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Loosening Your Grip
James 4:1-17 


When your back is up against the wall and you feel like you are in an impossible situation, how do you usually respond? My natural tendency is to try to get in control of the situation, using either my back or my brain. I do whatever it takes to resolve the problem and return life to normalcy as soon as humanly possible. In other words, my first response to a crisis is to tighten my grip and take control-to increase my efforts.

Last week, we contrasted human wisdom with godly wisdom, in this week's text there is a similar contrast. This time, it is between human effort and godly effort. In James 4:1-17, James illustrates the futility of human efforts by commenting on three strategies people use when under distress and one they use during times of prosperity. 

In verses 1-2 he shows the futility of fights and quarrels. James writes: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? [2] You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel."

Fights and quarrels are deeply rooted in our human nature. Every now and then, I stick my head into the preschool room and watch our little one's play during Sunday School. One minute, two children will be sitting next to one another, content with their toys. The next, one of them will be trying to take the other one's toy away and if she doesn't get her way, she is fully prepared to escalate the tug of war into a full scale war.

One way we try to solve problems is to fight against one another, and isn't restricted to the nursery. Something Al Grounds learned the hard way.

Al was happy to preach a week-long Revival at Calvary Baptist Church of Fair Oaks. And when the people responded, he gladly stretched the meeting to two, then three weeks. When Calvary's Pastor resigned, Calvary's deacons approached Al to become their next pastor. After all, everybody responded positively to him during the revival, they thought he'd make a great pastor.

At first Al resisted, but the deacons persisted until he finally said "yes." And when he came, the church grew like a wildfire. People packed the building from as far away as 75 miles-unbelievable for a small country church. Everybody was happy, right?

Not exactly. Some of the locals didn't like the growth and started holding back their tithe and launched a whispering campaign against their pastor. Finally it came to a head when one of the ringleaders of the resistance stood up in business meeting and said, "This church is full of people who don't belong here. They don't live here, they don't know us, they don't belong. Now it's time for them to go." She continued, "I make a motion that Al Grounds be removed from the position of pastor and that all names of those living outside the city limits of Fair Oaks be removed from the church rolls." (Leadership Journal, Fall 2001, p. 88-89.)

It happens in the nursery, and it happens with grown ups too-people who ought not be fighting, go to quarreling. That's what happens when we depend on human effort to solve our problems.

James tells us not to fight and quarrel with one another, instead, he tells us to pray: "You do not have because you do not ask. [3] You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures."

But fighting and quarreling isn't the only inappropriate use of human effort, James also shows how futile diplomacy and negotiations can be in James 4:4 "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Certainly, diplomacy is a more civilized response than quarrels, but it still is concentrated on finding a solution to a problem by human efforts. There are some things that are non negotiable. Jesus wouldn't negotiate with Satan when Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. There was no middle ground. Jesus could not turn the stone to bread or jump off the pinnacle of the temple or bow down before Satan. Not without compromising his loyalty to the Father. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Nehemiah couldn't stop rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem to meet with his enemies in the plain of Ono as they suggested. Not without stopping what God instructed him to do. (Nehemiah 6:1-2)

Instead of diplomacy with the world, James tells us to submit to God and flee from Satan. He wrote: "Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? [6] But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, 'God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' [7] Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. [8] Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [9] Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. [10] Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."

Instead of trying to make everything OK, James tells us to mourn and weep. Instead of trying to "be the solution," James tells us to humble ourselves before God and depend upon His outcome.

There are times that diplomacy, like fighting and quarreling can be destructive. And so can a combination of the two-triangulation. Sometimes, otherwise civilized people battle one another by playing a game I call, "Let's you and him fight." James warns against such base tactics in James 4:11, "Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it."

There are two ways for me to rise to your level. One is to work to improve my reputation, another is to degrade yours. We wouldn't call it gossip, we're too Christian for that, we call it "sharing." One person or group speaks against another to a third party and before you know it, it is two against one. And the two team up against the one.

Who are we to judge another? James wrote, "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?" Instead of putting someone else down, perhaps we should leave the final evaluation of them, and us, to God.

James discounts the effectiveness of the products of human effort- quarreling, diplomacy or triangulation-to alleviate distress. Instead, he tells us to pray, humble ourselves before God and depend upon his judgement, not our own. But James also has a word of advise for how we should behave when everything is going fine.

He wrote, "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' [14] Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away."

It is futile for mere mortals to insist on directing our lives. That was the mistake the rich fool made in Jesus' parable found in Luke 12:16-21 "And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. [17] He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' [18] "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' [20] "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'"

The rich fool had everything figured out, but his plans didn't thwart the purposes of God. And neither will ours.

James continued, "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.' [16] But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. [17] Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. 

So what are we to do? If we aren't supposed to tighten our grip, what should we do? How about loosening it? Relinquish control. Stop trying to solve your problems by force, diplomacy or politics. And stop trying to direct your lives with your dreams, plans and intentions. Instead, loosen your grip and say, God, whatever you want, I'll do. Wherever you lead, I'll go. My life belongs to you. Use it to your glory. 

We pray. We humble ourselves. We submit to His judgement and reserve our own. We trust in Him. And when we do, God takes care of the details. And us.

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