Summary: Many people want to see changes taking place in their lives. The usual prescription given today is, "Just try harder!" But that doesn’t produce true, genuine, lasting life-transformation. In James 4:6-10 James teaches how God changes a person.
I once read a Peanuts comic strip where Lucy told Charlie Brown that she would hold the football for him to kick. But when he ran up to kick the ball, she pulled it away. Charlie Brown went flying through the air and fell flat on his back.
Well, one day Lucy went up to Charlie Brown and offered once again to hold the ball for him.
“No thanks!” said Charlie Brown. “Every time you say you’ll do it, I fall flat on my back.”
As soon as Charlie Brown accused Lucy of this, she began weeping and sobbing, “Oh, you’re so right. I admit that in the past I’ve played cruel tricks on you. But I’ve seen the error of my ways! I’ve seen the hurt in your eyes! Won’t you give a poor repentant girl another chance?”
Charlie Brown said, “Okay.”
So he backed up, started running at the ball, and just as he was about to kick it, Lucy pulled the ball away. Once again Charlie Brown went flying through the air and ended up flat on his back.
As Lucy walked away, she commented to a friend, “Unfortunately, recognizing your faults and actually changing your ways are two different things.”
An astute observation, Lucy! It’s not enough for us merely to recognize our faults. We must also change our ways!
But, how? In the passage before us, James teaches us how to change our ways. So, with that in mind, let us read James 4:6-10:
"6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"’God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.’
"7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." (James 4:6-10)
Samuel Johnson was a Christian and noted literary author of the 18th century. He wrote the first major English dictionary.
In his prayer diary he recorded his personal struggle with learning to discipline himself and to pray.
In 1738 he wrote, “Almighty God, enable me to shake off sloth and redeem the time misspent in idleness and sin by a diligent application of the days yet remaining.”
In 1759—21 years later he wrote, “Enable me to shake off idleness and sloth.”
In 1761—23 years from the beginning, he wrote these words, “I resolve until I am afraid to resolve again.”
In 1764 he noted: “My indolence since my last reception of the sacrament has sunk into grosser sluggishness. My purpose from this time on is to avoid idleness and to rise early.”
Five months later—still in 1764, he entered in his diary, “To rise early, not later than 6:00 if I can.”
In 1765 he wrote, “I purpose to rise at 8:00 because though I shall not rise early, it shall be much earlier than I now rise, because I often lie till 2:00.”
In 1769 he said, “I am not yet in a state to form many resolutions. I purpose and hope to rise early in the morning at 8:00 and by degrees at 6:00.”
In 1775 he wrote, “When I look back on my resolutions for improvement and amendments which have been broken year after year, why do I yet try to resolve again? I try because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal. I now resolve to rise at 8:00.”
Finally, in 1781 he wrote, “I will not despair. Help me. Help me, O, my God. I now resolve to rise at 8:00 or sooner to avoid idleness.”
That’s a record of 43 years of failure! When you hear this you nod your head because you identify with Samuel Johnson. That’s because you have all had times in your lives when you tried to make a basic change but you could not do it. The more you try to be different the more you seem to stay the same. And soon you just give up. At least Samuel Johnson kept plugging away!
But the age-old question remains: how do you change your ways? You want to grow in your personal relationship with God. You want to love God and to love others more than you love yourself. You want to be a person of high moral integrity. You don’t want to be stained by all the ways of the world. But let’s face it. That’s really easy to say but not so easy to do.
The usual prescription given today is, “Just try harder!” It’s the American way! Just suck up your gut and keep going. And so you try harder the next time. But soon you fall flat on your face again. You become discouraged and return to the bench. Then some spiritual coach tells you what you did wrong and sends you out again with a new vision to make it happen this time. And you do okay for a while, but then you fail again.