Not What You Wanted?
by Alex Crain, Crosswalk.com
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” – James 4:1
A holiday edition of the TV show “America’s Funniest Home Videos” showed various children opening their presents on Christmas morning. Apparently, it’s hard for many kids to see humor in getting an unwanted gift. Most of their reactions were, well… downright childish.
When the ribbons and paper were torn off, one child pulled out a new pair of socks, threw her head back and erupted in an angry sob. A matching outfit given to another child produced a tantrum across the floor followed by stomping footsteps up the stairs. Other children glowered with frowns and snarls. One even screamed at the parent holding the video camera, then hurled the unwanted gift back in his face. Not exactly the funniest home videos.
In contrast to all the immaturity and ingratitude came a bright ray of hope at the end of the montage as a little brown-haired girl in pink pajamas ecstatically jumped up and down with glee. She held in her hands a tiny chestnut and spun around to the camera exclaiming, “A nut! A nut! I got a nut! I don’t know what kind it is, but I got a nut!”
James 4:1-6 says that sinful responses erupt from hearts that are controlled by overwhelming desires. They don’t have to be sinful desires necessarily. The degree to which “harmless” desires become sinful is shown by what happens when things don’t turn out as you hoped or expected. Whether it is irritability, or an angry tantrum or a sulking frown; sinful responses show that something in the heart has replaced God.
Notice verse 1 where James asks the question (paraphrasing), “Why are you so upset? What’s the real problem in your heart?” And then he answers with divine wisdom, “I’ll tell you what the matter is: it’s your pleasures—your desires—that are waging war within you. And the result is sinful fights and quarrels.”
Certainly, there’s nothing inherently sinful about simply having desires in life. God created us to have desires. There are many good things to desire in life: having adequate food, clothing and shelter, having a happy marriage, getting a promotion at work, buying a nice car. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of desires… nothing inherently wrong, that is.
The problems come when, in our hearts, those desires turn into something else. The word translated as “lust” in verse 2 is actually “desire” with the added element of “strong craving.” Epithumeo is not a word that necessarily means “lust” in the sexual sense. The idea conveyed in the original text is “you are controlled by desire.” In other words, some desire—perhaps, even for a good thing—has gotten so wrapped around your heart, that it has become more important than God to you.
Whenever this happens, the result is sinful behavior. And the sin of the heart that must be confessed first in cases like this is no less than the sin of idolatry. False worship occurs whenever worship of the true God is replaced with the god of “my way.”
What a peaceful contrast is painted in verse 6. God gives grace to the humble. That is, those who humbly submit their desires to God and trust Him as the sovereign provider of needs are given grace. Grace here is the desire and ability to obey God and respond in a way that pleases Him. Such recipients of grace are able, then, to deal with whatever happens—whether the present under the tree is a pair of socks, a cool skateboard, the keys to a new car, or a tiny chestnut.
Isaiah 57:14-15 14And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” 15For this is what the high and lofty One says– he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.
Is there a cleared highway for Jesus to enter your heart? Before a great dignitary of Rome would enter a city, a work crew would go before and make sure obstacles were cleared from the road. Damaged areas were repaired, and washed out areas were filled in. Have you done as much for the Lord Jesus? Does He have a clear path to your heart, desires, and plans? This passage was written to a nation that had idolatry and greed in their roads, but it is applicable to us too.
The God of eternity, who transcends space and time, who sees and knows all things that ever were and are or will be, is utterly separate from us. He can at the same time be the One who orders all things and yet comes to the hurting soul in need with a gentle word. Pride holds out a stiff arm to God. Humility and recognition of need draw us to an intimate place with Him. Could the blockage in our road be the pride that causes us to go our own way without consulting Him? He promises to live with the contrite and lowly person. It takes humility to say, “I need Thee, oh, I need Thee. Every hour I need Thee!” It takes humility to repent of going our own way.
If you want the presence of God in your life and the voice of God to renew and encourage you, you need a heart that is humble and repentant. Whatever would block the road by keeping you from that state of heart and mind must be removed.
Consider: Check the roadway of your heart. Is it open to your Savior?
‘Savior of the Nations, Come’
Scripture Reading — Luke 1:26-38
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” — Luke 1:35
“Savior of the Nations, Come” is one of the oldest hymns used in the Advent/Christmas season. It dates back to the fourth century A.D. in the works of Ambrose, and in later years Martin Luther (1523).
This song tells the story of the virgin birth. Mary’s honest question about how it would be possible for her to give birth is explained by the angel in Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The child born to Mary would therefore be called “the Son of God.”
The song also includes the theme we reflected on yesterday from Philippians 2. “Christ laid down his majesty, passed through dark Gethsemane.” The Son of God, the promised Messiah, laid aside the glory of heaven to become a human being, to live among us in this world, and to submit to death on a cross to save us from sin.
Then he rose from the dead and ascended to rule in heaven. “Though he left his Father’s home, Christ now sits on God’s own throne.” This echoes the theme of exaltation in Philippians 2 and what the angel prophesied: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David . . . his kingdom will never end.”
So in this song we proclaim, with believers down through the ages, “Come, Lord Jesus, Savior of the nations!”