation and hear God’s perspective on life.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, draw us near to you.