JAMES 4 – The spirit of Conflict
Over the past thirty years, my life hasn’t exactly turn out the way I’d expected. Yet I can still remember, as if it were only a short time ago, meeting several times with the other young couples who were also getting married around the time we were, at the same church. We were all asked to attend “marriage preparation” evenings and things got interesting when the subject turned to “submission”.
I’ve often wondered about those women and what happened to their fighting spirit when reality clashed with their lofty ideals. Certainly for me, I couldn’t keep up with the battle-line position that protected my wishes. My husband was too strong and the stalemate at every ceasefire was just as bad. At the end of the day, holding my bit of ground with a strong spirit of conflict, without even the help of God[a], was just plain stupid!
Our biggest fights have been over Australia. We covered our ground well before even beginning our relationship: He ask me if I was the sort of girl who wanted a house, garden and family (which he couldn’t provide and didn’t feel that domestic life was where God was leading him), and I asked him what country he’d prefer to live in – England or Australia. I was happy for a life without a house – ready to go anywhere that God may send us – and Mark preferred Australia over England, if we were to settle down. Based on that, it seemed to be a marriage made in heaven!
Everything was going well until we found ourselves based in England with our charity and I had to stay at home with the children while Mark’s lifework seemed to go on as before. What’s more, we’ve been based in England these 22 years. Someone forgot to put God into the equation: where HE would lead us: how HE would mould and shape our individual lives: and what picture would HE paint of the lives of now five people.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but don’t have…You covet but you can’t get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask God.” [v1-2] But the thing is, I did ask God. In fact, my prayers were relentless like a child kicking on the floor over something her Father won’t give her. “When you ask, you don’t receive, because you ask with wrong motives…” [v3]
Looking back, I knew in my heart that we couldn’t go. It never felt right or there were various reasons why the indicators were missing. Yet I still waged the war to uphold my rights. I had been duped. In good faith, I’d covered my bases before entering into the relationship. In time, however, the cards were stacked against me. It was unfair that my life wasn’t turning out the way I wanted it to.
I couldn’t even say that my life was bad. It was different. It wasn’t what I wanted. It wasn’t what I prayed for. I wanted to be “happy” but Scripture says the opposite:
“Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” [v9] “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” [v7]
I’d like to say that I came around to fixing my eyes on Father God and being content with where He’s placed me in this life, but it took the death of our son, and his burial in our local cemetery, before I woke up to my surrounding. Our biggest “thorn in our marriage” disappeared overnight like a wall washed away in a devastating flood. Now it’ll be hard for me to leave.
Reading v11-12 today, I’m reminded of my spirit of conflict and all the slander and judgements that Mark had taken from me all these years. Because God wouldn’t answer my prayers, Mark caught my anger. Now I don’t want to go anywhere else. There was a time when I’d make my plans [v13] but I didn’t know what was about to happen to our family. At the end of the day, the Lawgiver and Judge remains the one who is able to save and destroy [v12], while I remain here only like mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes away [v14] – just like our Mikey did.
Now I say: “If it is the Lord’s will, I’ll live here or there and do this or that.” [v15] I no longer boast in confident schemes because, being self-assured in the future (no matter how God-centred my plans may appear to be) is, at its core, evil. [v16] I just want to know the good that I ought to be doing today, and just do that [v17], because if I humble myself before the Lord, He will raise me up. [v10]
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[a] Proverbs 3:34