You may know that my mum died last Wednesday week. Thank you for your prayer and your kind words. I’m truly thankful for my mum. She taught me that God is real, he is good, and he is for me. She taught me how to preach. She was the only person who interrupted me preaching—giving birth gives you certain rights. Her funeral is this Friday at 1pm at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Allawah Street, Blacktown. Please pray as I have the privilege of preaching to many relatives.
We have so much for which to thank God. With our one-off gifts we get the chance to thank God for this year. One of the gifts will help prevent malaria in the Republic of Congo. Over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age. The Congo is hit the hardest. Your gift will also assist with a Bible college and the development of leadership in the Congo.
To update on the progress of our pledges, the gap is now reduced to $420,000. Mark and Susan Boyley spent a day in prayer and fasting over the pledges. They know the gap is big and it covers a lot of staff salaries. So while I went to worry, they went to a cave in the Blue Mountains and prayed and fasted all day. Why don’t we take up this great example? Let’s come before God so that before January ends we can say that God did it again! He has done more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Thank you Lord for giving your Son, and for giving us our mums, for MBM, for the 4pm service, with 112 adults and 40 kids and youth. As we consider the $420,000 outstanding, please help us to lean on you, for you are a God who can do more than we can ask or imagine. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
One the biggest stresses in your life is conflict in relationships, at home, at work, and among your friends. This makes the opening question of James 4:1 so important:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? (NIV)
Get this right and you will save yourselves and others a lot of pain. The answer to this question will determine how well our life will be lived. The answer comes in several stages. James 4:2:
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (NIV)
That is the first surprise. The war with others begins with the war inside of ourselves. Just when you think that the problem is with them, we are told that it begins with me. What a shock! If you asked people about their last argument, most will be too embarrassed to tell you because it was so silly, and 90% will focus on what the other person did or didn’t do. In most conflict relationships, people will tell you about their hurt and the other person failure, and rarely talk about their failures and the other person’s hurt. James does not begin with external factors, other people, DNA, family history, Satan, or the world—even though they all play a part. He is saying that the problem of my conflict first begins with me. And what is that problem? James 4:2:
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (NIV)
The killing can be literal but in most cases it is not As Jesus said, the heart that produces anger is the same heart that produces murder. The core issue is that you want something but do not get it. It is that simple. The older you get, nothing changes. Remember when you were three and you had a fight? You wanted the other kid’s toys, but couldn’t get it. We are born with a spirit of demandingness and it never leaves us.
Here are the 10 commandments for toddlers:
- If I like it, it’s mine.
- If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.
- If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
- If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
- If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
- If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine.
- If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
- If I saw it first, it’s mine.
- If you are playing with something, and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine.
- If it’s broken, it’s yours.
You want something but can’t get it, whether it’s your co-worker’s job, or a neighboring country’s oil field. This is what is called a ‘blocked goal’. As a rule, desires from God can’t be frustrated. No one can frustrate your desire to be humble, peace-loving, and gentle. Anger and war are the result of a blocked goal. Either your goal is fueled by wrong desires, or your goal comes from good desires that turned bad. They are right desires that have turned into demands. I want my wife to respect me. I want my friend to accept me. I want my boss to honour my work. These are good longings. I just don’t have the right to demand them. I don’t have the right to punish people with my emotions when I don’t get what I want. The clue that you have turned good desire into an ungodly demand is anger.
What we should have done is pray, James 4:2b:
You do not have because you do not ask God. (NIV)
The serenity pray is prayed in every AA meeting. Let’s say it together.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
It is important to know what you can change. It’s important to know what you can’t change. And ask God to help you know the difference. Once I know that I can’t change anybody else but me, out goes the sulking, gossiping, slandering, and cursing. In comes praying to God to help them change and to help me be content. Here are a couple of examples.
Let’s apply this to relationships. I can’t control whether people love me, accept me, or respect me. I can control what I say, what I do, or how I act. So I assume responsibility for what I can change. I pray for those things I can’t change. You do not have because you don’t ask. This is the big challenge for couples dating. Many go into relationship thinking that given enough time, my love can change this person. Then six months into marriage they get frustrated because the other person doesn’t want to change. So the power struggle begins, where one person wants to change the other, and the other person doesn’t want to change. All hell breaks loose. But once you understand that you can’t change the other person, you are more likely to focus on what you do, and pray rather than manipulate.
Or let’s apply it in terms of ministry. Once you realize you can’t make another person a Christian, and once you realize that God is only glorified when people do things willingly and not under compulsion, what is left in our control is that I can talk persuasively about Jesus. I will do it with gentleness and respect. I will provide a good loving example and I will pray to God who can change. The more you know you can’t change another person, the more you know that God can change any person. It leads us to pray. He alone can plant his word in their heart by his Spirit. And when we realize we can’t change people, we are less like to be angry, nagging, enraged, and swearing, and more likely to act like their priest, and ask God for them.
But the shock continues in James 4:3:
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (NIV)
So in some cases, there is prayer and lots of it, but the prayer is about manipulating God to get what we want. I once interviewed a man at church who was a prolific gambler every night at the club. He was also a serial adulterer, every week with a different woman. Then he told of how he turned to Christ and turned away from sin. After the service I asked his wife what it is like to hear his testimony. She said, “I kept praying to God that he would change my husband for me—to stop the adultery and the gambling. But what I didn’t do was I wasn’t praying that he would become a Christian. I wanted him to change only for myself. I did not want him to change for his salvation. I did not want him to change for God’s glory.”
Our conflict is not just internal. It’s massaged by what our world says, James 4:4:
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (NIV)
The world wants us to say, “It’s everybody’s fault but mine!” If we side with the world, we side against Jesus, for Jesus said, “The world does not hate you but it hates me.” In fact, his Spirit is jealous for our spirit to be like Christ. While we get jealous for ourselves, he is jealous for our godliness, James 4:5-6:
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (quoting Proverbs 3:34)
Here is our hope. After being called sinners, adulterers, enemies, after falling short of God’s expectations where our faith doesn’t always lead to good works, as we struggle to tame the tongue, where suffering makes us bitter not better, God promises us more grace if only we would humble ourselves before him. No matter how much we have fallen, no matter how many times we have compromised, no matter how much we have sold out, the promise is James 4:8:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. (NIV)
Such a simple promise: Come near to God. For many religions, you can never come near to God. You need to keep your distance. But come near to God. He will not leave us hanging. He will come near to us. He really is for us. He really does love us. This humbling response is life long. James 4:7:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (NIV)
So we have the world, the flesh, and now the devil. The devil loves to lurk around and start a good fight. So you can see Satan having a field day on Facebook Again notice the promise: resist the demonic self-centred desires, and the promise is that the devil will flee. There is no eight hour exorcism, he is not talking about casting out demons. Say ‘no’ to sin and you are saying ‘no’ to Satan. Say ‘no’ to Satan and he will run from you. There is always grace waiting for you, but not without remorse. James 4:9-10:
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. (NIV)
I can feel bad and be filled with joy all at the same time. We are an immature culture. We are afraid of feeling sad. We avoid feeling bad. It’s why there is so much drinking and drug taking in our community. Our culture is desperate to always find the funny side of life. Humour is the currency of our age. Casey Chambers has a song where she says:
We risk our lives,
We hit our wives,
We act like everything is funny.
We hide our pain
While we go insane.
We sell our souls for money.
We curse our mums,
We build our bombs,
We make our children cry.
We act like everything is funny. There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. When convicted of sin God’s Spirit want us to grieve, mourn, and wail.
Sometimes we rush too quickly to forgiveness and grace, not feeling the weight of what we have done. So people say, “I said I’m sorry. Stop making me feel bad.” But do you really know the damage you have done? Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
That is what I did when my mum died. She was injected with morphine in Emergency. She was then taken to the ward, but when I met her at the entrance of the ward, I looked down to see that she had died. “Ma, Ma!” I grieved, I mourned, I wailed. That is what you do when your mother dies. That is what you should do when you speak badly to other humans made in God image. Feel the weight of our sin as we approach God who will lift us up.
It is time to draw near to God with tears in your eyes, and know this: he will draw near to you.