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James 4:3 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 0 mins 35 secs

Prayers that Changed History; James 4:3

 

This epistle is organized around three concepts: "Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger." It is that third one that James has been building to in this discourse. He wants to challenge them in relation to their mental attitude which has given itself over to human viewpoint thinking. We saw the introduction to this at the end of chapter three where James drew a contrast between the wisdom that was characteristic in their assembly and the wisdom which comes down from God. One of the ways in which you can tell which way the congregation is operating is the way it works itself out in their relationships in the congregation. They had bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in verse 14 and James addresses them: "Do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth." They are operating on a human viewpoint system that is characterized by being earthly, soulish, i.e. not related to the spiritual life, and demonic. Essentially, according to the Bible, there are only two ways to look at things; there is the divine viewpoint and there is the human viewpoint. The divine viewpoint is singular, but human viewpoint may have and does have a multitude of manifestations. But ultimately every approach to life is ultimately reducible to either being human viewpoint or divine viewpoint. James is challenging us that we need to evaluate how we think and that it is from our thought life that all of the issues in life derive. So the issue is what is taking place in your thought life. Are you thinking according to principles of divine viewpoint or principles of human viewpoint?

 

Human viewpoint will always go hand in hand with certain  mental attitude sins because the essential underlying issue in human viewpoint is always arrogance. Arrogance expressed itself in the fall as Adam sought to assert his own authority over God's authority. In the garden God had said: "Thou shalt not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." When Adam was tempted what he did was to basically set himself up as an authority: "Well I don't really know if this is true." Instead of taking God's Word for it and trusting God's Word for it, he sets himself up as an independent authority. So Adam is going to judge the divine prohibition. The result was an irreversible calamity: death in Adam and then spiritual death through the entire human race. This word "autonomy" expresses the essence of the orientation that sin gives to the carnal mind. It is in two Greek words: AUTOS [a)utoj], meaning self, and NOMOS [nomoj], meaning law; that man is a law unto himself. This is the theme of the book of Judges in the Old Testament where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. That is the essence of the orientation of the sin nature. We think that either on the basis of our own experience or on the basis of our own rational capabilities and reasoning, on the basis of our own emotion or some sort of intuitive or mystical experience that we can know what absolute truth is. So these, then, become the criteria of human viewpoint thinking.

 

But what we learn here from James is that arrogance is always going to characterize autonomy and the result is going to be conflict. He drives us to that issue in the first rhetorical question of verse 1: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures [the lust pattern from the sin nature] that wage war in your members?" As each person in the congregation is seeking to do what they want to do it sets up this conflict between them in the congregation. The result is, verse 2: "You lust and do not have; {so} you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; {so} you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask." There is frustration, frustration leads to anger, depression, all sorts of problems, the mental attitude sins multiply, and so you commit murder—not necessarily overt murder but character assassination of one another in the congregation through gossip, slander, maligning, running each other down, spreading lies about each other. He concludes: "You do not have because you do not ask." Because they are dominated by a carnal mindset they are not praying. One of the reasons why Christians don't pray is that in carnality they have rejected the grace provision of God, so they are trying to satisfy everything on their own terms and they don't want to ask God.

 

Then at the beginning of verse 3 James says: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend {it} on your pleasures." So there are really two problem. The first is because they are carnal they are not even praying, and the second reason is also related to their carnality because they are asking for the wrong reasons, the wrong motives when they do decide to go through that formal activity of prayer their prayers are not answered. Their prayers are oriented to their self-absorption. So the problem here is arrogance.

 

The underlying problem here is the problem of carnality. The psalmist said it best in Psalm 66:18: "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." This means that if we are operating in the power of the sin nature what we do is grounded in arrogance, a mental attitude sin, and God will not hear our prayers. The carnal believer cannot have his prayers heard at all because he is oriented completely away from God. What we will see in this passage is that carnality is complete hostility toward God. On the other hand the believer, in order to pray, must be filled with the Holy Spirit. He can only recover from carnality through confession. The problem in the church that James is addressing is that they are so mired in mental attitude sins and their human viewpoint orientation to life.

 

Examples in the Old Testament of how prayer changes things.

In the example last time we saw that divine discipline on the nation was restrained by Moses' prayer. In the situation in Ezekiel chapter 22 we see that the northern kingdom of Israel has already been judged by God through the Assyrian army. These were the ten tribes of Israel. The reason these are referred to as the lost tribes was because the way the Assyrians would handle a captive people is that they would scatter them, they wouldn't keep them together. When the Babylonians wiped out the southern kingdom they kept all the Jews together in a geographical area so that they could maintain their racial and ethnic identity. But remember the principle: God's grace always precedes judgment. Before God judges a nation He is going to give them an opportunity to turn back to the Lord.

Ezek 22:30 NASB "I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one." This is exactly what Moses had done; he stood in the gap. He was the man who was going to be a mediator between God and the nation Israel in order to protect the nation and to pray for them. So in Ezekiel 22 God is searching for that same kind of man, someone who would stand in the gap and pray that He would not execute divine discipline. [31] "Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads," declares the Lord GOD." So even though God waited and looked, because there was no one to stand in the gap in prayer it didn't change anything. It changed things with Moses; it did not change anything at the time of Ezekiel.

2 Samuel 12:14 NASB "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die." The context here is the death of David's son, the child that was the result of his adultery with Bathsheba. With that, Nathan the prophet announces God's discipline on David for his sin with Bathsheba. But notice David's response. [16] "David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground." David does not settle in some sort of fatalistic, rationalistic response, e.g. God has already made up His mind, he is going to discipline me, I am not going to pray. David understood that prayer changes things and that even when God announced certain things, as he had with Moses, that if he prayed God could change His mind. Now the fact that God changes His mind is not an indication of a change in God's character. So David asks of the Lord and he fasted and prayed all night long. There is an intensity to his prayer, that is the purpose of fasting. The issue in fasting is that I am so intensely concerned about my prayer that I am not even going to be concerned with my daily functions. I am not going to eat, I'm not going to sleep; I'm just going to pray. [17] "The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them." He was intent upon this prayer, it went on for seven days. [18] "Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, 'Behold, while the child was {still} alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do {himself} harm!' [19] But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead?' And they said, 'He is dead.' [20] So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed {himself,} and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate." David doesn't panic at this point; he never was on an emotional reaction in this entire thing. Sure, he was emotional and was pleading to God, but he wasn't involved in an emotional reaction. He was praying to God on the basis of the grace of God, as he did in many of the psalms, and when God said no David realized the answer was fine, the child was dead, he could stop and go about the grieving process. He recognizes the answer is no, and then he goes forward.

Another example of positive change takes place in 2 Kings 19:14-19. One of the reasons the Old Testament was given to us is so that we see doctrine worked out in the lives of people. We see throughout the Old Testament illustrations of the principles in the New Testament.. The background here is that God is about to bring judgment on Israel. The armies of Sennacherib are outside the gates of Jerusalem, the northern kingdom has been wiped out, most of the southern kingdom has been conquered, and Jerusalem stands in the balance. When king Hezekiah hears this report we see his overt expression of his grief and concern. He rips of his clothes, covers himself with sackcloth, and he enters the house of the Lord. All of that is to signify, just as David's fasting did, that this is serious. He was taking it seriously and doing away with everything else in his life and making his prayer with the Lord his number one priority. First of all he went to the temple and called for Isaiah to come and to communicate any message from God, and then he goes to plead with the Lord.

In verse 10 we have the message of the Rabshakeh: "Thus you shall say to Hezekiah king of Judah, 'Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you saying, "Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria." So he is waging his propaganda campaign in order to convince Hezekiah not to rely on the Lord, that He was not greater than his Assyrian army, and that he was going to conquer them. [11] 'Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the lands, destroying them completely. So will you be spared? [12 'Did the gods of those nations which my fathers destroyed deliver them, {even} Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who {were} in Telassar? [13] 'Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, and {of} Hena and Ivvah?'"

Kings 19:14 NASB "Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD." Lord. Look at the problem, this is the issue, this is what they have done. The military solution theoretically can work. That is the pragmatic solution. But God says it doesn't matter whether the pragmatic solution works or not, whether the human viewpoint solution works, the issue is whether or not you are exclusively relying upon the divine solution. So here Hezekiah is going to exclusively rely upon the divine solution. [15] "Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, "O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned {above} the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth." Look at what Hezekiah is appealing to. He starts of by appealing to God as the creator of heaven and earth. The doctrine of creation is foundational in prayer life because if God made the heavens and the earth then that means God is greater than any problem we will ever face, even when it is a victorious army outside the gates on the verge of destroying us. [16] "Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God." Do you notice any similarity in the way he is praying and the way Moses prayed? Both of them are appealing to the fact that the Lord's reputation is at stake here. It is not a subjective, arrogant approach to the problems of his life. The issue here is theological, it is the reputation of God. That is what is at stake and he builds his case on the reputation of God, not on his personal experience. [19] "Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God." The issue is not my peace, prosperity and stability, the issue is God's reputation, that everyone will know that he is God. [20] "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard {you.}'" So prayer changed history.

The next illustration takes place in the reign of Manasseh, the most evil of all the kings in the southern kingdom. There is no sin that he did not endorse and promote among the Jews. 2 Chronicles 33:2 NASB "He did evil in the sight of the LORD according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel." That is the idolatry and all the religious practices of the Canaanites. So he is taking them all the way back to the paganism of the Canaanites in all of their perversion, practices of the phallic cult and child sacrifice, and everything else that was involved. [9] "Thus Manasseh misled Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel. [10] The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. [11] Therefore the LORD brought the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze {chains} and took him to Babylon." And look at what happens in Babylon. This is what is called true biblical repentance. [12] "When he was in distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers." Nothing is ever the same again, this changes everything. He goes to the Lord in prayer, he humbles himself—part of grace orientation, humbling one's self in the face of problems and adversity—and it changed everything. [13] "When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD {was} God." There would be later kings of Judah who didn't do this and they weren't brought back to Jerusalem.

What does that have in common with Moses' prayer and with Hezekiah's prayer? It is the character of God. The character and glory of God is upheld, and that is why prayer changes things. The issue is the character of God.

[14] "Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he encircled the Ophel {with it} and made it very high. Then he put army commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. [15] He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the LORD and in Jerusalem, and he threw {them} outside the city. [16] He set up the altar of the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel." This is true biblical repentance. You change your mind about God, you move from human viewpoint thinking to divine viewpoint thinking, and you remove all the human viewpoint idols out of your mind. You clean house. The only way the believer can clean house is to learn the Word of God and realize that for the last X number of years of your life you have just sucked up because your sin nature attracts human viewpoint thinking like a magnet attracts iron filings. You have just sucked all kinds of ideas that are false and God says they are an abomination. You have to renovate your thinking and the only way you can do that is through the Word of God. Manasseh is removing all the idols, and what we have to do is remove all those sophisticated idols of the mind and get our thinking renovated to divine viewpoint.

Manasseh changes, but not the people. [17] "Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, {although} only to the LORD their God."

1 John 5:14 NASB "This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. [15] And if we know that He hears us {in} whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him."