James

Why happiness is so elusive…

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Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

-James 4:2-3

John D. Rockefeller built a fortune through his company, Standard Oil. Seeing a need for a reliable brand of kerosene that would not explode into flames as kerosene often did in the 1800s, Rockefeller set out to develop a safe way to refine the liquid fuel from oil, and then brand it so that anyone buying it would know they bought a safe product. Hence the name, “Standard.” As in, “This product lives up to our standards of safety,” and burns bright enough to illuminate our homes and offices to our standard. It elevated our standard of living.

Rockefeller’s shrewd business skills and ability to leverage service, money and volume built his empire. He built strategic partnerships with railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, eliminated competitors through hostile takeover and stock purchases, and never quit working to expand his empire.

To this day, the name “Rockefeller” is synonymous with wealth. Unlike many who inherit wealth, Rockefeller built his from nothing. Today, his family still benefits from his decisions.

Yet, when asked, “How much money is enough,” Rockefeller replied, “Just a little bit more.”

At the height of his wealth and power, Rockefeller basically owned America. Yet, even at the height of his wealth and power, Rockefeller neither found happiness nor peace. At least, he didn’t find it in his wealth and power.

The fundamental fact of life is that, if you can’t be happy where you are, with what you have, then having more will not make you happy.

That’s why James 4:2-3 says:

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

James addressed discontentment among early Christians by pointing out two things. (1) They didn’t engage God in prayer about their needs and wants, and (2) their motivation was suspect.

The first situation addressed here is discontentment. The Christians to whom James wrote were not happy. They desired things that they could not have. They wanted more. They struggled for more, yet they failed. The harder they pressed, the harder the world pressed back.

The first reason those who read James experienced this torment dealt with their worldly attitudes. They wanted, and fought to have, but failed to obtain, because they didn’t ask God. They neither asked God for the blessings they sought, neither did they ask for God’s permission and direction.

These Christians lived a carnal, worldly existence. In doing so, they excluded God from their day-to-day lives. That’s an important detail to remember. When we live in the carnal, day-to-day world, without seeking God through prayer, Bible reading and meditation (deep thoughts on the scriptures), we are excluding God from our day-to-day lives.

These Christians, having excluded God from their lives, received no blessing from God. Why would He bless and reward His children who avoid His presence.

James then addressed another problem. Those who had approached God in prayer about their desires did so with impure motives.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

Those who had gone to the Lord in prayer to request specific blessings did so for the sole reason of pleasing their flesh. They wanted that which they could consume, not that which they could use to bless God and others.

A good example of this would be the man who prays for the new convertible, the beach house, or for the winning lottery numbers.

So, while they did follow Biblical directives to pray, their hearts were not right. Instead of having a heart for God and His people, they were selfish. Therefore, their prayers went unanswered.

That brings us to a very pointed question. “What’s my motivation?” Are we self-focused, or focused on others? Do we see others? Or do we only see ourselves?

Happiness is defined as confidence and security. Do you feel confident that the Lord will do great things in your life? And are you secure, knowing that He will provide, protect and care for you? If so, then you are happy, whether you feel joyful or not. If you do not feel confident and secure, it might be because you are searching for confidence and security in the wrong things. At that point, nothing will provide happiness for you, regardless of how much of that nothing you have.

As for John D. Rockefeller, you might be surprised that amassing wealth and making money wasn’t his primary motivator, as he is quoted as saying, “I had no ambition to make a fortune; mere moneymaking has never been my goal. I had an ambition to build.”

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I’m fine! No, really, I am. Okay, I’m not.

How are you doing?

No really, How are you doing?

Nearly 100 percent of the time, when asked the first question, we say, “Fine.” Or, some of our more spiritually inclined brethren say, “I’m blessed.”

All too often, when we give those answers, we are not being truthful.

You see, we have been conditioned to think that any sign of distress, any sign of worry or stress is an indication that our faith is faltering. Somehow, by expressing heartbreak over the loss of a loved one, concern over a wayward child, fear over a pending financial disaster, uncertainty over the loss of a job, or anger over being mistreated, we are expressing a character flaw. We’ve “taken our eyes off of Jesus and looked at the waves crashing all around us.” We’ve become Peter trying to walk on the water, but sinking because his faith failed.

Indeed, we don’t want to lose faith in the Lord, and we don’t want to be focused on our problems. However, in the real world, we do have problems. And those problems still exist when we enter the church doors. Therefore, there is no need for the church to become a fantasy world where problems don’t exist. They do. Therefore, one of the ministries of the church should be to help people through their problems.

This is not just a humanitarian position. It’s actually in scripture.

Galatians 6:2 says to “bear one another’s burdens.” While the greater context of that verse deals with restoring a brother who sins, it should be noted that sin is part of the lives of those who live in the real world. We all struggle. We all fail. We should be able to turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ for love, encouragement, and restoration as we repent from that sin.

The Bible also tells those who are afflicted to pray (James 5:13) and to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). In fact, the church experience was designed so we could gain encouragement from each other while we walk this Christian life together. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not forsake the assembly of ourselves together, but should exhort one another. That means to encourage each other to stay strong in the faith and to do great things for the Lord.

We cannot be encouraged if we are unwilling to address the things that burden our hearts. We cannot be encouraged if we are not willing to face our problems, and seek help. We cannot help each other with our struggles if we pretend they don’t exist.

The Lord knows we have problems. He knew beforehand that we would. Hence, He gave us the church to help us through those problems. The problem is, the church doesn’t do this because we fear being judged if we admit we have problems.

The Lord understands problems. He had a few of his own. Hebrews 4:15-16 says:

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you know what that means? It means that the Lord was tempted… not only to sin by Satan after Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness, but also by the same struggles in life that we face: Not enough money, shortage of food, fatigue, being rejected and betrayed by others, being homesick and missing family, physical pain, emotional pain, bereavement, etc.

Yet, the Lord experienced all of this without sin. Therefore, He was uniquely qualified to pay for our sins on the cross, rise again to conquer the grave, open the gates of Heaven and plead our cases before God every single day.

Furthermore, these verses tell us He is sympathetic to our cause, because He has been through the same struggles we have.

Therefore, you are more than welcome to approach the Lord in prayer regarding the struggles you face. You should also be able to lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ for comfort and encouragement. If that’s not possible, maybe you need to find some other brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Lord understands our struggles, because He’s been here. We should understand each others’ struggles as well, because we’re still here. Love, help and encourage each other. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of God.