Ask And You Shall Receive

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” –  James 1:5-8. 

James is an incredible book.  James, perhaps more so than any other New Testament book, calls on us to put into practice what we believe on a daily basis. James talks a lot about the importance of synchronizing faith and works. He tells us that faith should be alive, energetic, fruitful, and productive.  

The greater barrier or threat to that kind of faith is suffering. Nothing will cause us more quickly to question the attention or goodness of God than times of trouble. Pain and adversity and various trials and challenges often cause us to wonder: “God, are you there? God, do you care? God, can I really trust You with my life?”

James 1:2 tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” It is an opportunity for great joy.  Easier said than done that is for sure. Sometimes it seems out of the question for anybody who is a realist. James was one of those. James knows from his own experience that to respond to pain and suffering with joy doesn’t come naturally to us. He knows that when we are faced with hurricanes, pandemics, tragedy, and disillusionment, the idea of joy can seem like mission impossible. During times of real trouble, it is difficult to see a good God or a beneficial purpose or anything that feels redemptive. It is times as these that we need to remember that joy in times of trouble is a divine gift as James talks about in verses 5-8 of chapter 1.  

If you struggle to see your suffering and heartache from God’s perspective, if you are among those who see no purpose or value in the countless obstacles you confront each day, or you are wondering about what God might be up to in your life, ask Him. Ask Him for wisdom. Ask Him to supply you with spiritual eyes to see what He’s trying to accomplish in your life. James clearly indicates that the key to enduring trials with joy is our ability to “know” or “understand” that God’s purpose in them is to transform us to look more like Jesus. 

There is a promise found in James 1. The promise is for wisdom to “know” that your trials are not without meaning or value but that God can use them for your ultimate welfare. Embracing that promise will help you see the opportunity for great joy in times of trouble.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can I choose joy during life’s trials?
  2. How can I find joy when I don’t feel joyful?
  3. How can I trust God to turn my trials into joyful blessings? 

What Is Wisdom

“I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.  In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:2-3. 

Most people view wisdom as the appropriate application of knowledge learned over time. The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. Proverbs for example is replete with verses about wisdom. The Bible views wisdom as immeasurable, priceless, and rare. But in the age of computers on your wrist and the internet containing all the world’s information, how important is wisdom and how do we live a wise life? 

Wisdom is a who more than a what. Jesus is wisdom. He is the Proverbs wrapped in flesh. Jesus lived the Proverbs for us. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31 ESV)

Wisdom is not smarts. It’s not knowledge to ace out the SATs. D.A. Carlson  said, “Wisdom is not intellectual enlightenment, but insight into the will of God and the ability to apply it to everyday life.” If we want to know what wisdom looks like, there is one place to look. Jesus. We cannot live wisely without Him, the cross, the resurrection, and the Holy Spirit.  If we want wisdom, if we want the Christ-empowered life, we must hear from Him in the Scriptures. “Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. Everything I say is right,” (Proverbs 8:6 ). We must take His counsel. “Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold.” (Proverbs 8:10). We must listen to our own counsel far less and His counsel far more.  

Jesus is our wisdom. And in His grace, He freely offers it to us. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5) Proverbs 8:17 says, “I love all who love me. Those who search will surely find me.”  If we go to Jesus for help, we will not find a cold shoulder. Instead, we will find the love grace and wisdom we need in these troubling times. 

For followers of Jesus, there is a surpassing source that changes everything when it comes to wisdom. This reality transforms our pursuit and practice of wisdom. Wisdom is no longer about insightful principles for a successful life but about an indwelling power shaping a significant life. Because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross and resurrection we have a relationship with the source of the highest and best wisdom. So, for the Christian, wisdom is not the art of figuring it out but the adventure of following Him. The pursuit of wisdom is more than comprehending concepts; it is knowing Christ. 

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:24. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define wisdom?
  2. How can Christ be our source of wisdom this week? 

Running From God

“The Lord gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai:“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa, where he found a ship leaving for Tarshish. He bought a ticket and went on board, hoping to escape from the Lord by sailing to Tarshish” – Jonah 1:1-3.   

We all know the story of Jonah.  God told Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah went in the opposite direction. Jonah was not content to simply tell God no. He went in the opposite direction. He was attempting to run from God. 

Jonah boarded a boat and probably breathed a sigh of relief as the coast of Israel disappeared below the horizon. But the voyage was barely underway before a sudden squall threatened to reduce the ship to splinters. The ship’s crew began throwing supplies and cargo overboard to lighten the load. Eventually, the sailors decided the storm must be a supernatural punishment for someone on board and set about trying to discover who that person was.  When the sailors asked what they should do, Jonah said in verse 12, “Throw me into the sea,” Jonah said, “and it will become calm again. I know that this terrible storm is all my fault.” The sailors tried battling the storm but eventually threw Jonah into the sea.

Verse 17 says, “Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.” Three days and nights in the pitch-black, seaweed-filled belly of a fish is a long time. I don’t know this for sure, but I don’t think it took Jonah three days and nights to realize that one, God did not run away from him when he ran away from God; and second, that he needed to rethink his decision to go to Nineveh. 

We all have the urge to run now and then. Maybe you’re running from broken relationships when God is clearly directing you towards reconciliation. Maybe you’re running from economic troubles that seem too big or too impossible to fix. Or maybe there is pressure closing in on every side and you can’t possibly see how it can possibly work out. Maybe it is the coronavirus.  

We can run but praise God, He won’t let us get too far. He is a God who relentlessly pursues; a God who mercifully forgives; a God who extends such amazing grace that we’re never, ever too far. One day we’re rebelliously taking off in our own direction, and the next – when we’re desperately in need of rescuing – we identify as His: “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.” (Jonah 1:9) Jonah realized that the purpose of God’s discipline was not to pay him back, but to bring him back.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

If Any Of You Lack Wisdom

“And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.” – James 1:5 (TPT).  

Everybody wants to be wise and some people think they’re wiser than others, but does everyone know what it is to be wise? How many people can admit they are lacking wisdom…at least in some areas? Do we seek the wisdom only God can give? And do we find the wise things to do in God’s word?  The Bible certainly has a fair share of things to say about wisdom. 

Now, consider just a few passages of Scripture that deal with the subject: Consider, for example, 2 Timothy 3:15: “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.” Notice how wisdom functions. It is a means to a goal. Wisdom is always a good means to a good goal. The Scriptures make you wise unto salvation. Or consider Proverbs 3:13, “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” Biblical wisdom is a path to deep and lasting happiness. Or consider Proverbs 24:13–14: “My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to the taste. In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short.” If you find true wisdom, it will lead you to a happy future. And that future will last forever. Proverbs 8:32–36 sums it up beautifully: “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it. Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home! For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.”  

Looking over the circumstances of the past few years, it is clear that gaining Godly wisdom is not just a one time deal, but a choice each and every day. It’s daily, intentionally going to Jesus first with our worries, hurts, and utter desperation and asking for wisdom. A life full of God’s wisdom looks a lot like Jesus. God allows different situations in our lives, we have a choice if we want to humble ourselves and learn to grow in Godly wisdom or go the other way. Living lives full of Godly wisdom takes time and it takes intentionality. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can God give us wisdom daily?  
  2. What can we do this week to seek wisdom from God? 

Our Attitude Toward Troubles

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9.  

Trouble comes in all forms – family problems, financial problems, emotional stress or personal illness, just to name a few. What should our attitude be during these times of trouble? 

A prophet named Habakkuk had the attitude we all need: Habakkuk 3:17-18  says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord!”

First, the fig tree didn’t blossom. That meant no figs. Figs served as a delicacy, so losing them posed more of an annoyance than anything else. The people missed out on something they enjoyed, but not on something essential. Next, they lost the grapes. Grapes provided the daily beverage, so losing them posed a major inconvenience. Losing the produce of the olive was worse. They had no oil for cooking or for lighting lamps. That significantly hampered their ability to function. Even more critical was the loss of grain. That meant starvation for large segments of the population. The final blow was the loss of the livestock, as this not only deprived them of food but also of their ability to produce it. Given a catastrophe of this magnitude, things looked very bleak indeed.

However, regardless of how bad it got, Habakkuk was determined to keep his heart from sinking into despair. How? By focusing on the bigness of God rather than the bigness of the problem. Habakkuk responded to this really, really bad crisis by rejoicing in God. Even in the most horrible scenario possible, he knew that God would see him through.

It’s not easy to be grateful when we face challenging circumstances. It’s even tougher to be grateful when things go from hurricanes to pandemics. The problems that branch off from these two things seem without end. It can seem like there is little to be grateful for.  For Habakkuk, and for us today, we have to choose how we are going to react.  Even though everything that was familiar to him was about to collapse, Habakkuk still chose to rejoice in his salvation. The prophet was reaffirming his commitment to the Lord. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

The question for us is what attitude will we chose if difficulties arise today? We can choose very little in life, but we can decide how we will respond to adversity and storms. We can choose our own attitude. Will we be joyful even though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls?  Will our attitude be good regardless of our circumstances? 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does your attitude toward God change in times of trials or problems? 
  2. What can we do to have an attitude of trust and faith this week regardless of all the negative happening all around us? 

What Is Faith?

“ Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  – Hebrews 11:1.  

What exactly is faith? Is it positive thinking, or determining to believe something even in the face of difficulties? Do some people just have an innate ability to have more faith than others? Faith is an integral part of Christian life. The Bible views the subject of faith as being important: faith appears 458 times in the New International Version. So what is faith?

First of all, faith is trust. Faith begins when a person chooses an object in which to trust. Christian faith is about trust. Hebrews 11:1 tells us what faith is according to the Bible: “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” Faith is the substance or assurance of things we hope for, but have not yet received. Faith is also our evidence of that which is not seen—the invisible spiritual things. Faith comes before a prayer is answered or before an individual has received what he or she has requested from God. If we have received what we asked for, then faith is not needed.

Then faith is action. Faith requires bold action in the face of uncertainty. It is not something you feel; it is something you do. Essentially, faith is hope in motion. The Bible says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?” (James 2:14)  Christians know and love God and shape their life around God without having all of the answers.  

Third, faith is perseverance, Difficulties are inevitable. Obstacles, time, and resistance can cause a person to feel depleted, discouraged, and worn down. Faith requires intentional loyalty. Faith is the willingness to go to immeasurable lengths to keep a promise, even in bleak circumstances. Faith means keeping our eyes fixed on the prize even as wey are renewing and strengthening our faith. 

Finally, faith is confidence in the ending. We have the promise that faith will have a sure, happy ending in spite of the pain in this world; eternal life with God.  James 1:12 says, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” 

What is faith? To summarize, faith is trust, assurance, and confidence in God. Living faith is not just believing that God exists. It is demonstrated by one’s service and obedience to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define faith? What is the difference between faith and belief?
  2. What can we do this week to renew and strengthen our faith? 

The Book Of James

“Dear brothers and sisters,  when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” – James 1:2-5. 

James is a favorite for many Christians. It is only 108 verses, but it offers a great deal of truth and knowledge. James is uplifting and encouraging and will deepen your faith. It will instill confidence in Christians who take the time to study this incredible book.    

James wants believers to understand that there is more to faith than just hearing it.  He really wants the Christian to live out his faith for the glory of God.  It is important to seek ways of putting our faith to work and seizing opportunities presented to us to put our faith to work.

For James, faith was no abstract proposition but had effects in the real world. James offered numerous practical examples to illustrate his point: faith endures in the midst of problems, calls on God for wisdom, bridles the tongue, sets aside wickedness, visits orphans and widows, and does not play favorites. He stressed that the life of faith is comprehensive, impacting every area of our lives and driving us to truly engage in the lives of other people.  

More than any other book in the New Testament, James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith. How well do our actions mirror the faith that we proclaim? This is a question that we all struggle to answer well. As we study James, focus on those areas that he mentioned beginning with your actions when you face trials and problems in your life. Allow James to show the power of faith when the pressure is on.  

The faith journey isn’t easy. Believing is only the first step onto the narrow pathway. We need to obey, even when it means personal, painful sacrifice. That’s the long, hard journey of transformation that leads to the type of faith that will impact the world.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the natural reaction to trials?
  2. How do these trials/problems test our faith?

What Do You Think About God?

“What comes into our minds when you think about God is the most important thing about you.” – A.W. Tozer

Do you remember the first time you really thought about God? Maybe it was in elementary school, or middle school, high school, college, or later in life. What did you think of God when you first thought of Him?  

Did you think of God as a grandfather type in that He’s been around forever, and is kind, but doesn’t understand kids today: after all, my grandfather doesn’t understand the cloud concept or how to stream music on his phone. Or maybe you thought of God as a heavenly scorekeeper. He is tracking everything you do, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  And someday you will have to hope the good outweighs the bad and the ugly. Or maybe when you think of God you think He’s a cosmic Siri or Alexa: somebody that is always in the room, always listening and showing up in your news feed the next day, but you don’t actually think about them until you need them.  

Our view of God is critical. In the Old Testament, God used judges, prophets, and kings, to try and communicate His truth to humanity. They failed more than they succeeded. Fortunately, even while we were in sin and separation from God, He loved us enough to pay the highest price for us. So great was His depth of love for us that Jesus laid down His own life as the atonement for our mistakes, failures, weaknesses, and sin. God sent His Son Jesus to earth to help show us and teach us more about who God is. Jesus teaches us that God is a judge, a provider, and a creator. In addition to that, Jesus shows us 189 times in the 4 gospels that God is a Father. Just two examples are: “And you saw how the Lord your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child. Now he has brought you to this place.’ (Deuteronomy 1:31) And Psalm 103:13 adds, “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.” God as loving father is mentioned more than any of God’s attributes.

The image of an earthly father, as a way of understanding God, is a good picture but it is still just a partial glimpse at something much bigger. Our awesome God is gloriously incomprehensible. If we’re going to center our lives around meeting with God, we must understand the nature of His love for us. We must begin to relate to Him as our good and loving Father above all else. We must cast aside any notion that He is angry with us, far from us or void of affection or desire for us. We will only be drawn to our heavenly Father to the degree that we take him at His word and trust in His love for us. 

Take time today to be grateful for the overwhelming, unconditional love of God for you. Allow His love to reestablish or rejuvenate your perspectives and beliefs. Respond to His great love by opening your heart and having fellowship with your Creator, Sustainer, and all-loving heavenly Father.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was your image of God growing up? How did you picture Him? How about now?
  2. What can we do this week to recognize God’s love in our life? 

Take A Step Of Faith

“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” – Galatians 2:16. 

Sometimes the big scary moments in a person’s life aren’t the ones that happen while they are watching a horror film, they’re the ones that happen as part of life. Riding a bike for the first time, the first day of school, the first date, the first day of work, getting married, having children. Taking a step of faith and fostering or adopting a child can all be big scary moments. Most people have faced several of the “big, scary moments.” Even though they’re all different, they’re almost the same. It takes an act of faith to face your fears and move forward. That is exactly what happened in the movie Instant Family. They took a step of faith into the unknown. 

The Israelites had taken a step of faith when they left Egypt, but now they were complaining en masse against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

The Israelites were having a scary moment as they wandered through the wilderness or desert. But they were also learning how to walk in the way of the Lord, and it wasn’t the easiest thing they’d ever done. They saw no reason to go further. In their opinion, there was no way that God could provide enough food to meet their needs in one of the most non-productive stretches of desert in the world. Have you ever sensed God prompting you to action, and deep in the heart you really want to obey, but fear stands in your way? 

God taught them a lesson, not only for them but for all of us who are worried about taking a step of faith. The lesson was and is today, that God provides what we need in order to take the next step of faith. And that is true no matter how difficult that step may seem. It probably did seem unlikely that all the Israelites could be fed, but God provided manna. Every morning they rolled out of bed and gathered enough to eat for the day. Thus they continued their journey. In the same way, God will provide what we need if the Spirit prompts us to take a step of faith. 

Stepping out of faith sounds easy, but it means leaving our comfort zone and facing our deepest fears. The path ahead may seem frightening, especially when you do not have all of the answers. Often, our lack of faith hinders us from stepping out with full dependence on Him. But God calls us to trust Him and step out in faith.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the barriers to doing something every day that requires faith?
  2. What can we do this week to overcome those barriers?

One Person Can Make A Difference

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:40. 

If Jesus ever taught us anything, and the truth is He taught us countless things, He taught us that one person can make a difference. His life on earth is the greatest example of that truth we will ever know. We all want to top great things. We all have good intentions; we want to help others. But somewhere along the line, we tend to get caught up in the day-to-day stress of life and those good intentions are just that “good intentions” but nothing is done. When that happens we will never know how much a difference we could have made in people’s lives, because we did not act on the opportunities presented to us.    

In the movie Instant Family, Pete and Ellie had to learn to be parents more quickly than normal. What makes a difference is they took hold of the opportunity presented to foster the three kids. God can use each of us to make a difference in the life of others even when we don’t feel like we are capable. It may be in small ways every day or it may be something monumental.  God can use us to help someone no matter what stage of life we are in or what we are going through if we open our hearts to Him. God created us for a life of service to love others so we must follow His calling.

Today, with the world struggling with a pandemic, there are many people feeling hopeless and desperate. This is the perfect time to show the love of Christ and make a difference to those around us. We should not take lightly our responsibility as Christians during this pandemic.  We must share hope, faith, love, and kindness more than we ever have during a time when many are afraid and losing hope. One small kind gesture could make the difference that a person is needing today. 

And that includes the least powerful and self-sufficient — the orphan. “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice…” (Deuteronomy 10:18). The Prophets echo the same truth: “…No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” (Hosea 14:3). And, again, in the Psalms, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:5-6).

James 1:17 says, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father…” Everything good comes from God. This means when you feel your heart being prompted to do something good for someone—it’s most likely being steered by God. We simply must be a vessel willing and able to be used by God to make a difference no matter how big or small it may be.  Those small differences may be the very thing a person needed just to make it through the day. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have other people made a difference in your life? How? 
  1. What can you do this week to make a difference in somebody’s life?