“Every gift of God is to be enjoyed as from God and not as a god.”1
Twice when I sold houses, I struggled to let go of them. They had clearly been arranged by the Lord and I doubted whether He could ever match His provision again. In some ways I had turned a good gift into an idol. Most recently it was the large, fertile garden and the respectable neighborhood. I loved it, loved it, loved it!
Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:14-17)
The progression from good gifts to gods is subtle but common. Perhaps it happens because we suspect that God’s goodness is limited to rare booster shots for our faith. And we think that, if only we are careful, we can make the memory last. But we’re afraid to presume there will be more. So we wrap our bony fingers tight around His blessings.
James tells us that the Father of lights gives perfect gifts; He does not tempt us. However, lust snatches God’s gifts to us and carries them off into the darkness of sin. God created us with a range of desires and legitimate sources of satisfaction. Lust is diseased desire; a malignant distortion of healthy enjoyment. Lust finds only fading satisfaction, outside the healthy boundaries that God sets. Lust suggests a shortcut to “heaven”; it leads only to hell. Our deepest satisfaction can only come in His presence.
Houses are relatively easy to release. Positions, popularity, ministry opportunities, and relationships are much harder to keep within healthy boundaries. We struggle to know where the boundaries lie. What is God’s vision for a healthy relationship with someone we like? What does God want to do or say during and after that stimulating conversation with friends that you wish didn’t have to end?
How do I avoid getting carried away with something good? Can I enjoy things without craving more and more to feed the escaped monster of insatiable desire? Sometimes I’m tempted to decline God’s good gifts because I feel incapable of avoiding the last two problems.
We need wisdom. These situations are opportunities to apply James’ advice from earlier in his letter (James 1:5-6). Ask God in faith for wisdom. Ask with the understanding that God wants to show us the high ground of enjoying His gifts in a godly way. Wisdom illuminates the plan that God has for the gifts He gives us. Wisdom brings the gifts into God’s dim light and holds them loosely (God can easily replace them with better). Wisdom insists on staying in God’s presence and obeying His will while we enjoy His blessings as a secondary bonus.
Jesus, the embodiment of wisdom,2 modeled this. The Gospels give no suggestion that Jesus did not enjoy life, especially relationships. He feasted. He joked. He hung out with ordinary people. But every good gift in life sat loosely in His open hands. He focused on the will of His Father. He readily withdrew to be with His Father so that when He was with people He could give them the very best.
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