Not What You Wanted?
by Alex Crain
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” – James 4:1
A holiday edition of the TV show “America’s Funniest Home Videos” showed various children opening their presents on Christmas morning. Apparently, it’s hard for many kids to see humor in getting an unwanted gift. Most of their reactions were, well… downright childish.
When the ribbons and paper were torn off, one child pulled out a new pair of socks, threw her head back and erupted in an angry sob. A matching outfit given to another child produced a tantrum across the floor followed by stomping footsteps up the stairs. Other children glowered with frowns and snarls. One even screamed at the parent holding the video camera, then hurled the unwanted gift back in his face. Not exactly the funniest home videos.
In contrast to all the immaturity and ingratitude came a bright ray of hope at the end of the montage as a little brown-haired girl in pink pajamas ecstatically jumped up and down with glee. She held in her hands a tiny chestnut and spun around to the camera exclaiming, “A nut! A nut! I got a nut! I don’t know what kind it is, but I got a nut!”
James 4:1-6 says that sinful responses erupt from hearts that are controlled by overwhelming desires. They don’t have to be sinful desires necessarily. The degree to which “harmless” desires become sinful is shown by what happens when things don’t turn out as you hoped or expected. Whether it is irritability, or an angry tantrum or a sulking frown; sinful responses show that something in the heart has replaced God.
Notice verse 1 where James asks the question (paraphrasing), “Why are you so upset? What’s the real problem in your heart?” And then he answers with divine wisdom, “I’ll tell you what the matter is: it’s your pleasures—your desires—that are waging war within you. And the result is sinful fights and quarrels.”
Certainly, there’s nothing inherently sinful about simply having desires in life. God created us to have desires. There are many good things to desire in life: having adequate food, clothing and shelter, having a happy marriage, getting a promotion at work, buying a nice car. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of desires… nothing inherently wrong, that is.
The problems come when, in our hearts, those desires turn into something else. The word translated as “lust” in verse 2 is actually “desire” with the added element of “strong craving.” Epithumeo is not a word that necessarily means “lust” in the sexual sense. The idea conveyed in the original text is “you are controlled by desire.” In other words, some desire—perhaps, even for a good thing—has gotten so wrapped around your heart, that it has become more important than God to you.
Whenever this happens, the result is sinful behavior. And the sin of the heart that must be confessed first in cases like this is no less than the sin of idolatry. False worship occurs whenever worship of the true God is replaced with the god of “my way.”
What a peaceful contrast is painted in verse 6. God gives grace to the humble. That is, those who humbly submit their desires to God and trust Him as the sovereign provider of needs are given grace. Grace here is the desire and ability to obey God and respond in a way that pleases Him. Such recipients of grace are able, then, to deal with whatever happens—whether the present under the tree is a pair of socks, a cool skateboard, the keys to a new car, or a tiny chestnut.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Does your situation today resemble what you expected or wanted in life? What is your response to this? Think back to a recent outburst of anger, or incident in which you showed irritability. Trace it back to the unfulfilled desire that had control of your heart. What was it that you wanted? Ask God to reveal any desires seeking to control your heart so that you can humbly submit them to Him and release them to His sovereign care. Repent of any lingering idolatry. Ask Him for grace to deal with whatever happens. Trust Him to provide for your needs.
Further Reading & Listening:
Listen to an Example of What Humility Sounds Like Here (Indelible Grace Acoustic “By Thy Mercy”)
Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer