Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

How to Develop Your Faith

I. Introduction

Forgive me ahead of time; it was difficult to focus this week on preparing a lesson. We had plumbing leak #4 this past Sunday and our study was damaged by the leaking pipes. We were already working on a solution to replace the ancient galvanized piping with the newer PEX tubing which was going to be expensive, but I was waiting until after taxes and IRAs and stuff. But the leak rushed us into a fix, and 3 big sweaty guys spent the week in our house tearing out sheetrock in every single room in the house to get at the plumbing. Our little peaceful sanctuary of home has been a demolition zone this week. So it was hard to focus.

Before we dive into this week’s lesson, let’s put it in context. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm that was frightening the disciples. Around this time, the popularity of Jesus was growing as word of his knowledge, compassion, and miracles spread. The knowledge of the disciples was growing, and Jesus had drawn the attention of Pharisees. In Mark 7, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees over the the ceremonial cleansing of hands before a meal; Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t the food that a man put into his body that defiled him but the wickedness that comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him. Jesus was pointing out that empty rituals of cleansing and diet did nothing for God, it was a right relationship with God that He desired.

Now, many years later in Acts 17, Paul went to Berea and was questioned. It says in Acts 17:11, ” Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

So the Pharisees questioned Jesus, and the Bereans questioned Paul. Were the Pharisee considered noble for questioning Jesus? What’s the difference between the way the Pharisees and the Bereans questioned God?

II. Mark 8:1-13, Little Hope

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus. Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles by this point in view of the Pharisees, including feeding the 5000, feeding the 4000, raising a little girl from the dead, healing a paralytic, healing a leper, calming the storm, walking on water. But they wanted Jesus to perform on demand.

We must resist the urge to do this today. When we are scared or when we are weak or when we are troubled, we pray to God. We want Him to answer now, on our terms. And when He doesn’t answer on demand, our faith wavers. Who is our God that He couldn’t or wouldn’t do this for me?

But faith in our God cannot depend on Him being a magic genie in a bottle. God does not bend to our will. Instead, God asks us to surrender our will to him.

Today, People still have a choice to accept spiritual truth or reject spiritual truth. Why would one reject it? I don’t know, but the Pharisee sure rejected the truth in front of them. They wanted a sign from heaven right now. What authority did they have to demand miracles from God?

I talked to an old high school friend this week who’s an avowed atheist. He believes that Jesus was a good person, but religion is bad and the supernatural stuff didn’t happen. I believe the supernatural happened and is still happening today. Everything around us is a God-given miracle, from the giant glowing ball of fire in the sky that warms our planet to the tiny blood cells that carry oxygen from my lungs to the tips of my fingers. If you believe that to be a miracle, you can see God’s work everywhere. Or if you’re like the Pharisees, you say, “oh that giant glowing thing that warms our planet is just a natural occurrence of nuclear fusion. That’s not a miracle.” The point is that nature and science doesn’t have to act this way at all, and that the very existence of nature and science is in itself a miracle. If you exclude miracles from everything around you, then you don’t see God anywhere.

Did the Pharisees really want a sign? If they really wanted a sign, would they have seen one?

Jesus said, “No sign will be given.” Jesus does not force belief on anyone. Be honest for a moment. Is there a particular miracle you want God to perform for you right now? I know I do. And if God doesn’t answer to us on our timetable the exact way we want him to, does that affect our faith in Him? But to demand that God perform a miracle to justify our faith in Him isn’t faith. Trust without proof is faith.

Jesus left the Pharisees to move on to others who wanted to understand. Why did Jesus enter into a dialogue with the disciples, but refuse to enter into a discussion with the Pharisees? Weren’t the Pharisees men of the synagogue, the peak religious people of the time?

III. Mark 8:14-21, Some Hope

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Jesus listened to the disciples and I find it interesting He allowed their confusion. Perhaps the disciples were arguing about who was supposed to bring food. Their attention was on physical food. Jesus redirected the question to what they needed spiritually. It’s important spiritual nourishment comes first, before physical nourishment.

Jesus challenged them about having eyes that do not see or ears that do not hear. Just like the Pharisees. Just like OT Israel. Just like you and me if we aren’t diligent. A lack of spiritual maturity can manifest itself with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Because of our traditions, or thoughts and feelings, we alone decide what is “right” and disregard the scriptures, disregard the word of God in our hearts. Just like Jesus’ disciples, we have the capacity to understand, but we must be careful not to become deaf and blind as those who were antagonistic toward Jesus.

So Jesus equates the physical bread to the spiritual bread to make a point, that the disciples should keep in mind the miracles of Jesus in their lives. Jesus points out in verse 19 (loaves for the 5000, leaving 12 loaves) and in verse 20 (loaves for 4000 leaving 7 loaves). This is not an encouragement to work on our arithmetic.

Jesus sounds a little exasperated when he asks, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asks them to again think about what those miracles meant. It’s a lot more than just providing food for hungry people. It confirms Jesus’ supernatural power to provide for all of our needs and Jesus asks us to look beyond the material.

In order to open our eyes, open our ears, we must learn to look beyond the material moment. High gas prices. Loneliness. Anger. Messy homes with leaky piping and sheetrock damage. Job loss. Sickness. Among all of these shortages in our life, Christ provides constant spiritual care.

Has something material diverted your attention from God? How can you use this opportunity to focus on God instead of being diverted?

Who watched the Texas Alabama game this week? University of Texas playing against Alabama for the National Title. The quarterback, Colt McCoy, missing out earlier this season on the Heisman Trophy, trying to win a national championship. And in the very first series, he hurt his shoulder. Can you imagine the disappointment, not being able to play and watching from the sidelines as your team loses?

At the postgame interview, he was asked how it felt to watch from the sidelines, and he sort of struggled to talk at first, then he explained how much he really wanted to play but his arm felt dead, like it was asleep. But in his suffering, he congratulated Alabama for obtaining the dream he so badly wanted to win, and then proclaimed that God is in control of his like and that He trusts in God’s purpose even when he may not completely understand it.

IV. Mark 8:22-33, More Hope

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I think the next miracle in Mark 8:27 is indicative of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach; he heals a blind man just after asking the disciples if they did not have eyes to see. Then he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s interesting how many people have a response to this question. Whether a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, everybody seems to have something to say about who Jesus is. A prophet, a good man, a teacher, a wacko, a god, everybody has an opinion. The disciples said that some thought he was John the Baptist, others as Elijah, other as a prophet. While Jesus was indeed a prophet, it’s only a small part of a larger truth. Jesus was God’s son, sent to fulfill prophecy, to become a living sacrifice so that all may become children of God.

Peter’s response of “You are the Messiah” was also interesting as all the disciples knew that he was the Messiah. They just didn’t understand what that meant. The Jews expected “a” messiah with a little “m; literally, an anointed one or a deliverer. The Jews at the time also believed in a conqueror that would set them free from foreign occupation.

These preconceptions, whether from what we’ve heard from others or what we heard as a child can hinder our faith, like the Pharisees preconceptions hindered theirs. What are some of the misperceptions about Jesus today?

In verse 30, why do you think Jesus warned them not to tell anyone he was the messiah? The messiah meant many things to many people. using the title messiah would certainly lead to confusion. Not even the disciples understood the implications. The idea of a military-political leader would rally the Jews to rise up against the Romans, a purpose for which Jesus did not intend to fulfill. Therefore, claiming to be the messiah caused problems. Peter spoke the truth – Jesus was the messiah, and he did fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nations, but Jesus needed to refine this understanding.

In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about who he was as the messiah. This teaching would last far longer than 1 or 2 lessons; it took most of Jesus’ energy for the rest of his ministry on earth. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” to challenge the disciple’s faith. The disciples knew who Jesus was, but did they really know who he was? Many Christians today can say that they know Jesus is their savior, but they do not know how to explain to somebody who he is.

Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus appeared today and asked you to explain who he was, what would you say?

When you listen to the Word of God, what sort of questions challenge your understanding of Him?

Jesus instead referred to himself instead as the Son of Man, probably because of the misconceptions regarding the word messiah. This title is found mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezekial. The title referred to a man who drew strength from the spirit of God to judge the people, a purpose for which Jesus the Messiah fulfilled.

Jesus says some shocking things about himself. He says the anointed one must suffer. The disciples didn’t understand that the suffering fulfilled God’s intention, both physical suffering but also the suffering of being rejected by the Pharisees, the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the people that were supposed to be in tune with God’s revelations. But these very religious people were so certain of what God’s will was and who the messiah was supposed to be that they would not open their eyes and ears to what Jesus had to tell them. We run that same danger today. The misconceptions we already talked about hinder people coming to Christ.

Jesus also said he would be killed. This was so shocking, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. The messiah, the conqueror, the deliverer, would be tortured and killed? What kind of messiah is that? But again, the misconceptions of Jesus interfere with our ability to see and her who Jesus really is.

V. Conclusion

Learning to keep your eyes and ears open is our lesson, something to practice daily so our hearts do not become as closed as the eyes and ears of the Pharisees. Challenge yourself to find out who Jesus really is and what His death means to you and to all men. If our eyes are closed and our ears are closed, then our minds are closed and we cannot develop spiritually. Look away from the material things that Jesus provides and look to the future that Jesus provides. If we are open to receiving spiritual truth, we will recognize it with new eyes and ears not bound by our past misconceptions.

Hedonism

I. Introduction

Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

What we’re going to study in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but learning to trust God and lean on Him and rely on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? To what source did James trace our tendency to fight with others?

How do our human desires affect our relationship with God?

The first problem with hedonism among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ????? (h?don?), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain.

This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. The scripture here implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing. Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and repenting, turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers this spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” God created us with the ability to love Him, and gives us the ability to choose to love Him. Our fights and sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Whether material things, our health or the health of family, aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have few close friends. What does it take to develop a friendship? (Time, sacrifice). How much time do we spend being friends with the world? How much time do we spend being friends of God? What does it take to become a closer friend?

How would obeying each of these commands lead to a stronger friendship with God?

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several command in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism. It’s like the Ten Commandments of James, although four of them are closely related.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Lean and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24-3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable. Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we attribute pride to ourselves because alone, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Corvette, a sister wearing a new pearl necklace, my initial reaction might be hodenistic – I want that. The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldy, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. If I can’t have something, you shouldn’t either.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.” And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. That’s not how God wants us to live. James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

First, we assume too much about the future. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptious enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Whoosh. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

James also isn’t telling us to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

Jeremiah 29:11-13, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle usurps the authority of God in our life. When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made.