To Whom We Draw Near

Scripture Focus: 
James 4.7-8
7…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you…

Reflection: To Whom We Draw Near
By John Tillman

The writing in James is tight, terse, and tense. It is full of short, pithy quotables that, at first glance, seem disconnected from one another. But most of the time (just like in the book of Proverbs it is sometimes compared to) larger thoughts are developing and each thought shines light on the next. 

James copies the style of Proverbs often—writing a balanced statement of a good on one side, contrasted with its opposite. In James 4, his balanced statements help to contrast living as a “friend of the world” rather than a “friend of God.” 

We want to be a friend of God and of the world too but James reminds us that is impossible. We are called to have a single love and to be faithful to God alone, satisfying ourselves in God and clinging to him to the exclusion of all others. If we maintain a polyamorous relationship that includes our worldly, fleshly desires, God, in response, will distance himself from us. 

James calls this being double-minded rather than single-minded. Our conflicts, struggles, anger, and rage come from attempts to achieve our worldly desires—seeking wealth, seeking power, seeking pleasures. We want God’s blessings to spend on devilish pursuits. When we choose this, we are choosing enmity rather than friendship with God, war rather than peace.

We live on Earth which rightfully belongs to God, but  “the world” is the powers, systems, and spiritual forces that usurp God’s rule and authority. We are aliens and strangers in the world, not citizens. God does not acknowledge dual citizenship with a rebellious world. We cannot keep one foot in two kingdoms which are at war. 

James recommends that we choose our enemies carefully, for when we choose our enemies, we are also choosing our friends. Choosing to be near to the world is choosing to be far from God. Resisting the devil will cause him to flee from us. Coming near to God will cause him to come near to us. The distance of the devil and the nearness of God are affected by our responses. 

We must choose whom to resist and whom to draw close to. May we draw close to God and be safely kept in his hand. We need not fear having the world as an enemy when we have God as a friend.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show us the light of your countenance, O God, and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 10:5-34 (Listen – 5:14) 
James 4 (Listen 2:25)

Read more about Prayer and Faith
Do we feel that God is distant from us? It is we who have moved. Draw near in prayer.

Read more about Seeking after a Seeking God
Wherever and however we draw near to God, he will draw near to us.


Mind Your Manners

Scripture Focus: James 4:1-2a
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

Reflection: Mind Your Manners
By Jon Polk

Outraged by people who keep cutting in front of him to use the pay phone at a Chinese restaurant, TV’s Seinfeld character George Costanza loudly proclaims to no one in particular, “You know, we’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilized way.”

Even neurotic, self-absorbed, slacker George gets it.

James focuses his attention on the conflicts and quarrels that apparently plagued the early church in Jerusalem, where he was the leader. He pointedly announces the source of the discord: selfishness and greed.

James proclaims this is the root problem behind all of our disagreements, “You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”

We live in a culture driven by marketing and promotion. Children want the trendiest clothing. Teens desire the newest tech devices. Adults fight for the best job in order to drive the ultimate car and live in the biggest house.

We live in a culture driven by outrage and offense. A word misspoken can set us off. The tiniest misstep can result in a cavalcade of online abuse. We want our rights protected regardless of the impact it may have on others.

We want to be right and we want others to know we are right. We want to get what we desire and we want others to provide it for us. We want our world to work on our terms and provide for our needs.

We’re selfish creatures. James is right in stating that the conflicts that arise between us start from the sinful conflicts that exist deep within us.

One of the most famous presidential quotes in US history is from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Regardless of political preference, we understand the selfless sentiment that Kennedy expressed during an anxious time in US history.

Too often in life, business, politics, and society, selfishness and it’s cousin greed reign supreme rather than the Christ-like virtues of selflessness and generosity.

According to James, the antidote for our selfish desires is found in humility and submitting ourselves to God. (4:6-10) Living together in a civil society requires that we exorcise the demons of selfishness and greed that often motivate our behaviors. We cannot live as double-minded people, attempting to both serve God and satisfy our own cravings.

Instead… ask not what your God can do for you. Ask what you can do for your God.

From John:
I offer a deep, heartfelt thank you to Jon for this series on James. It was not only insightful but came at a time at which a significant break from writing was needed. Thanks for taking on the challenge! May we prepare our hearts to give thanks this next week of Thanksgiving in the US, and may we all look forward to the soon-coming first week of Advent. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.—Psalm 85:10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 17 (Listen -4:14)
James 4  (Listen -2:25)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chr 18 (Listen -2:36), James 5  (Listen -3:01)
1 Chr 19-20 (Listen -5:02), 1 Peter 1 (Listen -3:53)

Thank You!
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Read more about Greed and Envy
It is in Christ that we will find the compassion to overcome our cynicism and the generosity of spirit to overcome our jealousy and greed.

Read more about A Christian Response to Offense
Our culture is unable to bear offense and simultaneously unable to bear forgiveness.

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