Drawing Near

A Pocket Paper
from
The Donelson Fellowship

April 20, 2008

______________________

 

Message by Robert J. Morgan, Senior Pastor

The Donelson Fellowship

3210 McGavock Pike

Nashville, TN  37214

615/871-4769

www.donelson.org


 

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.

 

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 more grace.  That is why Scripture says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  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 (James 4:1-10).

 

***

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been over to Athens, Tennessee, but it’s a little East Tennessee town between Knoxville and Chattanooga.  It’s a nice, quiet little place, but they had just a bit of excitement this week.  It seems that two men were driving down the road and they ran out of gas.  Both of them got out of the car and started walking to the gas station, but along the way they got into a quarrel about who should pay at the pump.  The argument became so heated, they got into a terrible fight and one of them stabbed the other with the pocket knife and now both of them are in the Athens jail.

 

I read another story in the newspaper this week about a couple in Colorado who got into a fight over which gang their son should join.  The boy was only four years old, but his unmarried parents belonged to different gangs.  The dad belonged to one gang, but the mother wanted her son to belong to a gang she was associated with, because the leader of that gang had written a children’s book before he had been executed in prison.  The boyfriend stewed about this until he stormed into the video store where his girlfriend worked and flew into a rage.  He knocked over displays and sent a computer crashing to the flood and threatened to kill his girlfriend.  And now the man’s in jail.

 

And then there was the story out of California about two vagrants who got into a vicious fight over their empty beer cans.  They both wanted to take them to the recyclable center and get a little money for them, and now one man is in the hospital with multiple stab wounds and the other’s in prison.

 

Every day we can find stories like these, but in an odd sort of way we can all relate to them.  Sometimes the smallest things can set off our temper.  My wife and I have never had many arguments and I can’t remember the last one we had.  But I do remember one or two of them from early in our marriage, and one was a terrible argument over hot chocolate.

 

There’s one psychologist and marriage counselor who calls these things “tremendous trifles.”  He says that many times our arguments are touched off by minor things—like a tube of toothpaste or a towel on the floor or a minor misunderstanding.  But these little incidents are like pricking a balloon.  We’re all filled with a certain amount of hot air—a certain amount of selfishness or anger or resentment or fatigue or antagonism.  And when the right pinprick unleashes all those emotions, it can cause an enormous amount of damage.

 

I dare to say that there are some people in this room today who have had a terrible argument recently—maybe with a loved one or maybe at work or school—and it wasn’t really about any big issue; it was a small issue, but it tapped into something deeper.

 

Well, the Bible addresses the subject in the book of James, chapter 4.  It’s one of the best treatments of this in the Bible.  The subject is fights and quarrels.  As we saw last week, James blames our fights and quarrels on our internal drives and passions.  He approaches this subject in four ways

 

First, he says that our passions and drives battle within us.  They are at war with our souls.  And, second, these passions and lusts and drives and desires lead to fights and quarrels with others.  Look at verses 1 and 2:

 

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. 

 

Nothing kills a marriage faster than angry and unwise words spoken by angry and unwise people.  When a couple gets into an argument, and they both get mad, and they say things that are hurtful to the other person—that always makes things worse.  When you say things like, “You’re just like your mother….  If you really loved me you’d do this or that… I wish I’d never met you… I don’t know if I want to be married to you…  Maybe we’d be better off to split up…  If that’s the way you feel, just leave….  I’m moving out…  You’re good for nothing…  This is all your fault… I hate you…”—those words can never been unsaid.  They are spoken out of our wrath, not out of our wisdom, and they can cause damage that takes years to correct.

 

Third, our passions and drives cause problems with our prayers, too.  James goes on to say:

 

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.

 

Fourth, our passions and drives can diminish our spirituality and make us unspiritual, ungodly people.  The passage goes on to say:

 

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? 

 

So here you have a summary of what’s wrong with our homes, what’s wrong with our churches, what’s wrong with our society.  It reminds me of the famous quote by G.K. Chesteron. When he was asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” he answered, “I am.”

 

Well, there’s an answer to it, and the great answer is given in Verse 6:  But He gives us more grace.

 

We’re saved by grace, but then He gives us more grace so we can grow and be mature and gain wisdom and reflect our Lord Jesus Christ.  It takes grace to be saved and to be made right with God, and then it takes more grace to really live for Christ every day.  It takes grace to grow to maturity.  It takes grace to control our tempers.  It takes grace to get along with others.  It takes grace to treat people with patience and forbearance and respect.  It takes grace and it takes more grace, and He gives more grace.

 

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

 

Do you have a problem with lust?  With your temper?  With an addiction?  With a weakness?  Are your internal weaknesses causing external problems?  The answer is More Grace.  He giveth more grace!  So how, then, do we tap into it?  How do we claim this grace and activate it in our experience?  Well, this passage goes on to give us four vital “To Do’s.”  There are four processes that unleash God’s grace in our lives.

 

1.  Humble Yourself (v. 6)

The first is to humble yourself.  Verse 6 says:  But He gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

 

That means we have to disavow the old Frank Sinatra song that says, “I did it my way.”  It means that you have to admit that you’re powerless to change yourself.  You have to admit that you are not the greatest thing in the world. You have to admit that the universe doesn’t center on you.  You have to admit that your opinion is not infallible.  You have to admit that sometimes your husband or wife is right.  You have to admit that the Lord is always right.  And you have to say, “I’m willing to do it His way.”

 

Now, I’d like to show you how important this is by taking you on a little tour through the book of 2 Chronicles, which tells the story of the kings of ancient Judah.  A year or two ago, as I was studying the book of 2 Chronicles, I came to realize that this book is the Bible authoritative manual on the subject of revival.  It’s a book that shows us how a society moves between spiritual revival and moral degradation—and the key thought has to do with the humbling of the heart.

 

Let’s begin with 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the Bible’s primary text on the subject of revival:  If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

 

The first step toward healing and revival and spiritual vitality is learning to humble ourselves.  Now look at 2 Chronicles 12.  Notice how this chapter begins by telling us about a king named Rehoboam:  After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.  Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam….

 

You see, they got away from the Lord, they got away from the Bible, and their drives and urges and sins and lusts took over, and it led to fights and quarrels and wars.  And suddenly they found themselves in a terrible conflict with Egypt.  What did they do?  Look at verse 6:  The leaders of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, “The Lord is just.”  When the Lord saw that they humbled themselves, this word of the Lord came to Shemaiah:  “Since they have humbled themselves, I will not destroy them but will soon give them deliverance.”

 

And look down at verse 12:  Because Rehoboam humbled himself, the Lord’s anger turned from him, and he was not totally destroyed.  Indeed, there was some good in Judah.

 

Four times the writer says that the king and his advisors humbled themselves, and as they did so the Lord gave them grace.  God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

 

Now turn over to 2 Chronicles 26, and let me show you another king—Uzziah.  It says about him in verse 16:  But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.  There’s no indication that he humbled himself.

 

Later, something similar nearly happened to good King Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32.  Look at verse 24-25:  In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death.  He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him and on Judah and Jerusalem.  Then Hezekiah repented of the pride in his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah.

 

Chapter 33 of 2 Chronicles tells the story of the most wicked man in the Bible, King Manasseh.  I don’t have time to describe this man to you, but here’s the end of the story.  The Lord brought judgment on him and he humbled himself.  Look at the way it’s put in 2 Chronicles 33:18ff:  The other events of Manasseh’s reign, including his prayer to his God and the words the seers spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel.  His prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty, as well as all his sins and unfaithfulness, and the sites where he built high places and set up Asherah poles and idols before he humbled himself—all are written I the records of the seers.

 

Continue reading about his son who ascended to the monarchy after Manasseh’s death, in the next paragraph, 2 Chronicles 33:21:  Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem two years.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done.  Amon worshipped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made.  But unlike his father Manasseh, he did not humble himself before the Lord; Amon increased his guilt.

 

Now, turn to the next chapter, to 2 Chronicles 34:27.  This is the story of King Josiah.  As they repaired the temple during his reign, they discovered a copy of the Law of God, and it brought about a revival.  There was a prophetess named Huldah and look what she told the king in verses 26ff:  Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard:  Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.

 

And that brings us to the last chapter in this book, to 2 Chronicles 36 and to the terrible story of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, and to the defeat and destruction of the whole nation.  Look at verses 11ff:  Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years.  He did evil in the eyes of the Lord his God and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke the word of the Lord….

 

And he was led away in chains, blinded, and came to an ignoble end.  This book of 2 Chronicles is a biblical microcosm of this teaching in Scripture.  Listen to these other related verses.

 

·        You save the humble—2 Samuel 22:28

·        He guides the humble in what is right—Psalm 25:9

·        The Lord sustains the humble—Psalm 147:7

·        He crowns the humble with salvation—Psalm 149:4

·        He mocks the proud but gives grace to the humble—Proverbs 3:34

·        With humility comes wisdom—Proverbs 11:2

·        Humility comes before honor—Proverbs 15:33

·        Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life—Proverbs 22:4

·        This is the one I esteem:  he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word—Isaiah 66:2

·        Whoever humbles himself will be exalted—Matthew 23:12

·        He gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”—James 4:6

 

2.  Submit to God

Our second obligation in this process is to submit to God.  Going back to James, our text says:  He gives more grace. That is why Scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves, then, to God.

 

This has to do with what we sometimes call the Lordship of Christ—letting the Lord Jesus take over and have charge of your life. 

 

Many years ago, when I was just a teenager, I suppose, I came down here to Nashville and attended some meetings at the Bible College.  I don’t remember the occasion, but I do remember the speaker.  It was Dr. Oswald J. Smith, who was pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto.  He was a powerful missionary pastor and I still remember parts of his message on that occasion.  Well, recently I read his testimony.  As a young man, he had taken a missions trip and a number of people had professed faith in Christ.  Smith was so overcome and so thrilled that he shortly afterward he knelt down and prayed and wrote these words in his diary:  “I am determined that God shall have all there is of Oswald J. Smith.”

 

As I read those words, it reminded me of something William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, had said years before.  Queen Victoria had asked him about the secret of his ministry, and he replied simply, “I guess the reason is because God has all there is of me.”

 

Does the Lord have all there is of you?  Do you belong to Him through and through?  Is He the Lord of your life?

 

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”  Paul said, “I urge you, then, brothers, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as living sacrifices….”  And nothing really goes as it should in our lives until we humble ourselves, draw from God’s grace, and say, “Jesus, be the Lord of all the kingdoms of my heart.”

 

3.  Resist the Devil

The third directive is to resist the devil.  Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

 

The word “resist” is a Greek word that literally means to be hostile toward.  It’s translated three ways in most of our Bibles—to withstand, to oppose, and to resist.  This is the same word that Paul used in Ephesians 6, which is really an amplification and an exposition of James 4:7.  In other words, Paul takes what James said in James 4:7 and expounds on it:

 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground—this phrase about standing your ground is the same Greek word that James translates as resist—and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.   Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

 

One thing we can say about this is that it takes a whole-hearted effort.  We have to really mean it.  We have to make up our minds to do or die.

 

One of the reasons America and the Allies won World War II is they weren’t half-hearted in the war effort.  The entire American manufacturing industry was mobilized for the war effort.  In nine months, for example, a remarkable transformation took place in Detroit in America’s automotive factories.  Instead of turning out cars, the factories began turning out tanks and planes.  The brightest engineers in America figured out how to turn the automobile assembly lines into assembly lines for fighter planes and jeeps and army trucks.  It was that way across the nation.

 

This was even true in my little town of Elizabethton.  We had some friends over the other night for supper and they told us the story.  In the years prior to World War II, some German engineers and industrialists came to Elizabethton and opened some factories for the manufacture of rayon.  They came because the cold mountain water from the rivers was perfect for the manufacturing process, and in the these two factories employed 3000 people.  It saved the town during the worst years of the Great Depression.  When World War II broke out, the factories were conscripted into the war effort and the synthetic fiber was used for parachutes, and from what I’ve been told every parachute worn by an American serviceman during World War II was made in Elizabethton.

 

As a result of all this, there were tremendous shortages of domestic goods during World War II.  Everything was rationed and very hard to get.  But it was an all out effort against the Nazi threat to the world.

 

You can’t win against the devil with a half-hearted attitude.  You have to say, “By God’s grace and with His help, I’m going to win this battle.  I’m going to overcome this temptation.  I’m going to fight this addiction or this weakness.  God helping me, I will not be defeated by it.”

 

There was a story in the newspaper this week about a young lady from Ohio, an 18-year-old, who won a famous equestrian event in Florida.  This race had a $30,000 prize, and the course involved a set of twisting and turning tracks with several jumps.  There were 36 competitors, but this young lady won.  Later they asked her how she did it, and she said that she really wanted to win and she had the attitude, “I’m going to do it or die trying.”

 

Have you heard that old expression:  Do it or die?  It implies an intensity of effort.  It implies will power, determination, guts, grit, and an all-out effort.  That’s what it means to resist the devil.

 

Peter makes this same point in 1 Peter 5:8-9:  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

 

Another way we do it is by getting the Scriptures inside of us.  Jesus resisted the devil by quoting to him from Deuteronomy.

 

Another way we do it is by cultivating the practice of praise and worship.  Amy Carmichael suggested that when we sing hymns of praise and worship, the devil leaves the room because he cannot stand them.

 

Another aspect of this is clearing out the trip wires.  For example, look at Ephesians 4:

 

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  “In your anger do not sin.”  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

 

In other words, when you allow resentment and anger to build up, you’re giving the devil a foothold in your life.

 

Let me show you another illustration.  In 2 Corinthians 2:10, Paul warns us that if we don’t forgive others, the devil will use that unforgiving spirit as a tripwire to defeat us:  If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake,  in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

 

Let me give you another interesting example in the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 7:5, we’re told that if we don’t have a healthy relationship with our spouse, the devil will use that to tempt us:

 

Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

 

So resisting the devil involves an all-effort coupled with God’s help, a determination to withstand him, the judicious use of Scripture, the cultivation of a life of praise and worship, and daily diligence in keeping the tripwires cleared out of our pathway.

 

But there is a promise attached to it.  If we resist the devil, he will flee from us.  This isn’t because he wants to or because he’s afraid of us.  It’s because of the victory of Jesus Christ, won on the cross and in the tomb.  Satan is a defeated enemy, and it’s very encouraging to us if we remember that.

 

4.  Draw Near to God

The fourth directive in this passage is to draw near to God.  How do we do that?  In one sense, we do it through a humble, repentant attitude. James goes on to say:    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.

 

But there are other passages in the Bible that gives us additional insights.

 

Several years ago, I noticed a verse—Deuteronomy 4:7—that, it seemed to me went perfectly with James 4:8.  It says:

 

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

 

In other words, God is near to us whenever we pray to Him.  Prayer is the means by which we draw near to God.  Someone once defined prayer as they way of actualizing God’s presence.  They said, “The chief purpose of prayer is to recognize the presence of God.”

 

Brother Lawrence said in The Practice of the Presence of God:  We should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him…  Prayer (is) nothing else but a sense of the presence of God.

 

Psalm 145:18 says this, too:  The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

 

And the phrase “in truth” reminds us of the Bible.  Nothing is more powerful in helping us draw near to God than the prayerful reading of Scripture.

 

So James 4 tells us to draw near to God, and Deuteronomy says, “Our God is near us whenever we pray to Him,” and Psalm 145 says that the Lord is near to all those who call on Him.

 

Another aspect of drawing near to God is trusting Him with our concerns.  There are a couple of Scripture references that tell us this.

 

Psalm 75 says:  But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge…

 

And Hebrews 10 says:  Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith….

 

Drawing near to Him involves a life of repentance, prayer, and faith.

 

Conclusion

So here’s the conclusion of the whole passage.  We have harmful drives and desires that battle against our soul.  These also cause fights and quarrels, they hinder our prayers, and they diminish our spirituality.  But God has an answer.  He gives us overcoming grace.  We need grace and we need more grace.  And the way to access God’s grace is to humble ourselves, submit to His Lordship, resist the devil, and draw near to God.

 

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.

 

 


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