James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a (NRSV)
Verse 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. Verse 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Verse 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. Verse 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Verse 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. Verse 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Chapter 4Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? Verse 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. Verse 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Verse 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Verse 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
My internship supervisor was diagnosed with cancer half-way through our year together. He died two months before my internship was to end. The last sermon he preached was based on this text. He titled it, “Wrong Prayers.”
He was a beloved pastor. Not only our congregation, but the whole community had been praying for him. Yet it had become clear he would not survive his illness. That’s when he chose to deliver this message.
The pastor confessed his first prayers had been: Why me? Please take this away, from me, for my family, for the sake of continued service! Questioning, bargaining. It’s the place we all begin.
But slowly he began to see these were the wrong prayers. All of them centered on getting back to where he was. His prayers began to evolve: what can I do in this time, in this place? What’s next? That’s encouragement. That’s leadership.
Infinite God of unlimited mercy, you never cease calling us back, inviting us deeper into relationship with yourself. Yet your call is always forward outside of ourselves to what’s next. Lead on to justice and peace for all. Amen.