The Sly Art of Self-Deception

James 1: 12-18 (The Message)

12 Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. 13 Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. 14 The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. 15 Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer. 16 So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. 17 Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. 18 He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

If there is a generous or kind bone in our bodies it’s because there is a God of Love. He created me as a “one-off.” I would rather believe that God’s love and care for me is the one true touchstone rather than any other semblance of reality that there is out there.  The inimitable G.K. Chesterton was always quick to point out, “If there isn’t a good God, give me one good explanation for happiness.”

That said, there are many other unanswered questions in that real world. And a big question is the question of temptation.  I must face the prospect that though I am special in God’s eyes, I am also deeply flawed.  I know that is true because I have seen it in my own character and in the lives of others.  I have watched virtuous people turn on a dime and act defiant and petty.  In prisons, I have also seen the most violent offenders show tender moments of innocence.  A wise person sees both sides in others and themselves.

The sage advice of James in these verses is to put all of our stock and trade into the goodness of God and in the reality of our fallen state. It’s only then that we can begin to build a life of wisdom and character.

 

 

Finishing Work by Offering Wisdom

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

A close friend is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Stripped of resources and paralyzed by incredible burdens, he’s finally returning to a question that he hasn’t asked in a while, “God, what should I do?”  I’ve listened to his mental process during the past year and I have noticed that he goes about ‘life’ exactly as I do.  That being, he makes most of his own plans and asks God to bless them.  Then when troubles arise, he asks for help.  His prayers are mostly directed at receiving the wisdom necessary to relieve the trial.

Double mindedness is really just wanting to continue to be the captain of my own ship while keeping God’s favor and resource in reserve.

James seems to be pointing out that trials are inevitable.  Wisdom is not the tool to avoid trials but instead the insights that should be exercised while IN the trial.  We all want relief, but James has offered something better. A dividend on the prospect of going through trials.

I’ve often said that I don’t ever want anyone to go through what I’ve experienced in the realm of difficulties.  But I do know that God was with me in those difficulties. I don’t want to go back and be the person I was before those difficulties came to visit.  I’ve learned too much about God’s immense love and goodness. It all came from the insight and dividend of those difficult times.

Worth a Consideration

When James writes in his letter to “Consider it all joy when various trials come our way,” he’s given serious thought to how we change behavior and outlook. In my mind he has written the comprehensive guide to taking control of our emotions and thoughts. Wayne Dyer, move over. James has you by two thousand years.

James motivates the person of faith from the very get-go by asking a hard question. Do we of faith really see a God of Love as our Heavenly Father? If so, then we must bring the issue of troubles to the forefront and face the reality that God has changed our troubles into trials. Troubles are endemic, trials are prescriptive. Trouble is tragic, trials are redemptive.

While we certainly cannot know the mind of God, a walk of faith predicated upon a loving God’s involvement means a disciplined re-orientation toward putting troubles into the trials category. This is a mental, emotional AND volitional enterprise. To that end, James uses the words; “Consider” and “all joy” to circumscribe the process we must use to move from an outlook where we have troubles to a place where we experience trials.

Trials, by definition, are stress tests, meant to mold and fine tune the element being tested. Reading through James with this lens in place will help the student understand the process God is using.

Finishing Work

The book of James is a no nonsense look at the landscape of life. It was crafted from the serious dedication of its author, James the Just, the younger brother of Jesus. He was known by the second century AD as a man who took his personal devotion to the Lord and the Good News seriously.

He was not always that way. In the books of Mark and John he was described as thinking his older brother a bit looney. But by the end of Pentecost following Christ’s crucifixion, he had wholly given himself over to the message and work that Jesus portrayed. His devotion was so marked that he was known for his “surfers knots,” the knobby knees that come from praying on one’s knees for extended periods.

The historian Josephus noted that in AD 62 James was stoned for his heretical devotion to Jesus and the concomitant influence James had on establishing the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem.

When James writes, “Consider it all (or pure) joy whenever you face trials of many kinds….” he knows of what he speaks. During the spring and summer months we will be exploring how this marvelous quality can be a possession of any and every follower of Jesus. The promise is that when we possess this type of faith, God can finish His work in us and we’ll lack nothing.