Chapter 1

God has open hands.


I love how James begins his letter to the Jews, boldly declaring that God is a generous giver: “If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of the giving God, who gives to everyone liberally and ungrudgingly, without reproaching or faultfinding, and it will be given him.” (vs 5)

This is exactly how I think of God—as someone who has open hands, not clenched fists. Instead of trying to find ways to hold us back or keep us down, He is always thinking of new ways to be generous to us, to give us good things.

As James continues, he gives a startling example of this: “The brother who is poor may be glad because God has called him to the true riches. The rich may be glad that God has shown him his spiritual poverty. For the rich man, as such, will wither away as surely as summer flowers.” (vs 9-10)

It is our tendency to divide people based on wealth, to subconsciously categorize people as “the haves” and “the have-nots.” But James says that God has blessings and riches for both, and in Christ, both the rich man and the poor man are equal.

How? Because true riches are in heaven. The poor believer, James says, should understand that and rejoice that he is spiritually wealthy. And the rich believer, James says, should rejoice that God will help him understand that all of his earthly riches amount to nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Thus, the poor man may rejoice in his humility, and the rich man may rejoice in his humbling. Both are gifts given by a generous God.

And that is but one example. Indeed, James sees God’s hand in every gift: “So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (vs 16-17)

I love the imagery of gifts cascading down from heaven like a giant waterfall of blessings. Yes, God has open hands, and out of them pour a Niagara Falls of every beneficial gift imaginable. No matter who we are or where we are, He has tailor-made blessings just for us—rivers of gifts meant to help us grow, mature, and prosper as His people.

He will never withhold anything that will benefit us!

Chapter 2

God wants trust, not belief.

After reading this chapter of James, I think we might need to come up with a different colloquial term for Christians. While they are often referred to as believers, perhaps it would be better to use the term trusters. For, if James makes anything clear in this chapter, it’s that simply believing doesn't have much to do with faith (or trust, as the Greek word translated faith connotes).

Here’s what James said: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (vs 17-19)

James uses the example of the demons to expose the fallacy of faith without works. For the demons certainly believe in God, in the sense that they acknowledge that He exists, but their belief has never developed into faith—because they don’t trust God. If they knew Him enough to trust Him, they would know that they have no reason to shudder.

God is not someone to be afraid of.

But the demons don’t really know God, and they don’t want to know Him, either. As such, then, their belief in Him is totally worthless, for what they believe about Him is completely without foundation, and it only serves to make them afraid of Him. Stuck in that condition, there isn't much God can do for them.

But those who can be said to have true faith are those who not only “believe in” God, but those who have come to know Him so well that they trust Him. This is why James says that faith and works must go together—not because our works have anything to do with our salvation, but because the kind of faith which saves is also the kind which changes the heart and alters our actions.

So, even though we've used the label for so long, it’s not just enough to be a believer. Even the demons are included in that category! God doesn't want people to believe in Him; He wants people to trust Him.

That’s when the healing begins.

Chapter 3

God is the Word.

I thought the way James wrote about the tongue in this chapter was very interesting: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (vs 6-10)

At first, I wondered where James was headed with his treatise on the tongue. Perhaps, I thought, he had been the butt of some cruel jokes! But then, in verses 9 and 10, he revealed his main concern—that it is our tongues which reveal our double-sided nature. We say one thing when it suits us and another when circumstances are different.

We don’t always speak with integrity.

Unfortunately, this is an ever-increasing problem in our society. Turn on the television, listen in the grocery store, or even try to sit through a political speech—our talk is often foolish, vulgar, and empty. Truth is exchanged for political correctness. Tact is exchanged for obscenity. We’ve lost the art of decorum.

As I was pondering all these things, it occurred to me that it is no coincidence that God is also known as the Word. For if it is by our words that our true selves are exposed, then it is also by His Word that God’s true self is revealed. And it is fascinating to discover what we can learn about God by His words:

  • He doesn't care about being politically correct.
  • He tells the truth—even when it’s painful.
  • He speaks softly whenever He can.
  • He also raises His voice when necessary.
  • He never uses words to hurt someone.
  • He never says what He thinks people want to hear.

For all these reasons (and more), we can fully trust in God’s Word. It’s accurate, it’s timely, and even when it hurts, it will produce a harvest of blessings in our lives. He is the ultimate example to look to when we want to tame our tongues.

He is the Word.

Chapter 4

God is in today.

What is it like to live today? I must confess, I don’t really know. Even though I try to savor each day because, intellectually, I know that today is all I have, I am so conditioned to think ahead, plan ahead, and prepare for the future that today tends to get lost in the mix.

Honestly, sometimes it feels like today is simply a stepping stone to tomorrow.

But the hard truth is, there is no tomorrow. Even when you get to “tomorrow,” it will be today. There is nobody in tomorrow. It is an entirely theoretical construct. That means you can’t carry on relationships with anyone in the past or future. Relationship is entirely within the realm of today—and that also includes relationship with God.

As James put it: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (vs 13-15)

Today is all you have. That’s just the reality. You don’t know if you will be here tomorrow, next year, or five years from now. A great number of people woke up this morning not expecting this would be their last day on Earth. If they had known, do you think they would have done anything different today?

There is certainly nothing wrong with making plans for the future . . . as long as you don’t start believing that the future is guaranteed to you. Surely, a future eternity is guaranteed to you, but none of us know how much time that will include in this life. Thus, until the day Jesus comes back to take us home, we really should live (as much as possible) for today.

Don’t let the ordinary moments pass you by.

Don’t let small wonders escape your notice.

Don’t forget to be grateful for all the things you normally take for granted.

And don’t forget that God is in today. He can’t meet you in yesterday, and He can’t find you in tomorrow. But He’s eager to see you today. Why not take a moment to share your plans with Him and listen to what He has to say about them? He may just have a plan of His own that He’d like to share!

Chapter 5

God's richest blessings may come in poverty.

If you’re ever looking to while away some time, do a Google search for “the misfortune of lottery winners,” and you’ll find some fascinating and unbelievable stories. I imagine that most everyone, at least once in their life, has dreamed of winning the lottery. To be suddenly freed from the constraints of necessary work seems like it would be so wonderful . . . but it can be anything but.

Even those who dream of all the good things for others they could do with such winnings haven’t managed to escape the “curse” of lottery winnings. One man, Jack Whittaker, who intended to do good for others—and actually did a lot of good with the majority of his $315 million prize—still says he eventually regretted winning the lottery: “You know, my wife had said she wished that she had torn the ticket up. Well, I wish that we had torn the ticket up too. . . Family is what is dear,” he said. “I don’t know where it’ll end. But you know, I just don’t like Jack Whittaker anymore. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I've become.”

I’m haunted by that last statement: I don’t like what I've become. No wonder so many of the Bible writers warned their readers about the pitfalls of wealth: “And a final word to you arrogant rich: Take some lessons in lament. You’ll need buckets for the tears when the crash comes upon you. Your money is corrupt and your fine clothes stink. Your greedy luxuries are a cancer in your gut, destroying your life from within. You thought you were piling up wealth. What you've piled up is judgment.” (vs 1-3)

Now, I feel it is important to point out that there is nothing wrong with wealth in and of itself. God Himself had plenty of rich folks among His friends—such as Abraham, Job, Zaccheus, Joseph of Arimathea, Matthew, and Barnabas—and it would seem that wealth didn't ultimately have a corrupting influence over them. However, that appears to be the exception rather than the rule. As Jesus warned many times, we must regard riches as a potentially significant obstacle to entering the Kingdom, because for most people, they entice us to put our trust in material things rather than in God.

That’s the problem with wealth—not the money itself, but the potential power it has over those who become entangled with it. Certainly, there are some who have the ability to handle wealth in a spiritually-acceptable way, but many do not, and though I have often dreamed of not having to worry about finances, I wonder who or what I would become if I was suddenly a millionaire.

In our society, we tend to have a lot of debates over the rich versus the poor. We fight wars on poverty, trying to help the “have-nots” to acquire more things and get a larger slice of the pie. It is humbling, then, to consider that God’s richest blessings may actually come in poverty. It is still hard for us to believe that those who “don’t have as much as we do” might actually have more than we do.

Even in our desire to help (which is both noble and Biblical), we are still in danger of getting caught up in viewing material things as the answer to people’s problems. And while money may certainly solve a lot of problems, it only takes a quick Google search to discover that it can cause a whole host of other problems.

What matters to God isn't the balance of your bank account, but the condition of your heart. Whether you’re “rich” or “poor,” do you want what others have? Do you spend your time trying to figure out how to get more, believing that “if I just had this much,” life would suddenly be okay? Do you share what you have? Do you think others should share more with you?

Do you find security in your paycheck? Or do you find security in your God?

No matter how much or how little you have, don’t get sucked into the material vortex of this world. God has His own definition of wealth, and often, His richest blessings come packaged in poverty. I dare say that many lottery winners have learned that lesson the hard way.