It means that during the ordinary places and times of life God has called us over a period of time when we grew locally attentive to an inward desire that ebbed and flowed but didn’t fade. We then set this desire prayerfully before God moment by moment, day by day. We took steps during that time to test by Scripture in community whether we had the gifts to match the desire. Along the way, those who locally knew us best and those whom we’d attempted to serve told us that they were strengthened in Jesus because of our use of these gifts. Consequently, after a time, we took awkward and faith-filled steps, not knowing where these steps might lead. But by then were assured by this unfading desire and these community affirmations that God might actually be leading us. Circumstantial opportunities then arrived and we surrendered our lives to this out of obedience and gratitude to God.
The Devil and God both talk about sin, but in different ways with dramatic impact. While the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, never is the Holy Spirit identified as a accuser. God’s way of confronting His people in their sin Paul calls “godly grief” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).
First, godly grief produces not just tears or new resolutions. It actually produces repentance–which means a real turning point. The change is new and incomplete, but real.
Second, the grief from God leads the person back to a fresh acquaintance with the provision of salvation–the merit and mercy of Jesus.
Third, grief from God purposes to send regret away: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (7:10).
In contrast, there is a kind of sorrow for sin that has nothing to do with God. Over the years I have found that those caught in the sin of lying, for example, require the most active energy and time–particularly if lying has been a way of life.
Why is this so? On the one hand, a long life of this sin gives a person a strong skill set with manipulation. Such a person is adept at tears, quoting the right verses, giving meaningful looks of the eyes, and saying what the person in front of them wants to hear. It is easy to conclude that someone has godly grief when actually he is feeling sorrow because he got caught and is simply trying to do what he needs to in order to get everyone off his case and to get back to normal.
A grief that is self-generated and made mischief with the Devil “produces death,” Paul says (vs. 10). That is, it sheds tears but does not turn; it makes resolutions and quotes verses. But it neither rests upon Jesus alone nor surrenders to God.
Regret still tells the story in the first person present, as if we are still in the moment. It happened years agao, but we who listen get the idea from you that it happened recently.
Regret can also keep secrets. We put the lid on it and tell no one to preserve our image. It gradually eats away at us. But godly grief will eventually turn our sinful secrets into testimonies of grace.
The seven closing words of James 4:2 (“you have not because you ask not”) contain the secret of the powerlessness of the average Christian, of the average minister, and of the average church. We ask, “Why is it that I make such poor progress in my Christian life? Why do I influence others for Christ so weakly?” God answers in the words of the text: “Neglect of prayer. You have not because you ask not.”
Many ministries ask, “Why is it that I see so little fruit from my ministry? Why are there so few conversions?” And again God replies, “You have not because you ask not.”
Guess what I’m asking for this morning?
In Jeremiah 29, two different kinds of preachers are giving sermons to the Israelites in exile. The one is Jeremiah who speaks from God. He tells the exiles that they will have to reimagaine life where they are. They aren’t going anywhere for 70 years. This means that all but the babies born at the time will have passed away and finished their lives in exile, away from the Promised Land. The babies will have lived most of their lives by the time a chance to go back “home” arrives. The message is hard to take.
Another group of preachers is saying the opposite. “Don’t put down roots!” they are saying. “God wouldn’t keep you in exile like this!” “He is going to get you out of here!” “This place is temporary; get ready to move!”
Which church would you prefer to attend while in exile? I think I’d prefer not to listen to Jeremiah. In fact, a verse from this passage is quoted to cast a vision for the future. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiahs 29:11).”
What I failed to realize as I take up this wonderful promise is that almost everyone who originally heard it knew that they would never experience its fulfillment in Jerusalem, where they wanted to be. They had to grapple instead with the truth that the future and the hope for them with God would take place right where they were in exile–where they would live and die. Their great grandchildren would experience the fullness of the future and the hope back in Jerusalem. The next generation would get to move but not them.
What does it mean for us if the future and the hope that God has for our welfare means that we will have to trust Him right where we are?