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The Route to Ruin

James 4:2-3
You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (NIVUK)

Disagreements and arguments leading to fractured relationships and then physical action are all too common. James now explains what is going on - from God's viewpoint. Before there is any hint of anger, a calculated process starts in the 'heart': which is the part of us where we decide what we want and develop a passion for getting it. Our minds work out a strategy for achieving our goal, but if that does not work out as we expect, then the 'heart' goes into top gear. The wrong instinct of covetousness is so strong that, when inhibition is suppressed, human beings are capable of the most dreadful actions: quarrelling, fighting and even killing.

That sequence was dramatically seen in the end-story of Judas Iscariot, which James knew well. He was the treasurer for 'Team Jesus', but he was also a thief – taking money which was given for the Lord's work (John 12:6). Eventually the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10) drove Judas to secure 30 pieces of silver in exchange for Jesus' death (Matthew 26:15). Having abandoned his Lord, Satan entered into Judas (John 13:27) to complete the deal. In the end, the bargain brought no satisfaction, only remorse and worse (Matthew 27:5-6). That narrative is a graphic warning of the cascade of evil which starts with wanting what we do not have.

Much of this evil trail can be prevented by asking God's opinion. The best question to ask God is, "Do You want me to have this?" If the answer is "No" then drop it - end of story! But many will not ask God that key question: instead they say, "Please get me what I want." But if the motives are wrong (even if the object of desire is not wrong in itself), God will not open His hand to give it. The obsession to get what we want for our own pleasure is not Christ-like (Romans 15:3). So the angry and frustrated covetous heart finds a way to grab what God does not give. It is a sad route to a potential cascade of wrong acts which have no divine approval and can never bring satisfaction.

How does this trail of motives and events play out at work? Of course, there is nothing wrong in making a fair profit, developing a business, increasing market share or extending the range/quality of professional services. In the same way it may be right to buy or extend a house and decorate it to your taste. But James wants us to hear the danger alarms when getting 'more' becomes an end in itself, and when that is achieved in ways that displease God. Although it is relatively easy to criticise our colleagues, these verses turn the spotlight onto our own responsibility for desiring, deciding and doing. So, why not put all your key personal and business goals to God and ask Him if they are right goals for you. If they are not, ask Him to help you deal with your internal fire of desire, repent of wrong desire and ask His wisdom about what you should be doing. If they are right, then ask Him to help you see them as serving Him and others, and not just as personal toys or ego boosters.

Almighty God. I am glad that You know my thoughts and desires as well as my actions. Forgive me for coveting what I do not have and allowing my passions to build instead of subjecting them to Your scrutiny. Help me to allow You the right to say 'no' to my wrong motives and passions; and give me the grace to submit to You. Give me wisdom to see how this plays out in my working life, so that I may be a real pleasure to you. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams