Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve talked about being hungry. And we’ve talked about being in a good mood.
When we talked about hunger we said that God is passionate. We said God has an ardent craving for us to bear fruit. We said that Jesus is like God, and Jesus has these feelings as well. And we said that we need to also be hungry in this way. It’s what God wants, and he promises to feed this hunger. How is your appetite this morning? Are you hungry for the things that God craves? Do you passionately desire justice and peace?
When we talked about being in a good mood, we said we cannot force ourselves to be in a good mood. We realised that the only way to ensure we have a mood of hunger is to draw close to God. You’ve noticed by now that it isn’t about what we do. The Christian life is about a deep longing to be close to God. Being a Christian is about having a passion for the things that God has a passion for.
As we look this morning at the letter of James we find the same thing. James is a letter of encouragement for believers who are struggling. The world is creeping into their lives and it is damaging their walk with God. The letter may have been written by the brother of Jesus. It was probably written to Jewish followers of Jesus who lived outside Israel.
Like us today, they are finding it hard to be in a good mood. They are struggling with how to be close to God. Their prayers seem to be ignored and God feels distant. They think they are hungry, but not being fed the bread of life. They are thirsty, but cannot find the water of life.
James says in his letter to these people, chapter four and verse one, that their problem is that they have “evil desires at war within” them. James says God doesn’t answer their prayers, “because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
They are hungry for the wrong things. That’s like us a lot of the time. James is a practical letter with some good advice.
When we started to follow Jesus, we declared that he was the Lord of our lives. We handed over control to Jesus, and he placed in us the Holy Spirit. If you are a believer, God’s spirit lives in you. This is an important fact. Don’t skip over it as though it doesn’t really matter. God has put part of himself in you. The God who is passionate about having a close relationship with you has come to live in your heart. The God who wants more than anything for you to bear fruit has filled you with his Spirit. James says so in verse five.
“God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.”
There is in you somewhere a passion to be faithful to God. It’s in there somewhere, but also in there are those other evil passions. James says these passions are at war. Ephesians says the same thing. There is a war. You are at the centre of it whether or not you want to be.
Ephesians 6: 12 – “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
People want to know how to get close to God. People want to know how to listen to God.
In one sense, this is what the whole of our Christian life is about. There isn’t a really easy answer. We are learning a new lifestyle. It takes time. We just have to keep on keeping on.
We know we cannot be defeated, but life is so hard.
The advice that James has for us is contained in verses 7–10. He starts by telling us to be humble and he concludes by telling us to be humble. Humble is another word for submit, which is what we are told to do in Ephesians. “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.” … “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:1, 21)
I think that one problem some people may have when trying to listen to God is that they are listening for the wrong thing. Perhaps they want God to tell them what job to apply for, what clothes to buy, what person to marry, or what church to attend.
When we read the James though we find that the things God is telling us are spiritual things. God says, for example: imitate me, submit to each other, resist the devil. God says purify your hearts, and cry for what you have done.
God has planted in you his passionate desire for himself. You don’t need to create that desire, because it already exists. What we need to do is to submit to that desire. Do you wonder which of your desires is the passionate desire from God, and which of your desires is evil?
We need to learn to recognise the voice of God and distinguish it from the evil voices. In Zephaniah 3:2 we learn of a characteristic of the evil voice:– “No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction. It does not trust in the Lord or draw near to its God.”
The evil voice is the desire you find that springs up within you and suggests all kinds of fun things that will draw you away from God.
God’s spirit in us is passionate that we “should be faithful to him.” The work of Satan is opposed to the will of God. This means that Satan is constantly looking for ways to make us unfaithful to God. It’s not terribly complicated. Whatever God is trying to do, Satan is trying to do the opposite. Whatever God desires for you, Satan desires the opposite.
We don’t need to do what Satan says. We need to learn how to recognise when a desire is evil and to resist it. Then it will flee. Satan cannot resist.
Satan has been defeated, but the evil desires remain. As we resist Satan’s efforts, he runs away. When Satan runs away, we move closer to God. This is why Hebrews 7:19 says:– “For the law never made anything perfect. But now we have confidence in a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”
We can be confident in the spirit of God within us. This is humility. We are not confident in our efforts. We are not confident in our good works. We are not confident in our knowledge of the Bible. We have no confidence at all in ourselves. We do not trust our own good ideas. We only trust in God. He draws us close to him. He fills us with passion. We get our hunger from him. We get our good mood from him.
For thousands of years, Satan has been working against the purposes of God. As we read the Bible we are shown all kinds of ways in which Satan works against the purposes of God. From the experiences of those who have gone before, we learn to recognise the words of Satan.
We learn from the Bible all the ways in which God is at work drawing us close to him.
Please remember, when you read the Bible it is alive and it is speaking to you. If you want to hear God’s words, the best place to start is the Bible.
The Christian life is not about ‘knowing’ what God says. The Christian life is about ‘living’ the way God says. We join together to submit to each other. We gather together to help each other resist the devil. We live this life together as we purify your hearts. We share sorrow and deep grief over the evil desires of mankind. We together experience sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy because of the sin in the world.
As we live this life together God draws close and his passion fills us.