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AM Bible Study Archives
"The Practice of God's Presence"
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 12, 2003
At first glance, the point that James seems to be making in this section
of his letter seems strangely unnecessary. Do we really need to be told
something so elemental as to pray when we're suffering, or to sing praise
songs when we're happy?
And yet, there really isn't a set of pastoral admonitions that are more
beneficial to us to carefully observe than what we find in these verses.
The significance of this passage is revealed when you were to answer this
question: "What would your life look like if you were to continually live
every moment of it as though Jesus Christ was always present with you
wherever you went, and His divine power was always fully available to
help you no matter what you encountered?"
James doesn't say this directly; his point is one that we arrive at
more or less 'inductively. But James is here simply calling us to live
out practically the implications of our Christian faith - to continually
live every moment as though Jesus Christ truly was always present with
us wherever we went and whatever we're called upon to do; and as if His
divine power truly was always fully available to help us no matter what
we encounter. He is holding up to us the best way to put our Christian
faith into practice; and he's showing us the quickest route to happiness
in life - and that is, by actively depend on the presence and power of
God at every turn ...
I. IN TIMES OF SUFFERING (v. 13).
A. The word James uses for "suffering" (kakopathe˘) means
"to suffer hardship or affliction." Its not so much a matter of suffering
in general; but of enduring hardship that comes from an external and,
sometimes, even a malicious source - the circumstance of troubles and
trials that are outside the sphere of our control (2 Tim. 2:3, 9; 4:5).
B. The promises in God's own word that motivate us to this (1 Peter
5:6-7; James 1:5; Psalm 50:15. God often allows troubles and trials
in our lives for no other reason than that we will learn to call upon
Him in faith and be able to give Him praise because He proved Himself
C. It's as if James is asking believers, "Is anyone among you suffering?
Then here is my pastoral advice to him or her: Let them turn to their
ever-present, ever-loving, all-powerful Lord and say, 'O dear Lord
and Master; how grateful I am that you're here with me in this trial.
How grateful I am that you're in control. How grateful I am for Your
great love to me, and for Your mighty hand upon me. With You on my
side, I have nothing to fear! I cast this burden upon You. Give me
strength. Give me wisdom. Give me help. Let me glorify You and please
You in this trial.'"
II. IN TIMES OF HAPPINESS (v. 13).
A. Some Christians are more prone to turn to God and appeal
to Him during the happy times than during the times of trial; and conversely,
some of us are more prone to turn to God and appeal to Him during the
times of trial than at the times when things are going well. To truly
practice Christ's presence, means turning to God and appealing to Him
in both the good times and the bad.
B. The word James uses for "cheerful" simply means "merry" or "of
good spirits". We're urged to make the presence and the help of Christ
paramount in our thoughts even in happy times. We're to turn those
happy times into a sanctuary of praise and worship. James characterizes
this by urging them to take action. He urges them to "sing praises"
- to give God thanks, and to exalt Him in our times of happiness and
joy, with songs of praise. The word James uses for this (psall˘) literally
means "to move by a touch or a twitch", and it was usually applied
to the action of striking a string on a musical instrument; and so,
it became a figure of speech for playing or singing music. In the
New Testament, the word refers to singing songs of praise or worship
to God - to sing "psalms" ; and because the use of musical instruments
is implicit in the word James uses, it has something of the idea in
it of some effort and thought expended in the doing of it.
C. Isn't it interesting that James didn't simply say, "If anyone
is cheerful, then let him be thankful to God"? Instead, he called
upon us to do something that is more formal and action-oriented than
that. To sing a song of praise to God requires that we think about
what we're doing and saying, and invites others to join in our praise
III. IN TIMES OF ILLNESS (vv. 14-16).
A. There are lots of differing opinions about this passage;
but we shouldn't miss the main point. James is simply calling on us
to practice the presence of God in all the different twists and turns
of life; and here, particularly at times when we are under the trial
of illness. As a matter of first priority, we're to turn to God and
rely on His sovereign help and providence. James says that, when we're
ill, we should show our consciousness of the presence of God in that
we do three things:
1. Call upon the leaders of the local church - the "elders"
- and ask them to intercede for us in prayer. And they are to come
and "pray over" the sick person, "anoint him with oil in the name
of the Lord."
2. Present ourselves to our spiritual leaders and allow them to
assist us in a searching of the heart, confess any known sin, and
entrust ourselves to the sovereign hand of God.
3. Take your medicine in the context of God's divine help.
B. Practicing the presence of God at a time of illness would mean
having the attitude of turning to God first and your doctor second
- and not the other way around.