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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, September 29, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | James 3:13—4:12

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? (NRSV)

It can be very fruitful to ask ourselves, What are the cravings at war within me? A craving is a desire that can control us, that makes us feel there is some thing event, achievement, that will make us happy and satisfied. Our cravings can cause us to be more attached to things, events, or achievements than to God. This is a worldly attachment, what the scripture calls “friendship with the world,” which is based on love tinged with envy and ambition.

But if we prioritize our love for God it will often lead us to look for God in the creation, including the people that God has created. Love for God can lead us to loving the handiwork of God and “those who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:9) This is then a love for the world based on God’s love and not a love for the world that tears us away from God and God’s faithfulness. For me it’s important to remember that honoring the creation is a way of honoring God.

The things we crave can separate us from God if we want them compulsively and more than we want to be connected to God’s love and faithfulness. The scripture lifts up bitter envy and selfish ambition as forms of cravings. Our cravings could relate to job achievements or financial matters, but they could also be relational cravings as we seek to be fulfilled by another human being.

To get our “needs” met, we might be tempted to cut moral corners, just this once, or just this little bit. But faithfulness reminds us that God yearns devotedly for the spirit that God has placed in us. God’s love for us is strong. And God’s image is not only in us but is also in every other human being.

Faithful God, help me to remain focused on your love and devoted to the well-being of your creation. Help me to release any envy or ambition or pridefulness that resides in my heart. Let me draw near to you and feel you draw near to me so that I may be made strong by your love. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Minister for Congregational Life

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