Commitment to God is a continuing action of submission to Him. How we treat others is evidence of our submission to Him. James starts by telling his readers that wanting what other people have is not an attitude of submission. Similarly, complaining that we don’t have something we think we need is pointless, particularly if we haven’t already taken the request to the Father. And when the Father says, “no,” we still complain. God knows what we need, when we need it, and why we need it.
Jesus told his disciples to ask in His name and they would receive (Matthew 7:7-8; John 16:24), but the context of those verses was not asking for material things, but that of asking for God’s perfect will through the Spirit. It is permissible to ask God to meet our needs, and even our wants; He is a good Father who lavishes His children with good gifts. However, when we ask God to provide our daily bread, we must come with humble hearts, seeking His will above our wants. Wanting to quarrel and complain is a sign that our motives were wrong from the beginning.
James reminds his readers (including us) that only God knows the future and anything we plan to do must be planned through the knowledge that He may have other plans. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a good illustration of how quickly our plans can unravel when the unexpected happens. Our response to the situation indicates our attitudes about our plans: if we pivot to the new reality, then we are probably seeking God’s will rather than our plans. If our response is continuing anger, frustration, or argument because our plans are thwarted or things change in ways we don’t agree with, we are likely operating out of our arrogance (James 4:13-16). It’s one thing to react to an unexpected event that forces us to take a path we didn’t choose, but it’s another thing entirely to live in that reaction. The wisdom from God that we say we want brings a harvest of righteousness sown in peace (James 3:18).
So how do we respond to the trials that inevitably block our paths? There may not be another pandemic in the next 100 years like the current one, but there will always be challenges to overcome. Illness, job insecurity, financial crises, and other calamities are part of living on this earth. James offers gives 6 actions we who call ourselves believers can (and must) take to rightly receive and share His grace.
1. Submit to God. We need to remember who we are on this earth. We are impermanent mists with limited influence in the grand scheme of things. We cannot control the things that happen around us, whether it is illness, political decisions, economics, or spiritual warfare, but we can control how we respond to them. Our decision to submit to God will be reflected in how we speak and act in the middle of the mess.
2. Resist the devil. People are joking about weight gain during this time of sequestering (the Rona 15) because, with nothing else to do, we don’t resist the snacks and second helpings. Resistance requires active discipline to stand firm against appealing things.
3. Draw near to God. Worship, prayer, and consistent time with the Father will help us withstand any temptation.
4. Cleanse your hands. If we have learned anything in the last couple of months it is how to wash away the viruses that may harm us. Spiritual cleansing, ridding ourselves of habits that harm our walk with the Lord is even more important. If turning from temptation requires singing a psalm for 20 seconds, so be it.
5. Purify your hearts. Just as we wash our hands to reduce external contamination, to too we consume healthy foods to keep our hearts healthy. What we ingest spiritually affects our inner selves as well. For me, that has meant removing certain social media apps from my phone so that I may keep myself from annoying, frustrating, and pointless discussions about political things.
6. Humble yourselves. We are not God. Most of us are not judges nor law givers. We cannot know the future and we do not know the hearts and stories of the people around us. Our responsibility in submission to God is to do the right thing according to His command and His Word.
Let us choose to live wisely in submission to Jesus today and every day! When we do, we will bring grace and peace to the people around us, which is good for us and glorifying to God.