Isaiah 55, James 4:1-10
October 26, 2014
Somewhere in my many boxes of “things,” I have a little wooden plaque that I got when I was in college. On it was the second half of James 4:2. “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” Those words have come back to me many times over the years.
In our scripture passage from James 4, James is talking about attitude of prayer. He’s saying that people sometimes use prayer in order to “get.” After all, Jesus himself said “Ask anything in my name and I will do it.” (John 14:14) But over the years, some have thought that meant we can have anything we want. But others have said, “No. Don’t be ridiculous! You can’t say, ‘God, I pray for a million dollars,’ and then you’ll get it.’” However, short of the exaggeration in that statement, they still feel somehow entitled to “get” when they “ask.”
Still, there have been some over the years who have said “name it and claim it!” Have you ever heard that before? It’s as though, with the proper formula, a person can “direct God’s hand” in that way. That has always bothered me. I’ve said for years that for some, God is the great “mail order house in the sky.” You ask for things and he gives them, and that’s pretty much it. In today’s language, he’d be like EBay! You can get everything you want, as long as you have the right procedure, and certainly the right “user name and password!” (Sometimes I think the next time someone asks me for a user name and password, I’m just going to scream!)
Well, I think James clarifies all this rather nicely. Here, in the fourth chapter, he explains the attitude and the reason for prayer. And notice how he puts it in perspective with the greed and desire of the world. And it’s kind of scary! He says those things – greed and desire, are the reason we have wars. “You desire and do not have, so you make war!” Now, maybe that’s a bit simplified. But there is some truth there. And what he’s trying to say is that those things have no place in your prayer life! And there’s truth there, too, isn’t there! God isn’t just a mail order house in the sky!
The other thing I want you to notice here is that, after the wonderful, encouraging sounding words found on my little plaque, “you have not because you ask not,” James goes on to say, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions, you unfaithful creatures!” That doesn’t sound so uplifting any more, does it! But the sentiment is still there! Yes, I think he’s implying that you don’t ask enough. But I think he’s also warning us about asking “wrongly.”
Putting all that together, it’s pretty obvious that he’s telling us that prayer is not simply a means of “getting.” It’s not just about “asking.” Prayer, he would tell us, is a way of being in relationship with God. You’re not “in relationship” with the guy at the mail order house, are you? He just take’s the order. And these days “he’s” often just a computer!
So, James would ask us, “How do we expect God to do anything for us when we’re only asking for stuff?” “How do we expect God to do anything for us when we aren’t really in touch with him for anything else?” When we think about what Jesus said, prayer “in his’ name” is not part of some formula or “password.” It’s not some magical thing we say if we really want to get something. Prayer “in Jesus’ name” is prayer that is all tied together with our being “in his image.” And the idea is, that we get whatever we ask when we are in relationship with him, The “whatever you ask I will do” happens when we are in alignment with his will and his purpose. As one author put it, “When that happens, when we are “in tune” with him, we find that what we ask for changes!”
So, do you ask? Do you pray? And how do you pray? And “How does this relate to Stewardship?” (I hear you ask!)
Well, as you know, part of being good stewards is pledging to be good stewards. If you were the actual steward of someone’s estate, you would make agreements to manage it certain ways. That’s essentially what we do here. We make pledges. We make commitments. We make agreements. And we try to keep them as best we can. Now, certainly things can change. We understand that. But our pledges are guidelines we set for ourselves. That’s what our pledges do for us. They help us to stay on track.
Well, as Mr. Harold and his committee have tried to get across to you, we make those kinds of agreements, not only with our “treasure,” but also with our “time” and our “talents.” That might be in the form of the “agreement” we make to serve on a Church board or on a committee. It might be the “agreement” we make to care for a garden around the property. It might be the “agreement” and the “pledge” we make “not to neglect the meeting together,” as Paul said in Hebrews 10:25. Church attendance is Stewardship.
The idea is that those are all things that we consider as part of our Stewardship. Well, there is also a certain stewardship of the spiritual things in our lives. And one could say they permeate all other forms of stewardship. When the spiritual part of us is good, we are in the best place to be good stewards!
So then, our theme this year is “Stewardship of God’s Grace,” from I Peter 4. We are stewards – that is, we are “keepers” of the Gospel of Grace! I hope you see how amazing that is! We work for the kingdom – we are stewards of the kingdom – not only in physical ways, but also in spiritual ways. And, if you remember, we do all that as a “Response to Grace,” as we said last week, “Not as a means of obtaining it.”
So stewardship is pledging. And today, I’d like to ask you to make another kind of pledge. Today I’d like you to make a pledge to pray. And this is going to be something that’s just between you and God. So you won’t be turning this in. But, pure and simple, I want you to make a pledge to pray. I’d like you to make a time commitment for prayer. I’d like you to make a commitment of how often you will pray. And I’d like you to make a “content” commitment. In other words, I’d like you to make a commitment as to what you will pray about. And among that content, I ask you to make a commitment to pray for yourself, for your friends and family, and – specifically today – for your Church!
To that end! I have something for you. (I love doing this!) Call this our “Stewardship Prayer Card.” This is something that can be a reminder for you about the “Stewardship of Prayer.” It also contains the phrase I said last we, that “Good works are a response to Grace, not a means of obtaining it.” A number of you have asked for that.
So take this, make a pledge, sign your name, and most important, take it home and put it (where?) on your refrigerator, or on your mirror, or on the dashboard of your car. Or if you’re really adventurous, do like the ancient Hebrews did. Bind it on your wrist, or tie it across your forehead! Again, this is between you and God!
So, think of the words on that little plaque. “Ye have not because ye ask not.” Make a stewardship commitment to prayer. And may you know the relationship, the constant and growing communication with God every day. And to him be the glory and praise, now and forever, world without end, Amen.
Eternal God, we thank you that you are with us and that you watch over us every day. Help us to remember to talk with you. Help us to bring to you our concerns, our joys, our sorrows, and our laughter. Help us to know you share all of those things with us, and that you rejoice in our presence with you. Watch over us as a congregation. Strengthen us, upbuild us, edify us, as we share this life together with each other, and with you. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom, Amen.