Friday, August 7, 2009

The Focus of Strength

Recently, I did a short study on strength and the source of strength in the Bible. Amongst some great chapters (Philppians 4, Colossians 2, etc) I realized that James 4 actually has quite a bit to say about strength, even though it may seem a little indirect at first.

At first glance, James really wasn't one of those books in the Bible that I really liked reading. It's tone is often negative and can feel really condemning and critical--not the typical "Jesus loves me" atmosphere. However, taking it into context, it can be a goldmine. James is being bold and pointing out some of the Jewish Christians misunderstandings by laying it down pretty straight. In essence, a lot of it is "You're messing up and God doesn't like it. Repent or face God's wrath." Though that's pretty intense, the bottom line is James sees what is at stake here. He sees the immense value and blessing that comes when you live as a follower of Christ, rather than simply trying to associate yourself with Christ and not do as He desires. And he sees the devastation that comes when you don't follow Christ. He works to erase the gray areas and lay out the black and white.

So, James 4. It starts like this: "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong--you want only what will give you pleasure."

So often when I go before God with a request, I don't want to find out what His perspective is. I want something to make me stronger so I feel better, so I ask My-All-Powerful-Superhero-God to give it to me. Unfortunately, that's not who He is, and confusing the Almighty God with a Genie in a lamp is a dire mistake, and as James so aptly points out, it doesn't do any good.

James 4:4-5 "You adulterers! Don't you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can't be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful?"

That's pretty harsh--I can't be friends with the things down here? Am I to despise everything about this world? I don't think that's the point at all--the wording is "if my aim is to enjoy this world." If all I want is enjoyment, then truly I do not want to follow Christ because He already says "here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows" (John 16:33). No, my aim must be for life, a life lived to please Christ who saved me from death and destruction. And what my Savior desires is for me to be faithful to His ways. When that is my goal, this follows:

Jam 4:6-8 "He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, "God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble." So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts..."

Ah, clarity. When my goal is to please Him (which brings something better than a simple "enjoyment") then He will give me strength to endure the desires my old sinful self has. He will give me favor (aka lots o' blessing)! So, my goal is to draw close to God, and He will draw close to me and purify me when I offer my sins to Him.

With God on my side, who can stand against me? Not just "who" but also, what can stand against me? The desire to slack off? The overwhelming emotions of rejection, loss, or fear? The direction from Him to give up what I want the most? Any illness? Any circumstance? No, because my focus is higher, on Christ, and if the task or feeling or circumstance is before me, then He will give me the strength to make it through.

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