"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded." (James 4:8, NAS95)
I wonder how James experienced his brother, Jesus. Did he ever disagree with Jesus, or get in an uproar around his brother? Would Jesus’ response to the meanness of James cause James to come closer and maybe cleanse his heart? What do we imagine what growing up with Jesus fostered in James?
Maybe that explains this passage from his letter to disciples of Jesus dispersed abroad from Israel. I know that when I initially read this verse many years ago, I loved the “draw near” part, and sort of thought James carried a mean streak in him with the last part: "cleanse your hands, you sinners…"
Now I see his words as a passionate plea to come to God in the midst of anything: pain, suffering, sin, arguments, pleasure, goodness—draw near, recognize God as Lover, Transformer, who ushers in life to the full for you (and others). What keeps me from God? The answer points to my own state of heart, my own disbelief in God’s goodness and love. Some form of interior struggle keeps me from Him. James recommends, and most likely from experience with Jesus both as a child and as a post-resurrection follower of the King, to draw near. He writes it as a command. I need that. I need to be pushed into the presence, especially when I am in pain or sin.
What happens next? Well, God excels at heart surgery, and things take place under His care that definitely don’t under mine. I tend to cultivate selfish perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors when left to myself. God, on the other hand, shows how deeply He cares, massages the pain, allows me to see the situation or relationship from His perspective, and reshapes my heart to re-enter with repentance, empathy or forgiveness. So in the midst of difficulty, "draw near" for me means God clears the muck of my heart and makes way for love (for all involved).
I think James recommends what he experienced with Jesus. My experience tells me he gives much wisdom. God transforms hearts. Draw near.
Warmly in Christ,
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me."
(Psalms 23:4, NAS95)
What heart habits do you cultivate when things don’t go your way? How would drawing near to God help?
James thought of God as immediately present and available, right next to him. What’s your perspective on God’s desire to be with you and how real is your daily experience of Him?