Devotional Week 1: Look at God

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QUESTION: What do you do when you feel afraid or worried? Who do you go to when times get hard?
READ: James 1:1-18
MEMORY VERSE: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial…” (James 1:12a)

James is writing to a stressed group of Jewish Christians during a time of trials and temptations. The majority of the readers of this letter were likely poor and struggling to understand how God had allowed them to be in this position—oppressed, sick, destitute, and lacking material things. Some of them, however, were rich and trusted in their wealth for security and status. James tells both groups that they are sinning when they look for status and security in worldly things.

Both rich and poor are looking to the world for these things, and James wants them to know that this is in vain. All things have been given to them through Christ if they just ask in faith (Romans 8:32). We have the same struggle today. In times of trials, we can easily run to the things of this world instead of trusting God for peace, provision, and protection.

How should we respond when we are tempted—or have sinned—in this way?

In verse 5 James tells his readers that if they lack wisdom, “you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given you.” He reveals in verses 17-18, “that every good and perfect gift comes from God, and the greatest of these is the new birth.” James says in verse 12, “we are to ask God for wisdom in faith so we will be blessed and remain steadfast in our trials and receive the greatest possession, the crown of life.”

James deliberately alludes to the Sermon on the Mount throughout his letter and here is no different. The blessed man in the Sermon on the Mount is the one who humbles himself before God, acknowledging his spiritual state, and he receives the Kingdom of Heaven because of his humility. When James speaks of the blessed man, he is telling his readers to recognize their position before God and who they are in light of who He is.

The entire theological framework of James is rooted in the fact that God is unchanging, loving, perfect, good, and wise. The clear takeaway is that we are not like God in our actions. When we neglect the poor and weak, we are not like God, who makes the spiritually poor rich. When we curse our brothers, we are not like God, who blesses. When we cannot control our tongue, we are not like God, who speaks love. When we have selfish ambition, we are not like God, who took on flesh and bore our sins. When we have quarrels with one another, we are not like God, who died for His enemies.

This should humble us and cause us to run to God in prayer. Even though we clearly see where we fail in the book of James, we also see our answer, God. In faith, we are to turn to Him in prayer and ask Him to give us His wisdom. While we may not receive the temporal relief we long for in material things, the wisdom of God will lead us to trust in His provision during times of trials and temptations. Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

QUESTION: Are you putting your faith and hope in worldly things instead of trusting in God to provide? What do you find yourself running to for rest or relief?
QUESTION: How do you remind yourself of the greatness of God on a daily basis?

DISCIPLINE PRACTICE: Meditation

Psalm 119 is a poetic meditation on the law of the Lord. Through an acrostic structure—every group of eight verses starts with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet—the psalmist meditates on the goodness of God and how it is displayed through His commands. We tend to view commands and acts of obedience as negative things that inhibit our freedom, but what the psalmist—and James—wants to show is that obedience to these things is a delight because they come from a good and perfect God, and they lead to life.

Take time throughout the day to meditate on Psalm 119:1–8. No need to memorize the passage, though you can if you like. Let it dwell in your heart. Let the words wash over you as you read them. Pray that you will become like the blessed man and that your eyes will be fixed on the Lord’s commandments. Ask God to give you grace so that your ways will be steadfast and that you will seek after Him with your whole heart. Again, this does not need to be from memory, nor does it need to be elegant. Remember the story of the tax collector in Luke 18. “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13–14). Humble yourself before God, ask in faith, and He will provide.

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