After years of ministering in churches and seminaries, I’ve noticed a peculiar thing. The first question we Americans ask is, “How?” Whether I’m teaching on Christian education or church leadership, whenever I introduce a concept, someone is bound to ask, “But how can we do that?” Not, “Is this right?” Not, “Is this biblical?” But, “How can we ever do THAT?”
It may be this is a human rather than just an American trait. I suspect that James was aware of the “how?” questions in his audience too. Certainly few passages of Scripture have as many active verbs strung together in such a few brief verses as 7–10, the “how to” section that caps James’ discussion of conflict, unanswered prayers, and the need of grace to overcome our innate tendency to envy.
The first two verbs suggest general principles. We are to submit to God. And we are to resist the devil. Just HOW we do this is explained by the other verbs in these verses.
(1) We “come near” to God. Consciously fix your thoughts on the Lord, and approach Him in prayer. James promises us that when we do, God will bend down close to listen to us. This is always the first step in submission.
(2) We “wash . . . hands” and “purify . . . hearts.” Approaching God as sinners, we confess our faults. And though we have been “double-minded” (cf. 1:8), we make a firm commitment to respond, whatever God may ask us to do.
(3) We change our “laughter to mourning.” We reject the world system, with its false values. We realize that most of the things the world laughs about actually call for mourning, and most of the things the world finds joy in cast a pall of gloom over God’s universe. Changing our laughter to mourning is exchanging lost man’s perspective on life for God’s, and evaluating all things by His standards.
(4) “And He will lift you up.” When we humble ourselves in these ways before God, we sense His loving hands grip us, and lift us up. In humbling ourselves before God, more than our outlook on life is changed. We ourselves are changed! We are raised to newness of life.
Kneel, to be at, as well as on, God’s side.
“A meek man is not a human mouse with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his mortal life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto.”—A.W. Tozer