So whilst being almost too busy to scratch myself (some of you many know we are in a time of transition at Waratah) I have nonetheless been slowly creeping through the book of James in my morning devotions.
I have discovered why this is sometimes a more, can we say, ‘unpopular’ biblical book, and yet also why it is so important. There’s no secret that it contains some extremely challenging verses written of course by a former sceptic; James the bother of Jesus. Yeah, that’s right, one of Jesus’ family who was probably there when they were saying that Jesus probably should go into a mental asylum.
Anyway, in chapter 4 (which, by the way, the message translation entitles as ‘Get Serious’), we read:
You adulterous people,[a] don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”[c]
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you.
Now some may notice I’ve chopped off the rest of verse 8. I’ll come back to that later.
For now, we’ve got a pretty direct challenge. But hallelujah, as direct as it is we find that in verse 6 even our response to this in repentance is an outworking of Grace within us. God, continues to ‘woo’ the soul closer to him through his unending grace.
Then we get the ‘kids song’ verses. 4:7 and 4:8. In fact 4:8 is a classic Sunday school memory verse but it wasn’t until I read this section again that I realised something: In all my life in churches when I have heard people quote this verse; I have never heard anyone quote it fully. If you’re in the same boat or your now super curious as to what it says, here it is:
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded
James is saying, your sin is what you’re doing, and your doubt is less of a mind-problem and more of a heart issue.
Now, where am I going with all this? Here: It’s frighteningly easy to continually act like everything is all peachy whilst wandering away from God. But James who nearly ‘missed the lot’ wants people to dare to ‘put away the peaches and get out the onions’.
9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Here’s a dare for you: next time your doing a call to worship try getting up on a Sunday morning saying this as your intro! We’d be pretty uncomfortable wouldn’t we? And that’s because we do not like to take sin as seriously as the bible takes it.
That is what this is all about. Taking sin seriously. There’s a few changes of the heart that start to happen when you do this.
First you realise how much God really weeps over sin. Like a betrayed lover. The closer you get to God, the more you see the world through his eyes. Get ready to be more wounded and grieved over sin and what you see it doing to people.
Second; you begin to realise how many times you are making grand plans in your life whilst God is still weeping in the background. I remember that it took me to the brink of losing my faith before I learnt to actually cry literal tears over my sin again. I wonder if that first tear, was the first step back towards God.
Third, you realise that you cannot hold on to a living faith and excuses at the same time. Indeed, weeping over sin is often the first stage of revival.
In his book ‘Worship Matters’ Bob Kauflin describes how his church has now included a space for public confession in the Sunday service. He writes:
“It’s not that we’ve forgotten we’re saved. Rather we’re seeking to counteract our continual attempts to justify, minimise and ignore our acts of defiance against a Holy God.” (p147)
He’s saying something that many people do not want to hear and related to possibly the most unpopular theological doctrine of all; (total depravity). He’s saying that our default mode is to make light of our sin, our default mode is to offend a Holy God and that spiritual degradation is inevitable without intentional spiritual discipline(s)
What’s even more scary is, you can be in the midst of the worst Spiritual degradation thinking everything is just….peachy.
Here’s the wonderful thing though; it is the doorway to a deeper experience of the grace of God:
10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (Emphasis mine.)
Here’s the choice of faith: trust that God’s hands are safe. If you allow yourself to grieve and feel the weight of sin, you’re trusting him that he will not allow you to be completely crushed, you’re trusting him that he will only show you that which you can handle at this point of the journey, that which will ultimately result in a deeper joy when you realise it has been covered by Jesus.
So here’s what I’m now doing; I admit with a little nervousness and fear, I am setting aside one hour a week……to weep. Praying through Psalm 51, in a space where I have prayed to God giving him ‘permission’ to confront me on things where I have gone wrong.
But the glory of God matters more than my emotional state.
One last thing; as I think about and do this, the most bizarre desire seems to beset me. (Psychologists better stop reading here.) In some strange way, I want to do it more. I want to stay in the moment. I weirdly find some cathartic joy of wanting to weep over sin. Because I know what is on the other side of the emotional furnace…..
I realise that only the Spirit of God can grant the impulse to embrace mourning for the sake of his glory and when you know he is with you and doing something amazing in you every other moment you occupy begins to change.
His power is made perfect in weakness.