The Secret to the Christian Life

Do you still get angry? Do you fight with others in actuality or even in your own mind? Do you know why? I do. And I think you can stop. In fact, I think your whole life can change if you can understand two verses of the Bible. 

James 4:1-2 “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

The secret to the Christian life, that is, the answer to the question: How shall we then live, is given in these two verses.

James is writing to Christians in a church. They are fighting with each other pretty intensely over something or other. What is it? It doesn’t matter. They should not be treating each other this way, because they should not be feeling so murderous and angry. 

Why are they feeling murderous and angry? Because they have “passions” at war within them.  

This is “lusts” right? No. It’s the word for “pleasures,” the same word we get our word “hedonism” from. My translation:

“Why do you fight? You want pleasure, and your desire for pleasure is at war with another one of your desires for pleasure, AND, with someone else’s desire for pleasure.

So, desire for pleasure is wrong? Sure, if you don’t want to have any enjoyment of life at all. But is that what you want? Is that what God wants for you? You might be thinking: “No, God wants me to have pleasure in him.”

But how will you do that if you shut down your pleasure mechanism, which is what you’d have to do. You’d have to train yourself to be stoic. If you’re stoic, you won’t take the right kind of delight in God.

So, desire for pleasure must not be wrong, and I guess I can take pleasure in some things.

Ok, logically, that must be true. So it’s ok that we take pleasure in some things. So how is it that our pleasures get at war inside us and with others? 

I think it is because we have not done the hard work of prioritizing our life and values.

Pleasure is something I get when I gain something that I value: God, success, sex, cake, something beautiful, lot’s of things. The lack of pleasure comes from not getting those things when I’d like them, or losing them when I had them. It feels bad. It feels like pain, or depression. It should feel bad. This is not sinful.

So here’s how I do it: I set priorities logically based on what I perceive to be the facts of reality and causality. These are the things that I value, that is, the things that I act to gain or to keep. I make sure these things are the proper things for the way God has called me to live. 

It starts with my ultimate purpose: To enjoy and glorify God. He is my highest value. If I were thrown in a dirty dungeon to starve to death, I’d still have my highest value. You want your highest value to be the hardest thing for anyone to take away.

My penultimate purpose is my life: I believe in the biblical principle stewardship, so I believe life is not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. The most basic thing I have is my life. While I am on earth, I value staying alive and enjoying it if I can without corrupting my other values. Because of this, my next value is…

My health: I can’t do any of the important things of life if I not only don’t stay alive, but don’t have any strength or energy.

My work: I have to produce something in order to provide for me and my family. You could convince me that my family is a higher value than my work, but in the sense that I would tell a young man who wants to find a wife and have a family that he needs to get a job first, I put producing as a higher priority. If I don’t, all the Millers (that’s me and my wife and kids) die. I also put handling finances/investing in this category, and any mundane daily work as well. I put dishes, diapers, home repairs, and lawn work in this category. Work is producing some kind of order. But this would not justify workaholism, because my next value is…

My wife: Marriage has to be attended to. It is such an important part of joyful life and it brings attention and glory to God. I want my marriage to be fulfilling, and encouraging. Romance, connection, and cooperation are the key areas of focus and all equally important.

My Children: The kids come before any other relationships outside the marriage. I won’t put friends, church members, or extended family before my kids. The areas of focus in order of importance are: Their faith, love between us, character training, education. I suppose I might put my home in this category as well, because my home is the place for my family to live.

My church: For me, this is mixed up in my work, since I am a pastor, but I still try to think of my church as my church family separate from thinking of my job as the pastor of that church. Otherwise, worshiping on Sunday with my church family feels more like work and less like gathering with my brothers and sisters in the local expression of the worldwide Body of Christ. One is not restful, the other is.

Service to the community, the poor, and my geographical neighbors: This is not optional for Christians. We make time for it after the other things. If you are tempted to put this before the stuff above, seriously rethink that logically.

Extended family: They technically come before service to the community, but none of mine live close.

Leisure: Reading and playing the piano are my leisure activities. I don’t have time for any others (well, Mario Cart with my kids too), although there are things I would do if I had much more time (fishing, golfing, playing softball, singing in a choir).

Nice things: Having something I like is a bonus, but not a huge priority. I’d like a nicer car (I have 2006 Hyundai), but I value financial freedom more.

That’s the main stuff. To get any of it out of order will cause confusion, a war of pleasures/passions. For instance. I say I value family over reading. If I am trying to read more than I really have time to, and one of my kids is trying to get my attention, I might blow up on him. If I am aware of my value priorities, then I would get the proper pleasure from putting my book down, a lesser value, and talking to my child, a greater value.

Some of these values could seem like they are equal and need to be balanced as though they were. What I mean is, they are all important when it is possible to have them all in the course of your regular life. Work is really important, but things get messed when you cross a line into the other really important things in your life. So you balance intelligently based on your true and righteous values. You pick your values based on principles. If you currently don’t feel like making your health a high priority, then you need to readjust based on logic, not on what you feel like. If you don’t feel like putting your wife ahead of your friends, then you need to readjust your values based on logic, based on truth, based on what you thought was best when you were in your right mind with God with some space for visioning and planning.

Have you taken space for visioning and planning? Do it. Figure out what is important, and make those things important. Your “pleasures” will begin to align with your values in the right order. They won’t be at war with each other, because each of your values will know its proper place. Your emotions, the pleasure and pain mechanisms, will begin to serve you. This is the secret to never having “fights and quarrels.” It is the secret to a peaceful enjoyment of a powerful and productive life abundant. It is a life that glorifies God and brings a smile to the face of your good Father in heaven, who loves you very much.

Principles vs. Vision

What is your vision?  

What is your five year plan?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What are your goals and how do you plan to reach them?

These are the questions that make the world go round. Everybody who is anybody knows that you have to have a vision. Nothing has ever been accomplished that wasn’t first a goal.  Don’t you have to see what is wrong and lacking in your life so you can develop an idea of how to change it?  Then you can set some big, hairy, audacious goals to go out and achieve for the glory of God! 

I would respectfully like to challenge that notion and say that I believe that is not God’s way, but it might be satan’s. That is not how the Kingdom of Heaven operates, but it is how the dominion of darkness runs. How can you possibly know what you are to be in five years? “God told me.” No (respectfully) He didn’t. James 4:13-17 says,

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (ESV).

Unless, of course, God did tell you. But how would you know? There are several ways that a prophetic word of God could come, but none of them are “a sentence popped in my head while I was feeling: anxious, empty, insecure, fearful… just plain bad about myself and where I am right now.” 

An angel could show up (although you’d need to screen him based on Gal.1:8). There could be an audible voice, a burning bush, or an enormous hand writing on a wall.  There could be a dream, which would also need to be screened in some way. 

But for 99.99999999% of the time, God will not tell us the future. He will guide us and let us create it as we go. How will He guide us?  By His ways, His principles. His wisdom.

Biblical Principles

God’s ways are clearly communicated in Scripture by His commandments and the example set by His Son, Jesus. God tells us in the Bible how we are to live.  Jesus spent His entire ministry showing and telling about the Kingdom of God and how to live in it.

In addition, He fills us with His Holy Spirit when we are born again so that we can be guided by Him.  Every Christian has access to these two things: His Word, and His Spirit. So why do so many Christians have such a hard time getting by in life, and why do so many get obsessed with hearing God’s voice for their life? 

I think it is because following God, rather than satan is harder in many ways. Everything in our bodies and brain chemistry makes the way of the world more natural for us.  But the way of the Kingdom takes an ability to constantly push against that and trust God. 

Just like God, who identified Himself to Moses as I Am, we mostly are to exist in the present. James has it right. 

  • All such boasting about the future is evil.
  • The point is to know the right thing and do it. 

How then should we live?

God is I Am, not I hope to be.

Wake up in the morning, get into the presence of God and His Word, and then go throughout your day doing what’s right in your context as you continually practice His presence. He will present opportunities. He will provide. You cannot even imagine what He has in store for you, so you couldn’t possibly make it a goal to achieve. Just be and do, for the glory of God, by the power of God, thanking Him and trusting Him. 

Here are a few Biblical and practical principles that I follow. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.  Also, I welcome conversation about my thoughts on vision vs. principles.  

My Principles:

  • Truth – The outcome of (telling, believing, accepting, insisting on) the truth is the right outcome.
  • Relationships – All relationships are to be horizontal, not vertical except the relationship with God. God is higher, everyone else is an intrinsic equal. It is never right to manipulate or coerce any fellow image-bearers, even your own children.
  • Recognition – Seeking recognition is always bad, always comes from insecurity and feelings of inferiority, and it will never deliver.
  • Stewardship – It is not about what we have, but how we use it. God will add to he or she who proves faithful.
  • Love – The absence of love is only hate (1 Jn 3:11-12). Love brother, neighbor, enemy, everyone.
  • Leadership – You can lead a horse (or people) to water but it is a sin to make them drink. Jesus said the gentiles lord it over and exercise authority over those they lead but it shall not be so with you. (Mk 10:42) Leadership is by example and reason.
  • Abide – The most important thing at any given time in any place is to abide in Christ (Jn 15).
  • Justice – God is totally just and to be like Him, so should we be just. This means trading value for value in the marketplace, the church, and the home. This is why Jesus had to die for us, to satisfy God’s justice because, being God it is not mathematically possible for Him to forgive sins without the cross.
  • I Am – God is a being that exists primarily in the present and so am I. In His image I am a little “i am,” meant to act like Him, and create, produce, bring order for my sake, for His sake.
  • Mercy – I am free in Christ to be merciful, as God is merciful.
  • Thankful – Thankfulness is part of stewardship. It is misery to sit around wishing we had something else, or some different situation. Instead, thank God for any little sign of God’s grace in your life, and you will experience more of it.