James 1:1-8 (AMP)
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve [Hebrew] tribes [scattered abroad among the Gentiles] in the dispersion: Greetings (rejoice)!
Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him. But he must ask [for wisdom] in faith, without doubting [God’s willingness to help], for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides].
How many times have you said a prayer, but doubted God’s ability to answer that prayer? Be honest.
You know God has good intentions for your life, but do you still recognize that when you’re undergoing trials? In this passage, James is teaching the tribes that difficult, uncertain times are faith conditioning times. Uncertain times are the times you grow and come closer to God’s purpose for your life.
You have no choice but to pray, recognizing His sovereign providence and knowing that there is no challenging time stronger than Him. James says it’s okay to ask God for clarity regarding why He is making you walk in this season. However, the one condition He puts on it is this: don’t pray because of the pressure. Pray because of your faith. Pray confidently because you want God more than anything else. That’s what it means to be single-minded.
Doubled-minded people don’t get answers to their prayers. Double-minded people are hesitant, dubious, unstable. You can’t be of two minds. You can’t ask God to open a door for you while standing there wondering if He’ll be able to do it. When your faith is divided, you give up your confidence in God.
You will be so much closer to your destination if you stop being double-minded and trust in God and His plan. Your disciplined offering is an offering of spiritual single-mindedness. In fact, become so focused on God that you are monomaniacal. Become a maniac for God—a spiritual maniac. Be a maniac when it comes to prayer. Pray, and if nothing changes, do it again, then again. Stand at God’s door unafraid to say, “Hey, it’s me again.”
Melba Pattillo, notable for being a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine students in Little Rock, Arkansas who were among the first African American students to desegregate a local school, wrote a book called I Will Not Fear. In the first chapter, she describes her birth. Anticipating it was going to be a difficult birth—as Melba was nine pounds and her mother was petite—her equally petite grandmother trekked through the winter storm to the local hospital to request her daughter be admitted. The hospital supervisor told her she could not have a room in the hospital, but could go down the hall to the janitor’s closet, and her daughter could give birth there. The supervisor reasoned that if it was rumored that one African American woman had been given a room, other African Americans would come down to the hospital requesting the same thing, and the hospital didn’t want them to come in and stink up the place.
After thirty hours of labor, Melba had to be removed with forceps, which caused an infection on her head. Her temperature skyrocketed, and she was close to dying. Her grandmother says that all she had at that time to lean on was prayer. She was a maniac in prayer, so much so that the kind janitor heard her in the closet praying. He told her that she should wash Melba with Epsom salt; he’d overheard the doctor tell the nurse to do that, but the nurse had yet to come down the hall. Melba’s grandmother went to the store, began washing Melba’s head with Epsom salt, and Melba survived. Melba says she’s alive because she had a grandmother who wouldn’t stop praying, and a janitor who wouldn’t stop sweeping—an angel with a broom.
I think we could all learn a lesson from Melba’s grandmother. You must have the same mind and spirit that God does about your trials. Since God believes the pressure in your current season is working to mature your faith and contribute to your purpose, you must believe the same!
Exodus 20:25 (ESV)
If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.
Today’s focus scripture follows a transition in the nation of Israel—from God showing up and showing out to save and protect His people to what God expects from His people.
He’s just released the Ten Commandments to Israel, and now He’s laying out His expectations for their worship and sacrifices. And in His perfect way, God is offering another protection for His people.
His commandments for His altar are to remind Israel what His presence means, what He has done for them, and what He expects from His people. We’re shifting from the mighty acts of deliverance from Egypt to the expectations of a holy people.
As a good Father, God knows what lies ahead for Israel as they walk from oppression in Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land. He knows the sinful heart of His people and knows that they will use their God-given gifts or tools—intelligence, passions, desires—to manipulate His will to fit theirs. So, He’s warning them that their intelligence is no match for His.
He’s also helping us see our role in His plan. He knows that as His children learn of their intelligence and gifts from Him, they may use it for selfish ambition. He knows Israel will be tempted to trim the stone (God’s will) for their own purposes. He knows that His children will “polish” His Word to fit their own desires.
So, God warns them that the altar represents how this relationship works. He says, “You don’t carve my stone; my stone shapes the way you think.”
God is holy and just and the blessing in this warning is that He’s designed you to be the carved stone. He’s given you unfinished gifts—intelligence, passions, desires—as part of His plan for you. He dreamed you up and placed you in your mother’s womb, so He gets some say in your life.
When we attempt to cut God out of our lives or to shape His Word and will to fit our plans and schemes, we “profane the stone.” We forget or ignore the One who made us and saved us.
A real problem in modern society is that we do this all the time with the Gospel—the Good News God gave His people to spread His Word and will. Human wisdom delights in trimming and arranging the Gospel to fit a narrative. We say, “The Bible is old, so it needs to be ‘updated’ or ‘polished.’” But when we do this, we take away the blessing that is God’s Word and will. It’s a gift He gives us to hewn us to be more like Him—holy and righteous.
However, the good news for today is that even when we’ve tried our own way, God has mercy on us. When we stand at the altar of Jesus Christ, we’ve already tried our own way. We realize that it doesn’t work. We recognize that we can’t do this life without Him. There’s a God-sized hole in our hearts of stone that only Jesus can fill.
And when we realize that we can see the blessings of God’s warning about the altar. Here’s what you can do with this message:
1. Let God’s presence (the unhewn stone) change you. Don’t try to handle God. Let Him handle you. He is the only answer to the problems in your life.
2. Accept God’s carving of your heart. God is going to ask you to look at different perspectives and to make radical changes to your life. Jesus asked His disciples to walk away from their lives at great sacrifice, but He gave a greater sacrifice. The jagged edges of His presence in your life aren’t to harm you but to bless you.
3. Stand by what the altar means. The apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek. For the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God that comes by faith from start to finish” (Romans 1:16-17, NIV). God’s asking us to do something bold—to proclaim Him, to follow Him, to live for Him. He requires us to look at life from different angles and to make decisions that seem unnatural. When our desires don’t match God’s will, He asks for our obedience; but with that comes “the righteousness by faith from start to finish.”
Luke 5:27-32 (AMP)
After this Jesus went out and noticed a tax collector named Levi (Matthew) sitting at the tax booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me [as My disciple, accepting Me as your Master and Teacher and walking the same path of life that I walk].” And he left everything behind and got up and began to follow Jesus [as His disciple].
Levi (Matthew) gave a great banquet for Him at his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were reclining at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes [seeing those with whom He was associating] began murmuring in discontent to His disciples, asking, “Why are you eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners [including non-observant Jews]?” And Jesus replied to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but [only] those who are sick. I did not come to call the [self-proclaimed] righteous [who see no need to repent], but sinners to repentance [to change their old way of thinking, to turn from sin and to seek God and His righteousness].”
Matthew possesses one of the best qualities in ministry. In my estimation, it is second only to faith itself. He develops a passion that Jesus knows will make him a great vessel for kingdom effectiveness.
What is passion? Let’s define passion as the capacity or the Christ-provided privilege to feel so strongly about something/someone that you are willing to leave everything in pursuit of it or in pursuit of Him. When considering passions, we need to remember two things:
1. Passion is produced by God providing grace to edit one’s “life script.”
2. Passion is produced when the Lord taps into our “secret desperations.”
In Luke Chapter 5, Jesus walks right up to Matthew and offers him a chance to change his life and follow Jesus. Without a second thought, without asking others for advice, he takes that opportunity to have his passion transformed. Jesus knows that Matthew’s passion is fixed to the very fabric of his being. He just needs his vision expanded, mistakes outlived, loyalties redirected, mind transformed, and tools resharpened. Matthew closes up shop, leaves, and starts following Jesus. Then, he coordinates a banquet, and invites the collectors to come meet Jesus. It’s that passion to take it one step further that makes Matthew a worthy choice.
What in your relationship with God are you passionate about? Find it, pray to discover it, ask God to discern it, and stop ignoring it. Everything He wants to do for your life is connected to your passion. When you find your sense of passion, you won’t feel like you’re wasting time. It will make hard work manageable. Don’t settle for good as long as great is out there.
Don’t ask God to take your passion—ask Him to transform it. Just like He transformed Matthew’s passion and Apostle Paul’s passion, He can transform yours. He doesn’t care about your previous mistakes and sins. In fact, the Bible can be summed up in one big human announcement:
Child of God, it’s not too late to edit a script gone bad.
How you are living now is not how you have to live forever. What has been does not have to be. Following Jesus does not give you the privilege to go back to Chapter 1 and start over. It gives you the privilege to start a new chapter and move from there. If you don’t like how any of the previous chapters were written, decide that you’re going to write a better second half because your story isn’t over. Yes, it may include chapters you don’t want included, but it’s your story. All of it serves to make you who you have become. Own it—the good, the bad, the ugly.
Start right now. Start editing from the place you are in at this very moment. Don’t rewrite what you have lived through. Turn the page, redirect your passion, and make your story from this point forward read better than the story that has previously been told.
Edit your script. God’s grace has allowed you to do so.
Jesus may have to tap our secret desperations to produce passion; it’s how He helped Matthew. It’s how He can help you too. Maybe you want to transfer your passions, but a flurry of excuses prevents you from changing—the pay is too much, the power is too addicting, the position is too addicting, too many compromises and promises have been made. Don’t give up your secret aspirations. Don’t sit in the same place day after day and wish it were different. Jesus is the way out of a stuck, trapped life. He will keep the promises He has made to you. Don’t become frustrated because your urgency doesn’t align with His timing.
It’s time to decide: are you going to let your story end, or are you and God going to write the rest of it? I promise if you and God write the rest of your story together, the next chapter will read:
And your later days shall be greater than your former days.
Well done, good and faithful servant…
Matthew 19:16-26 (AMP)
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what [essentially] good thing shall I do to obtain eternal life [that is, eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom]?” Jesus answered, “Why are you asking Me about what is [essentially] good? There is only One who is [essentially] good; but if you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.” He said to Jesus, “Which commandments?” And Jesus answered, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not give false testimony; Honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as yourself” [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others]. The young man said to Him, “I have kept all these things [from my youth]; what do I still lack?” Jesus answered him, “If you wish to be perfect [that is, have the spiritual maturity that accompanies godly character with no moral or ethical deficiencies], go and sell what you have and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me [becoming My disciple, believing and trusting in Me and walking the same path of life that I walk].” But when the young man heard this, he left grieving and distressed, for he owned much property and had many possessions [which he treasured more than his relationship with God].
Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, it is difficult for a rich man [who clings to possessions and status as security] to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man [who places his faith in wealth and status] to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were completely astonished and bewildered, saying, “Then who can be saved [from the wrath of God]?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With people [as far as it depends on them] it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Many of us are probably walking around wondering what we need to do to gain eternal life, much like the rich young ruler that goes to Jesus in this passage from Matthew. Often, we have that one thing—call it a vice, a bad habit—that holds us back from totally surrendering to God. Instead of having the willingness to fight that thing inside us, we want to negotiate for eternity.
When the rich young ruler is told by Jesus that he needs to let go of the things that hold him back—that he should let go of the possessions he holds so tightly—the man is crestfallen and walks away from Jesus. He wanted to be spiritually secure and had worked on it since his youth, but he could not break free from the grip his possessions had on him.
I wanted to be mad at the ruler for walking away from Jesus—I really did—but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Do you know why? Because I suffer from the same problem. Every one of us has that one thing that we wouldn’t be ready to turn over to the Lord if we were asked right now. But you want to be free, and you want eternal life. So, the question then becomes, what has you so gripped that you’d rather stay with it than go with Him?
If you stand in front of the Lord and want to be free, know that He won’t let you settle in spiritual competitive contradiction. In other words, He won’t let you be satisfied in getting it almost right. Or being almost holy or almost committed. He loves you too much and wants abundant life for you, which is why He won’t let you avoid the thing that prevents you from being free. He loves you, but He’s going to be in your face about that part of you that pushes away from Him.
What do you need to do? First, you need to be thankful for the grace God places over your life that gives you the opportunity to face the things that restrict you. Love God because He pushes you to be better. Then, you need to figure out what it is that is controlling you and face it head on. It isn’t going to be easy. It may even get perilously close to utter chaos and confusion. But your relationship to Him is about obedience at all costs because the Lord is willing to lose you over the truth but He’s not willing to keep you over a lie.
You might not want to face it, but I can guarantee you that it will be worth it. I don’t care how hard that thing in your life is or how tight its grip is—we serve a God who can do it, who can overcome. Don’t walk away when you have that first taste of failure. Remember: with man it may be impossible, but with God, anything is possible.
Luke 21:13-19 (AMP)
This will be a time and an opportunity for you to testify [about Me]. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you [skillful] words and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed and handed over even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be continually hated by everyone because of [your association with] My name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your [patient] endurance [empowered by the Holy Spirit] you will gain your souls.
How often do you pause in the middle of a hard season in life and thank God? Do you ask, “Why, God?” or do you say, “Thank you, God. I’m honored to endure this and carry this burden for You.” When you’re under unrelenting attack—unbelievable pressure—in unalterable conditions, what do you do when you want to quit? Before we received this guidance from Luke, thousands of Christians under persecution were wondering this very thing. They’re trying to be faithful to Jesus, knowing that in doing so, they will be tried and possibly put to death.
Don’t we face this same dilemma today? We whine and complain and think that God has lost track of us despite knowing that God always rewards His children with an unfailing promise. He will gift each of us with survival. Every detail of our body and souls—right down to the hairs on our heads—are in His care. It’s just as Isaiah 40:31 says: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength” (NIV).
I’m excited about His promise. The hard part for me is the offering He wants in return. His gift is survival. Our offering is to endure. I like the fact that I’m going to survive, but I struggle with the fact that I have to endure; I’m not so sure that I won’t get shaky on my side of this covenant. Before we pass on to Heaven, we have to go through some things that won’t be easy. We have to sit right in the middle of the tough season we’re going through and be steadfast with our faith.
It’s one of the hardest disciplines to develop—to look into the arrogant eyes of our current realities and be hit with problems that bring us to our knees and yet still smile knowing that every detail of our body and souls are in His care. It requires patience and hope. We often associate patience with lying down—nonactivity. People can view that as weak and docile and to be frank, a cop-out. But British hymn writer George Mathison writes that patience shouldn’t consist of lying down. Rather, it should be an active response: “To lie down in a time of grief or to be quiet under the stroke of adverse fortune, that implies some strength, but I know something that implies a strength greater still,” he says. “Patience is the power to work under stress. Patience is to have a great weight on your heart and still run. Patience is to have deep anguish in your heart, and still perform your daily task. It is a Christ-like thing.”
Patience means struggling and still doing the best job we can do with the best attitude we can manage. Patience means when we want to cry and quit, we still show up and shout, “I am HONORED to endure this!” rather than, “Oh God, when will it end?” Patience means having enough faith maturation that we understand that there is no sense in battling stress when God has already ordered our steps and planned our destinies.
Let me leave you with this golf analogy, because you all know how much I love golf. Have you ever looked at a golf ball and noticed all the indentations? At some point, the manufacturers of the first golf balls realized that a smooth golf ball would not fly far. A golf ball with indentations, however, has a much better trajectory. Now imagine yourself as a golf ball. God, our manufacturer, knows just how many indentations we need to have a high trajectory. We may be hit, but that indentation is a reminder that His grace is sufficient.
Don’t be discouraged. Each indentation is shaping you and making you better.