Making Room for Breakthrough
From the series Breakthrough
So often, when circumstances become overwhelming, we lose perspective; we forget that God longs to show Himself mighty to save. We're so busy trying to solve things on our own that we make no allowance for God to do the impossible in and then through us. He's waiting for us to come to the end of ourselves, to make room in our lives for Him to do breakthrough. Chip explains how to trust Him and make that room.
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About this series
Unleashing God's Power into Impossible Situations
What do you do when a circumstance or relationship in your life is so hard, so big, so overwhelming that it truly becomes impossible? You need a divine, supernatural intervention. In this new 5-part series from Chip Ingram, you’ll discover the steps to experiencing breakthrough and how to make breakthrough a normal part of your life.More from this series
I have a little devotional, called Magnificent Prayer, about prayer that I read just about every morning, and I came across a quote that literally kind of energized my whole view of breakthrough.
It’s by a preacher of the nineteenth century; his name is Phillips Brooks, and he said this: “Pray the largest prayers. You cannot think a prayer so large that God, in answering it, will not wish you had made it larger.” Now, is that an amazing thought? You cannot pray a prayer that, no matter how large it was, that after you have prayed it, God would wish that you would have made it larger. And then, I love the last line. He says, “Pray not for crutches, but for wings.” Don’t pray for a little help to get through the situation; pray to soar.
And it just reminded me, God is good. God wants to bless you. He wants to intervene. He wants to take the most difficult situations, the most difficult relationships, the most amazing things that you couldn’t fathom in your neighborhood, and at your job, and with your relatives, and with your past, and with your struggles, and He wants to – Whoo! – blow His power into them and change them.
Can you imagine – would you just kind of lean back for a second, and just let your mind imagine what it would be like – can you imagine one of your neighbors knocking on the door and saying, “You know something? We kind of know a little bit that you’re one of those Christians. Would you lead a Bible study in our neighborhood? We would like to discover who Jesus is.” Can you imagine that?
Can you imagine one of your relatives that is just mean, cantankerous, that you just think there’s no hope for, and having them calling you and saying, “You know what? I’ve just trusted Christ”? God really loves everyone. God can do anything.
What would you want Him to do? What would you want Him to do in your life? And maybe it’s not a neighbor or a boss; maybe it’s like, you know, you’ve struggled with that alcohol, that porn addiction, the guilt from the past from a divorce or an abortion – you know, just an issue inside, where you know – you just sense, and you’ve tried a number of times, and, for you, it’s a spiritual issue; it’s not even a weight issue. It’s just, you keep eating food when you know you’re not really hungry, and you keep hitting it, hitting it, hitting it, and you’re down on you, and you live in shame. What would happen if the power of God was released in your life, and then through your life?
We’re going to learn that He wants to do it, but we’re going to learn, also, that we have to make room. Isaiah 53 is the biggest breakthrough. God talks about, a Messiah is going to come and liberate and bring light. A Messiah is going to come, and He’s going to bring life and forgiveness.
But in chapter 54, He says to Israel, at a time when, I mean, their life is not going well, and breakthrough doesn’t even seem possible – He says this to them: “Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords, strengthen your pegs.” Why? “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. Your descendants” – I mean, they’re in captivity. “Your descendants are going to resettle cities and nations. God is going to use you.”
He’s saying, “You need to make room for the huge and amazing blessing beyond what you can imagine is coming.” And what I want you to know is that you and I have to do that in our private lives. We’ve got to do it in our relational lives. And we need to make room, even in the Church, to let God work.
So, what is a breakthrough? It’s an offensive thrust that penetrates and carries beyond a defensive line in warfare. We’re in a war, and it’s a war for your soul, and it’s a war for the future. But breakthrough isn’t something we wait around and hope God will do, someday, some way, sometime. God has promised and wants to – it’s something we do. Only He makes it happen, but there’s initiative on our part. It’s an act or instance of breaking through an obstacle. So, breakthroughs have to do with – there’s resistance. It’s difficult. There’s a barrier. And breakthroughs always have a sudden advance. Change happens; there’s a difference.
We find, in our personal lives or in a group or in a church or in a city, or as we see globally, there’s a great need. And the great need is caused by great sin, and sin is just missing the mark. We’re not doing life God’s way. And sin always leads to great bondage. People become slaves – become slaves of food, slaves of money, slaves of sex, slaves of power. Breakthroughs come when people not realize they’re in pain, in difficulty, and there are bad people, and they don’t measure up, and they – God would never want them.
Breakthroughs come when they understand the goodness and the kindness of God. It’s the tolerance of God, it’s the love of God, it’s the patience of God, Romans chapter 2 tells us, that leads us to repentance, to a change of mind.
I want you to know that whatever breakthrough you’re struggling with, whatever breakthrough you would long to see happen in your family, the breakthrough will come, not when you’re down on yourself and, “I can’t measure up. I need to get with the program.” The breakthrough will come when you can begin to grasp that God is waiting with open arms, and He loves you, and He loves people that you don’t think much of, and He cares about them. And He literally wants you and me to be agents of kindness and love.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries; it doesn’t mean there isn’t truth. It means that you aren’t their judge, God is. And the judgment of God, by and large, is just the consequences of people’s behavior.
And then, God, over and over and over and over – He does it in individuals. He does it in families. He does it in small groups. Historically, He does it in churches. At times, He does it in whole cities. And then, there are times where – we’ve even seen it in the last forty or fifty years – He does it in nations, where there’s a revolution of breakthrough and the kindness and the goodness of God. God’s deliverance comes through a clear, strong vision of – what? – of God’s goodness and mercy.
Notice, where does this clear, strong vision of God’s goodness and mercy…? It’s birthed in ordinary people that meet the great needs, by unleashing God’s power in impossible situations. What we’re talking about is not for special people that get in stained glass someday.
What we’re talking about is the God of the universe that wants to take the person that’s sitting in your seat, and get you to believe and to trust that He’s so good and so kind and so willing and so powerful, that He would use an ordinary person like you – to receive that and then pass it on.
If what I just said is true – and it’s borne out in Scripture; it’s borne out in Church history – how does breakthrough actually happen? How does it happen? This isn’t theory; this isn’t what ought or should or maybe could happen someday, some way. How does it happen?
The answer is, the pathway to breakthrough involves three things. But I want you to know the pathway to breakthrough involves God’s sovereign work in the world, first and foremost. And then, we’re going to see it’s His sovereign work in His people. And finally, a little bit later, we’ll see it’s His sovereign work through His people. Let’s take them one at a time.
First of all, God’s sovereign work in the world. When you look at how God has broken through – in seasons in the Old Testament, in captivity, in the coming of Christ, in major things like the Reformation, when you see what happened in China or in Korea, in South America or in Africa in the last ninety or a hundred years – the pattern is all the same.
Number one, there’s external pressure. External pressure. Stuff starts happening – economies, politics, shifts, famine, plagues, difficulties. There’s external pressure in the world.
Simultaneously, there’s internal deterioration. This is a picture of the Roman Empire. God didn’t just come at a certain time. Galatians 4:4 says when the world was pregnant, when it was ready, when the world was ripe for a breakthrough – there was external pressure. There were ethnic divisions. There were problems with the economy. There was Roman and Greek culture in conflict.
And there was internal deterioration – infanticide, families, women being passed around, being divorced seven, eight, and nine times. There was a global crisis. And into that breakthrough, Jesus came.
And you see that pattern – God sovereignly works. We’re going to talk about our responsibility, but jot, if you would, in the corner, Job 42:2. It’s near the end of the book. And if you know the story of Job, he’s been through a lot. And he didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. But as he gets near to the end of the book and sees life for how it is, this is what Job says: “I know O God that You can do anything, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
I will tell you this: No purpose of God will be thwarted in your life, in this country, in any nation, or in all of history. God is sovereignly at work, and He will take the error and the pain, the disobedience, the judgment, the faithfulness of people, and He aligns those things, and He brings about the velvet vise of external pressure.
And then, as the way people live begins to deteriorate, and they realize they have need, He creates windows of crisis in individuals’ lives, windows of crisis in groups and in churches, and in cities and in nations, and when there’s responsiveness, we make room. And when we make room – Whooo! – the Spirit of God blows with power, and He works in individuals, and revolutions occur. And we’ve seen it happen over and over and over.
Second, it’s the sovereign work of God, not just in the world, but He always begins with His people. When you happen to be a follower of Christ for a while, after a while, what we start doing is, “You know, the problem is Hollywood. I mean, are they just putting out a bunch of lousy stuff, or what?” Or, “You know what? It’s the government. I mean, let’s have coffee and just talk about the government.” Or, “You know what? The educational system,” right? Or, “Those corporations,” or, “It’s all those lazy people.” What we tend to do is, we find someone else, somewhere, where the problem is, to blame, and I will tell you this – here’s God’s perspective: Repentance always begins with a household of faith.
Here’s the principle: God must work deeply in you, before He will work powerfully through you. That’s always His agenda. I mean, He worked in Paul; He worked in Peter. You look at what happened in China – He worked in people. External pressure, persecution, kick the missionaries out. You look at Korea, a pagan nation. You look at what’s happened in South America.
You look at the last ninety or one hundred years in Africa. At the current rate, there will be more black Christians than white Christians in the world, because of the movement and the power of God. But He always starts in us. He always puts His finger on what He wants to do in us.
And so, individuals have a breakthrough, like an apostle Paul. And then, a group has a breakthrough, like the Church. And the early Church breakthrough was to realize – can you imagine this? “You mean, God doesn’t just love Jews?” This was hundreds of years of – phooo! – breakthrough. “He cares about them?”
And after that breakthrough, then you see communities impacted. And as it’s rolled out in the New Testament, you go from the Jews to, then, the Samaritans, the mixed breed, and then, by chapter 10, it’s the Gentiles. And what you see is a spontaneous movement of God, and often centered around cities. City movements are birthed, and nations are transformed.
In 1857 – it’s an interesting story, and there are many more of these – but in 1857, morality in America was in the pits. If you know some of the research between 1857 to about 1890 or close to 1900, it went from about the average of seven kids, to three kids, because abortion was so widespread in America. And thanks, believe it or not, to the feminists and the American Medical Society, they said, “How we’re treating women –” Abortion was just basically birth control. Pushed on women.
And in 1857, with external pressures, and then internal deterioration, a group of people thought, Something needs to happen, and they started praying in New York City.
In that little prayer meeting, they just began, they took three requests, answers; three requests, answers; three requests, answers. And all I can tell you is, they made room for God. And they said, “You know, we got a big problem, and this country’s going down the tubes. And boy, there are all kind of issues, and it’s family issues and moral issues, and economic issues and…”
And pretty soon, something happened, and thousands of people were taking their lunch hour, all over New York, and praying. And then, pretty soon, it went to other major cities, and literally, statistically, millions of people came to Christ, and there was a reshifting and a rebalancing. Why? Because God worked in His people.
But when God works in His people, the litmus test is not that they get together and go, “Oh, I love Jesus now. We need everything Christian. I love being with Christian people! And let’s read the Bible more! And I want to be at church, not three times a week, but seven times a week! And in fact, we’ll have Christian bowling, and we’ll have Christian dentists and Christian doctors and Christian recording artists, and Christian everything. In fact, I want – I’ll Christian floss, with a Christian toothbrush made by Christians who make great toothpaste!”
And what happens is, the privatization and thinking that this movement of God is about our little world, and there are the bad people out there, and, somehow, that we are God’s people, totally misses everything God wants to do. That’s not a breakthrough.
The litmus test of when the Spirit of God supernaturally works is He’s orchestrating things in the world, sovereignly. And then, He begins to work in His people, dynamically. And then, His people get it, and they begin to deal with issues in their heart and their relationships, and then He works through them, supernaturally.
Notice God’s sovereign work through His people. Here’s what happens: There’s life! And since it comes, not because I’m trying hard, I’m going to church more, I’m praying harder – “Oh, God, please listen to me!”
It comes because we Christians realize the good in life isn’t out there; it’s from God. We start believing our own message: “It’s the Gospel; He’s merciful.” “I’m a Christian and I love God, and I have an eating disorder.” “I’m a Christian and I love God, and I’ve got one divorce in my past, and it looks like another one’s on the radar soon.” “I’m a Christian and I love God, but I have this secret habit on the internet.” “I’m a Christian and I love God, and I hurt my back and they gave me those pain pills, and now my back’s better, but the pain pills are still with me.” “I’m a Christian and I love God, but the – I’m working, like, ninety hours, and I’m telling myself that…”
And we feel shame, and so what most Christians do is try to project everything’s okay and fake it. Because down deep, you don’t believe God’s good. You don’t believe He’s patient. You don’t believe He’s tolerant. Unlike the prodigal, you don’t believe you have a Father that’s going, “Son, daughter, come home! I understand! You’re in the pigpen. You’re doing life your way, instead of My way. I’m not down on you.”
Every day, what did the father do? I wonder if he’s coming today. I wonder if he’s coming today. And so, Jesus, what He says to the Church, so He can work through it, He says, “Come. Come to Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden or stressed out and trapped with sin and shame and difficulty. I’m not down on you. All the judgment that I have, I’ve already placed on My Son. You’re forgiven. Come to Me.” And are you ready? “Don’t have some little emotional experience. Come unto Me, all of you that are laboring and stressed out and under pressure, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke.”
It’s a picture of the oxen, and Jesus says, I’m on this side. I want you to get your life hooked up with Mine, and I want you to let Me lead. I’ve got the power. In fact, your side of it will be light. My burden is light; it’s not burdensome. I want you to do marriage My way. I want you to do your finances My way. I want you to do your thinking My way. I want you to discover how much or how little or what to do with the media the way I would. Why? Because I’m good, Because I want to give you the best. And all the mistakes and all the junk – you don’t have to hide from Me. You don’t have to be in shame. I want to forgive and restore, just like I did when you first trusted Me. And then, I want to do life with you, and I want to empower you. And we need to erase some of those old tapes and some of those lies and some of the stuff that is just absolutely messing you up. Because I’m good. I’m merciful.
Do you know what mercy is? Do you know what the word means? It means, “you don’t get what you deserve.” We don’t believe God’s merciful. We think we’re going to come, and He’s got a big ruler, like, this cosmic ruler – Whap! Whap! Whap! Now, when we come, we’ve got to get honest. And He’ll change us. But you’ve got to come.
And when you do, here’s what happens to all those people around you. He’s not just working in the world, and He’s not just working in you – He starts working through you. And your focus – instead of all your energy on trying to find the good out there, and hiding in shame from God – is, neighbors are known and loved. Coworkers observe excellence, integrity, and concern. A community’s deepest needs are met. The poor get fed. HIV patients get a drive to their doctor. And you’re not concerned about how they got it, because you realize – you know what? – God, mercy and goodness is really as much for everyone else in the world, as it has been for you. Paul would say, “I was a chief among sinners.”
Some of us are so uptight about people’s lifestyle, or their behavior, or where they’re coming from, or the direction of this or that, that we’re not kingdom people anymore; we’re our people, and, “Don’t mess up our little world and our country,” like it’s ours. I’ve got news for you! The kingdom of God is near, and the kingdom is, “I want you to think about these people the way I do. They’re hurting; they’re lost. They have needs; they have hurts. Their relationships aren’t working. They’re in bondage. And I want to set them free and love them like I did you.”
And that begins to produce some things.
Research tells us, when a city sees about ten percent of the population converted to Christ, you begin to see a ripple effect. Then, educational, governmental, corporate, and entertainment cultures – they get transformed.
But they don’t get transformed by external power, and saying, “This is the way it’s going to be, because we’re going to say what happens in a country.” They get transformed, historically and biblically, because how we live transforms things from the inside out. The values are so attractive, it’s not “you Christians” against “us.” It’s “you Christians” meeting the deepest needs and living the life. “I wish I had a marriage like yours, the way He repaired it.” “I wish I had a relationship with my kids like yours.” “I wish my finances were in order, at a time like this, like yours.” “I wish I experienced peace the way I see you do.”
Rodney Stark, in a very interesting book that’s probably worth reading – he’s a secular author. I don’t know if he’s still a secular author, because this book, I think, rocked his world. He wrote a book called The Rise of Christianity.
He’s a sociologist, and he wanted to figure out – because it didn’t make any sense to him – what were the cultural or sociological issues that, in the first century, could begin with a few thousand people, and, by the fourth century – actually, 313 A.D. – have the majority of the population of the Roman Empire be followers of Jesus?
It was estimated there were about sixty million people in the Roman Empire at 313, and about thirty-three million of them were followers of Jesus. And there’s no book of Acts; there are no miracles; there’s no this, no that. All he does is, he’s looking at the research.
And as he looks at it, he realizes, in the first century, there are two epic plagues that wipe out, at times, a third of the whole population. And so, the elite run to the hills and run away, but there’s one group that feed people, nurse people, give them food, and, in many cases, lose their lives. At times, whole towns – two-thirds of towns – would be lost. This happened twice in the first century.
And out of all his empirical data, what he says is, the Christians loved people. The Christians cared. The Christians didn’t change the culture externally. What happened was, the people that were left were Christians, or the people that Christians loved, and when your family members have died, and these are the people that loved you and cared for you, there were great conversions.
Later on, in the next few centuries, Stark points out that there were three major cultural issues that destroy a culture. Number one, he said, there was no sanitation, and there was ethnic division. Number two, he said, the treatment of women was deplorable. And third, he said, we had a situation where, all around the known world, infanticide – children were routinely drowned.
And what the Church did is, they expressed the goodness of God, and they began to clean up and find cultural solutions that were creative to sanitation. They elevated women as coheirs of the grace of God and, in their relationships, treated them quite differently than a piece of meat to be passed around or to be used. And they began to pick up the children from the dumps and raise them themselves. And he said it was this internal magnification of the – he wouldn’t call it the “grace of God,” because he didn’t use those terms, or the “goodness of God,” but from a cultural perspective. Do you get – that’s what God wants to do.
Now, here’s what I want you to get. As I was studying and praying and thinking – I jotted this in my journal, because I wanted to kind of get a picture of how this works.
When the consequences of unrighteousness multiply, and God’s judgment, out of His compassion and sovereign plans, align, it’s time. It’s time for a major breakthrough.
One, He always calls individuals. Two, they first return to an accurate view, first and foremost, of His goodness and mercy that leads them personally to repentance. Three, dependency and humility follow, evidenced by cries for help and direction from God.
Four, people seek God, personally and corporately, in prayer and fasting, for forgiveness and direction. And that becomes the norm in their experience. Adoration and praise replace consumer-oriented prayers of, “Fix my life, and make me happy.” Fifth, a missional concern for God’s love for others, and the need to demonstrate God’s love for one another, break through religious activity into service outside the Church, and the relational support and unity with tangible expressions inside the Church that cross denominational and gender and ethnic boundaries.
God’s Spirit then prompts individuals to take specific steps of repentance and obedience – in their families, in their churches, in their communities – to reach into their neighborhoods and to their workplaces with an unusual boldness and sacrifice, often accompanied, then, by supernatural manifestations of God’s presence and power to authenticate His Word and His work.
It starts organically. It’s an office here, a family here, a neighborhood there. And, like a mustard seed, it begins to grow. God’s favor and hand in blessing is poured forth, resulting in renewal, revitalization, and a massive movement of people outside of Christ finding Christ as Savior, and a new level of commitment and love of those inside the Church. It’s God’s plan. God will do breakthrough. It starts with individuals, then groups, churches, cities, nations.
I believe God, if you look at our world, is ready for a breakthrough. I jotted down – would you like a quick picture of our world? Could it be ripe? Global instability; religious division; idolatry and corruption within and outside the Church; the sacrifice of children in slavery, abortion, famine, infanticide; moral decay; family institutions and family life deteriorating; a global one-world economy; debt; class divisions; the rapid acceleration of technology; uncertainty and rapid national change in regions, with major shifts of power.
The rise of radical Islam; the shift of global power to China and India; America’s decline in education, economics, innovation, and leadership.
You know what? That could be a depressing list. I don’t think it is. I think you and I are in a window of time where we are ripe for, not just individual and group and church and city breakthroughs. We’re ripe for a time of God doing a great work.
And by the way, He’s doing it. It’s happening in China; it’s happening in Korea, it’s happening in Africa, it’s happening in South America – it’s not happening in America. Why? My premise: We haven’t made room.
Okay, there’s the big picture. What would it look like, for you, what would it look like, for me, to make room in your heart, your life, and your relationships for God to break through? You ready? Two action steps – your personal pathway to breakthrough.
Action step number one – right out of Mark, right from the lips of Jesus. He said – what? Mark 1:15: “The kingdom of God is near.” What was He saying then? The kingdom – what’s the kingdom? The kingdom is, who’s King, Jesus, is here, with unlimited power, and His heart is full of goodness and mercy to do good.
So, how do you respond to the King, who wants to do good to you and to everyone around us? “Repent and believe in the good news!” The truth: God is good. God wants to bless you in all that you do. Do you believe that? He’s good. The first step to breakthrough is understanding and believing God’s goodness.
Here’s the question, though – put a star by this one. The question is, from where or whom do you believe the good in life will come? That’s critical! Ask yourself, from where do you believe – I mean, the good. What I mean, the good in life – satisfaction, fulfillment, great relationships, prosperity – however you define that. Or from whom?
And what I’m going to tell you is, the Bible’s really clear. There are two options: There is Jesus, and there is the world system. And I think if you would stop and pull back, and say, “My energy, my time, my thoughts, and my money – do I believe the good in life is, man, when we go public, when I finally have kids, when we remodel the kitchen, when I find the right girl, when I find the right guy, I’ll tell you what, if I can keep working out and, man, when I get really buff and look really sexy, then, then, then, then, then.”
The world offers idols. That’s all they are. And the idols say, “We’ll deliver for you! We’ll love you! We’ll make you famous! We’ll make you significant! We’ll make you happy!” And instead, they make you a slave, and they put you in bondage.
And God says, “Believe that I’m the source of goodness. Believe that I will give you the highest and the best. I’ll not withhold any good thing from those who walk closely with Me. I’ve got your best.”
And so, when you answer that question, now we’re hitting the pay dirt of where and why and how you need to make room, because action step number two is, make room in your life for God’s breakthrough. Isaiah 57:15, you might jot in the corner. It’s one of those interesting passages. It says that God can only dwell in freedom, and in all that He is, in two places.
And it says He dwells in the highest place in the heavens, that is absolutely pure and angels adoring Him, and also with the humble and contrite in heart. Those that have a broken spirit and a contrite heart, those that are desperately dependent, those, in Jesus’ words, that are poor in spirit, those who say, “God, I’m in desperate need of You.”
Those are the people that have made room, so that the Spirit of God and the love of God and the goodness of God can satisfy – didn’t Psalm 23 say: He’ll refresh, He’ll satisfy your soul? What money can’t do, what a relationship can’t do, what a house can’t do, what a new car can’t do, what a promotion can’t do, what going public can’t do, what looking younger can’t do, what a surgery can’t do, He says, “I’ll do.”
Well, how do you make room? The truth is, it’s the goodness and kindness, the tolerance and the patience of God that leads to repentance.
And then, in the – put the next line, put a parenthesis around it. Because it’s really just a definition of repentance. It’s a change of mind that always leads to a change of behavior. That’s how you make room. You realize, I’m thinking like this about God. I’m thinking like the prodigal son. I am in the pigpen, and I’m thinking, “Give me my money; I’m going to do my thing. And God, you know, I might want a little fire insurance, but I’ll do my thing, my way, when – and I’m going to do my own stuff.”
Repentance is the Dr. Phil question: How’s this working for you? “I’ve royally messed up my life.” “I’ve royally messed up my relationship.” “I’ve royally messed up my health.” “I’ve royally messed up my work career.” “I’ve royally messed up…”
And, unfortunately, most people think, then, I guess I need to work my way back to getting religious, and try really hard, and improve my morality, and someday, some way, somehow.
And over there, there’s a Father, this day, a Father – arms open, “Come, daughter. Come, son.” And when you see His goodness – no one wants to run toward someone who’s, you know, saying, “Okay, I’m glad you finally came. You are a jerk, okay? We got that down. And you’re an immoral jerk. And, by the way, you do this, you do this, you do this.” I mean, it’s, like, hey, I don’t need that. It’s all true. See, we do that to ourselves.
God will show us our sin, without condemnation. He’ll say, “All that’s true. I placed that on My Son. I love you, and I’m going to change you from the inside out. But you’ve got to make room for Me.”
And the way you make room for God is, number one, you’ve got to get rid of the competitors. And then, He gives us a very clear process.
Would you open your Bibles to James? I want to give you just a beginning, to start here. James chapter 4. The context is, this is the very first book of the New Testament written. So, mostly Jewish Christians, they’re being persecuted, they’re spread abroad. I mean, they’ve lost their jobs; they’ve lost their homes. Some have been kicked out of their family. Life is really hard.
Chapter 1 tells them, never forget where the good comes. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Regardless of your circumstances, the real good in life isn’t out there; it’s with God. And so, obey His Word. Don’t live in hypocrisy. Get a hold of your tongue.
Then, in chapter 4, He begins to speak to them, because some of them have made a new friend. Some of them have made a new friend that they think will deliver the good in life, and in verse 4, it says, “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend with the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you not know, or think that the Scripture says without reason that the Spirit is caused to live with jealousy because He intensely cares for you, but He says to us, and He gives more grace, and that’s why this Scripture says: ‘God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
And so, He says you’ve got to make room for Him in your life, and part of it is realizing the idols that we Christians worship, that are filling our life, have to get removed.
And then, are you ready? He tells us exactly how to do it. I want to give you the verbs. And what you’re going to see is, there are some verbs – they’re action words – and there are some promises.
Notice the first command – it’s overarching: “Submit therefore to God.” Write that down. It’s a military word – hupotasso – come under your commander. It’s a picture of a captain calling his troops. They say, “Yes, Sir.” First step to make room: You come over to God’s side, whatever it is you’re dealing with – whatever relationship, whatever addiction, whatever idol – and you say, “Reporting for duty. You are the good, kind God. Whatever You say, the righteous path, I will do life Your way. I’m taking on Your yoke. I don’t know what it is. I want You to know, I’m really afraid. But I want You to know that it’s not working for me. And You want to do the impossible.” Step one: “Submit therefore to God.”
And then, notice the next command: “Resist the devil and he’ll flee from you.” It’s a command. We’re talking about your soul! We’re talking about a battle that’s huge. And you will not be let go of lightly. And so, you don’t just say, “Reporting for duty,” and think, Oh, it’s going to be great. No, it’s going to get really hard. And so, you need to resist those lies: “You know what? You’ll be single all your life if you’re living together, and you move out.” “You know what? You’ll never rise in the company if you do that.” “You know what? I know everyone’s doing this, and they don’t report their taxes, and you’ll never build a business unless you…” Lie, lie, lie, lie! “Resist the devil and he’ll flee from you.”
And then, positive command: “Draw near to God; He’ll draw near to you.” Is this awesome? This is the prodigal daughter or the prodigal son, taking steps toward God, and before they get close, He runs. He will run to meet you. He wants you to have prayer times where you feel like He’s in the room. He wants to comfort you and love you and care for you and hold you.
Notice the next verb. He says, “Wash your hands and purify your hearts” – notice – “you double-minded.” We get our word schizophrenic. “Wash your hands” – it’s the activities. What specific activities are you doing, that you know are wrong? Stop it. You say, “I can’t.” Well, of course you can’t. You choose to stop it, and you get some help. But you take that step.
But He says it’s not just external activities that you know are wrong; it’s your motives in your heart. “Purify your heart, you double-minded.” See, their problem is the same as ours: “I want to be a good Christian. I want to go to heaven. I want to be deeply loved. I want God to bless my life. And my way, my stuff, my thought, my goals, my idol, my work, my family, my picture.” There is no middle ground with God. He won’t have competitors.
And idols can be your grandkids. Idols can be success. Idols can be your body. Idols can be money.
Idols can be the letters behind your name, or the letters you want behind your kids’ names. Idols can be the school they get into. It can be where they were on the traveling team, or their SAT scores.
And when you look at where your time and where your energy and where your focus and what really matters, that will tell you what you worship. And all He’s saying is, “You know? It ain’t going to be pretty later. Because they’re dead. They don’t give life. Make room for Me. Let Me love you.”
And so, then He talks about the emotional level. He says, “Grieve, mourn, wail. Change your laughter –” It’s a picture of, not, like, “ha-ha” laughter. It’s a picture of the sensual, foolish laughter.
You know, “Who cares, whatever.” And He says, “Turn it to mourning.”
So, this isn’t some little formula. This is heart to heart. This is on a certain day, at a certain time, preferably today, and you have a real gut check with God.
Last command: Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. I mean, that’s just – you know, “I give! I can’t do it!” And what’s the promise? “He will exalt you.” Literally, the word – He’ll lift you up. He’ll take you in His arms. He’ll fix things. He’ll turn things around. Overnight? No. Without effort? No. It’ll require courage.
And I will tell you what happens: When your God gets bigger, your problems get smaller. And He’ll work in you, and then He’ll work through you.