Look At What You’re Doing

The book of James is my favorite book of the Bible.

My loving brother, who makes fun of me for not reading that much or that fast, would probably tell you that it’s because James is fairly short at only five chapters. But that’s not it.

I love the voice James uses throughout his book. A potentially dorky thing to say, but hear me out. I’ve found that every translation of James I’ve read (which, granted, isn’t many) James’ overall tone is very wise yet sassy in places. He sounds like a man who knows what he’s talking about because he’s experienced a lot. He’s passing on his knowledge in a direct way that the common man would understand. In some ways, reading James reminds me of sitting down and listening to a cool, older man talk – someone like my dad or a few Philosophy and Religion professors I had in college. And I find it amazing that the tone has managed to endure and transcend so many translations. It says something marvelous about how James originally wrote it and what he originally wrote.

I could list all the verses I like out of James, but it’d be easier on both of us if you just read the entire book. I’ll give you my top three favorite parts of James. James 1:17 is just beautiful imagery regardless of what translation I read it in. As I’ve discussed before, I have a history of letting my words get me in trouble, and James has some great things to say about that. Finally, James talks about proving your faith through actions, which is very important.

James 2:14-20 (NLT) says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.’ You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”

I’ve heard this scripture used to argue that salvation can be earned through actions, but that’s not what James is getting at here. James is not saying that doing good things creates faith; he’s saying that doing good things is a product of having faith. People don’t volunteer at a soup kitchen and wake up the next morning a Christian because of it. However, someone might choose to demonstrate their faith that way. (It’s not to say that all people who do good things are Christians. I’ve met loving Atheists, kind Buddhists, and good-hearted Muslims. While good deeds are a vehicle to demonstrate faith, that’s not their exclusive function. One can be a good person yet not be a Christian.)

James seems pretty adamant that faith without works is useless and/or dead. He says it a couple of times in this scripture. And he makes a very compelling argument. If I was cold and hungry and someone said, “See ya! Oh, and good luck!” I wouldn’t say, “Wait! What’s your belief system? I want to follow it.”

We hear it so much, but it’s the truth: the world kind of sucks. If our actions don’t stand out in a positive way from everything else that’s happening, God’s not in it, which implies that our faith is terrible or nonexistent.

Claiming something and proving it are extremely different.

It may sound odd, but we prove our love for God and our faith in Him by our service to others. I could quote verse after verse from the Bible where Jesus or God or someone else says to love others, to be kind to them, to help people out. But for the sake of time and space, I’ll leave you to look those up on your own if you so wish. So when we serve others, we’re obeying God, which is cool and is a priority. The great thing about service is that it’s more than obedience and us just being nice. It’s an opportunity for others to see God in us.

If I were to see someone doing something fantastic for people out of nothing but the love in his or her heart, I would want to find out what the source of that love is.

Sunday, Alan said, “How I serve and love is a direct reflection of what Jesus has done for me.”

It called to mind another scripture that I’m rather fond of. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to eat dinner with a Pharisee, and Jesus takes up the offer. He goes to the guy’s house and eats. This woman with a not-so-spotless reputation finds out and joins the party. She kneels down, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, showers His feet with kisses, and puts some expensive perfume on His feet as well.

Of course, that gets the Pharisee’s robes in a bunch. He mumbles under his breath, “If this man was who He says He is, He’d know who was touching Him!”

Jesus tells the Pharisee a story of two people who each owed a guy money, one 500 pieces of silver and the other 50. Neither of them could pay him back, so he cancelled the debts (I wish the government would have such mercy on me with my student loans). So Jesus asks, “Who do you think loved him more?”

The Pharisee responds, “I guess the one who owed the most.”

Jesus tells the Pharisee that he’s right and proceeds to point out every gift and courtesy that the woman at His feet gave Him that the Pharisee didn’t. In verse 47, Jesus says, “I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love” (NLT).

Consider how much love God has shown you. Now consider the love you’re showing God and others. Are you frugal with your love, time, and efforts or are you giving them freely and, if possible, lavishly?

God is a God who gives back, who’ll fill you up to the point of spilling over. If you give love, God will give it back to you with interest. So you’ll be able to give even more and grow. And the more love that’s going around, the better off the world will be.

By Carrie Prevette

Anywhere, Anytime, Anyway

I used to think that worship was something that was done exclusively in church. I thought it was just another part of Sunday morning – wake up, go to church, worship, listen to a sermon, go home.

Then as I got older, I started to understand what worship actually is. It’s more than just singing along to a song. It’s more than lifting up one or both hands. While we can do both of those in church and in moments of personal, private worship, that’s not it.

What makes it worship is the thought and emotion behind it. Just because words of praise are coming out of my mouth doesn’t mean I’m worshiping God. If I know a song well enough, I can sing every single word perfectly without even thinking about it. Seriously, I can just go on autopilot. My mind could be somewhere completely different and I’d never miss a note. But if I feel overwhelmed by God’s love and my desire is just to honor Him for a moment, that is worship.

Not only can we worship outside of church, but we should. When you think about it, if the only time we feel the need to love and honor God is once or twice a week, something’s off anyway.

When I think about God, it’s not hard for me to be blown away by Him. He’s done so much for me, He’s stuck by me, and He’s head over heels in love with me. To be honest, if anyone has tried and tested God’s love, it’s me. My flimsy faith, my wavering devotion, my questioning, my spiritual mood swings would’ve frustrated any other being to the point of them ditching me. But not God.

You see, I have a desire to worship God when I focus on God.

And what happens when I don’t?

I know we talked about this a lot during the Idols series, but I’m going to touch on it again as it is relevant here and worthy of repeating. The thing about the human heart is that it always feels the need to cling to something. The object that receives most of our attention and affection is what we worship. It could be anything – a sports team, a singer, success, your spouse, your job. Many things make up our personalities and our lives, and that’s great. We should hold the aspects that make us happy close to us. But none of them should mean more to us than God.

Ultimately, nothing can make us happier than God. The love and grace of God goes deeper than something as circumstantial as mere happiness. It’s a source of joy. Joy, at its simplest, is substantial, long-lasting happiness. It isn’t moved by your situation or present state of mind. It’s a sense of peace and contentment that is rather difficult to take away.

Sounds like God’s kind of thing anyway, yeah?

Alan said Sunday, “Unconditional joy leads to unconditional worship.” If the joy we find in God is unconditional – meaning that He is our first and constant source of peace, love, and fulfillment through everything – then we will be able to worship Him no matter what.

If you still turn to God to get you through when you’re:

  • battling depression,
  • sitting at the bedside of a sick loved one,
  • filing for bankruptcy,
  • heading to the unemployment office,
  • going through a divorce,
  • repairing a relationship,
  • feeling like your world’s falling apart,

then chances are that you have that unconditional joy and are capable of unconditional worship.

You’ll get down and out. You won’t always be happy with God or what’s going on in your life. Having joy doesn’t always mean that you feel like you’re floating in the clouds. It just means that you have something there to pick you up and hold you when you don’t want to go on anymore.

“Carrie, that’s great, but I don’t really know how to worship. Like, what do I do?”

That’s an important question.

I once read this book by the lead singer of Casting Crowns, Mark Hall. In it, he talked about this woman who would look at him with a mad face when he led worship on Sunday mornings at church. I mean, she would just mean mug him week after week. Then one day after service, after keeping that exact same look on her face during worship, she told him how she was really touched by the music that morning. It kind of shocked him. He never would’ve guessed it based off of her actions and reaction to the music.

Did she sing along? No.
Did she raise a hand? No.
Did she smile? No.
Did she worship? Yes.

It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do. It certainly doesn’t matter how it looks. If you’re not a good dancer but you want to dance, move to your heart’s content. Feel more comfortable standing and clapping? Feel free to do so.

And to worship in your private life? Read the Word of God. Talk to God. Talk about God. Do everything to glorify God. That’s what it means to worship God with your life: realizing it’s all about God and acting on that realization.

Do you like to paint? Play sports? Play an instrument? Write? Whatever it is that you do, reflect God through it and point it all back to Him – the compliments, the awards, the smiles people have on their faces because of it. When you glorify or magnify God in any way, that’s a form of worship.

Your worship is as unique as you are and as personal as your relationship with God is. No one is directly involved in your worship but you and God. It doesn’t matter how or when you worship. All that truly matters is that you do worship and that God is the recipient of your worship.

By Carrie Prevette

With Honesty and Thanksgiving

My favorite person to hear pray is a lady by the name of Nancy Mullins.

She attends a church that I used to go to, and she is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Whenever she would pray for me, I would just sit and listen to her. Nothing but loving words and genuine feelings came out. I felt comforted. I felt so much love. And it felt like God was standing or sitting right there with us, hanging on to her every word. She wasn’t worried about impressing me or God. She didn’t sound like a thesaurus or a grand guest speaker in a packed arena. She sounded like someone who cared about me and who knew how to get in touch with God.

Honestly, that’s all I care about when someone prays for me. If you want to sound eloquent and poetic, that’s cool. Go for it. The English major in me will love it. But your prayer, regardless of how it sounds, has to be honest and genuine. It won’t move me if it’s not, and most importantly, it won’t move God if it’s not.

I find it odd how people have an issue with being honest with God. I don’t really understand the hesitation. Do you think you’re going to tell God something He doesn’t know and shock Him? Do you think you’re going to ruin the way He sees you? Do you think you’re going to hurt His feelings? Let me tell you something that God has shown me recently: if God didn’t want you to be honest about it, you wouldn’t be going through it. When you talk to God, you’re just telling Him things He already knows. He’s glad to hear it though. It’s like when you know your friend is going through a hard time and then they open up to you about it. You’re not surprised at what you’re hearing, but you’re glad they’re telling you about it. They’re confiding in you, they’re showing they value you, and they’re acknowledging that they know you care about them. That’s exactly how it is when we pray honestly to God.

And if you’re concerned with your honesty causing God to love you less, you’re wrong. God and I both love you, but you’re just wrong. There is nothing, not anything, not a single thing in this universe that you could do to make God love you less. Sometimes that’s hard to remember or even accept, but it’s the truth.

We have some outdoor cats at my house, and one of them is a little odd and very spastic. The other cats like human contact; he does not. He doesn’t really hang around much. (He could live a double life for all we know. He could be an agent like Perry the Platypus.) But when he’s around, he cracks me up, so I love this cat. Plus, I tend to have a special place in my heart for weird beings and things.

Some of you may think I’m making this up, and some of you will fully believe what I’m about to tell you, but I looked at this cat one day and said, “My love is like the love of Jesus. It’s there whether you want it or not.”

And it’s true that the love of God is there whether we want it or not. Whether we feel we deserve it or not and whether we accept it or not.

So why is it so hard for us to communicate with God? Because that’s exactly what prayer is – communication between us and God.

I will be the very first person to admit that I don’t pray as much as I should. It’s a terrible truth, but a truth nonetheless. I guess at the end of the day, as I lay in bed and feel happy as sleep comes to greet me (For those of you who don’t know, I love to sleep, and I’m very good at it.), praying just feels like a chore. A little superfluous almost. God knows what’s happening in my life and I’m tired, so why tell Him when I could just go to sleep already? And I’ll chat with God whenever I need something, but it seems like I hardly ever pray just to be talking to Him.

That sounds lame, and it is. How ridiculous is that? The Creator wants to talk to me and listen to me, and I won’t give Him the time of day (or night, obviously). I have the chance to converse with, vent to, hear from, and receive advice from the One who loves me most, more than anyone or anything else in this world loves me, and I repeatedly refuse it.

It’s just that simple – talking to God. People have this remarkable ability to take the simplest notions and concepts and turn them into something more complicated. God wants to hear from you. It doesn’t matter how big or small the subject is. It doesn’t matter how fancily you speak. It doesn’t matter if you think it or say it aloud. God just wants you to come to Him.

Imagine if you were in a room full of people, including your very best friend. You go up to them and say hi. They respond with a hello and ask if you could get them some punch. You gladly go get it and bring it to them. They mumble a quick thank you then walk off. You see them interact with awful people. You see them talk to people you know only want to hurt them and their heart. You see them talking to other friends of theirs and yours. But they don’t talk to you for the rest of the night and just leave like you were never there.

I don’t know about you, but if that happened to me, I would cry. Really. I would be so depressed and wonder why they didn’t like me anymore and try to remember what I could’ve possibly done to make them hate me. I would be a mess.

But that scenario isn’t dissimilar to what we put God through when we don’t pray, especially for extended periods of time. While He doesn’t have a meltdown like I would, it doesn’t exactly put a smile on His face.

Often when we do pray, it’s purely us asking God for things. That isn’t always bad. If you have problems, God wants you to turn to Him. He encourages it. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” But if the biggest problem you have is that you’re not driving your dream car, you might want to change your tune and your prayer a little bit.

Colossians 4:2 (NLT) says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” When you pray, is your heart one of “God, give me this,” or “God, I know You’ve done so much for me already, but please let me ask for one more favor”? It makes a world of difference in your prayers and in your life.

And prayers of nothing but thanksgiving should also be a part of our prayer lives. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not, but one thing I love about the book of Psalms is it covers such a range of emotions and actions. The psalmists weren’t afraid to ask God where He was or why things weren’t going their way. But there are also psalms that just magnify and glorify God and psalms of praise. If there can be entire psalms dedicated to praising and thanking God, some coming from a man after God’s own heart, surely we can send up a few prayers of the same nature. It’s not all about us; it’s about God, and only asking Him to give us things without thanking Him for them seems a bit skewed.

I’ll close by expanding on some advice that a nice lady at an antiques store gave me a couple of years ago. Two friends of mine and I walked into this little shop in Maggie Valley, and we were just browsing. While we were in there, we chatted with the lady who was working there. She was very sweet, and I think it made her happy to see such young girls interested in such old things. As we were leaving, she said, “Bye, girls! Remember to say your prayers at night.”

It was a refreshing reminder. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received, especially from a stranger. I would like to encourage you to not only say your prayers at night, but to say your prayers anywhere and anytime you feel compelled to. When you wake up, while you’re driving to work (just please don’t pray with your eyes closed), on your break, during halftime of the basketball game. It’ll make a world of difference, and you may not even really know why. Maybe just the act of communicating with God does a soul good.

By Carrie Prevette

Inconsistencies and Sacrifices

It was when Alan ordered a side of bacon in a little diner in Pennsylvania that God gave a new life to this series. Despite what Alan was anticipating, the bacon tasted just as good as it would have had he ordered it for breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, lunch, afternoon tea, or a normally-timed dinner. Then he started thinking about how consistent he is in his walk with God. The answer he arrived at is the one I think we’ll all come to as well.

“I’d love to say yes, but no.”

I’m only consistent in my inconsistencies. I don’t really see how God can put up with my spiritual mood swings. I’m not even talking about the differences I show between the crises in my life; I mean within the span of one problem.

Let me demonstrate. One of my favorite bands is The 1975. I discovered them in early September of 2013, and I basically fell in love with them instantaneously. They announced a North American tour in early 2014 (January, I think), and they were scheduled to play two shows in North Carolina. Tickets were, in my opinion, astoundingly cheap. By this point, it was on my bucket list to see them live, and here was this perfect opportunity. It was May 14th in Charlotte – after graduation and not far from home. I called home, asked my sister if she cared to go with me, and decided that this concert would be a well-deserved graduation gift to myself.

After impatiently waiting, I finally got to order the tickets, and at the end of the checkout, I was ready for the whole, “Thank you! Your order has been submitted. Your order number is blah, blah, blah,” page to pop up. I was prepared to be so happy. Instead of that page, I got one that said my order could not be completed, and I was told to start over. It wasn’t the moment I’d waited for, and I went through the process again, this time equally annoyed as I was nervous. Finally, it said my order was placed, gave my order number, and said that I would receive a confirmation email. Wanting to bask in my gladness, I checked my email. There I saw not one but two confirmations. I had a total of four tickets and had spent almost $100.

To understand why I thought my heart was going to stop, you should know that at the time, I only had about $200 to my name, a sum which had just been cut in half, and wasn’t going to get any more money for two or three weeks. For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, college life isn’t cheap, and an extra $50 will always make a big difference to any college kid. CrowdSurge, the company I ordered the tickets through, has a relatively strict no-refund policy. Plus, I didn’t know a single other person who listened to The 1975, so I couldn’t just give someone the excess tickets and have them pay me back.

I emailed CrowdSurge and explained what happened. Then I got an email saying my refund request had been submitted and that someone would get back to me in the next few days.

The days between then and the day I received confirmation that I would be refunded for one of my orders were not fun. I would be stressed about it and then I would pray and feel better. I would think about it again and begin to freak out then stop and remind myself to trust in God. One day I’d be all, “I’m not going to worry. God’s got this.” The next, I’d be thinking of how I would design the flyer to hang on my door regarding the extra tickets I would be stuck with. I was budgeting in my mind and worrying that I wasn’t going to make it. Then I’d think about how God had provided before and feel a little comforted.

I was so up and down that I was making myself dizzy, and it’s one of those times that I look back upon and wonder why God puts up with me. I wonder that a lot because my inconsistency is still an issue.

Sunday’s topic was sacrifice, and when I think of the sacrifices I constantly make for God, I realize there aren’t that many and they’re not that big. I volunteer at church and I tithe, but neither of them really drain me in any way. My sacrifices aren’t big because they aren’t making me uncomfortable at all.

Alan identified the five spiritual sacrifices as: generous and cheerful giving, worship with praise and thanksgiving, prayer, evangelism, and martyrdom.

Unless you’re reading this from the afterlife, martyrdom doesn’t really apply to you in a practical sense here (although your reaction to it potentially becoming your reality is worth considering). Out of the remaining four, I can safely say I need to work on all of them. If you can say you’re consistent in even one of those areas, you’re doing better than me, and I commend you for it.

But you know what? I think that while God wants me to do all that, He’s okay with the fact that I’m not always doing all of those things at once.

At first, I thought this list was a checklist, but then I saw that it wasn’t (and I don’t think that’s how Alan meant it). We don’t have to check all the boxes, just as many as we can, and we always must have at least one checked. So unless you’re an uber-human who’s just always good at everything, I wouldn’t worry about nailing all of these at once.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing. It can be a lot of work, and I’m a pretty lazy person.

It would serve me well when I don’t feel like offering anything up to God to remember the sacrifices Christ made for me.

First, He sacrificed heaven itself. He went from having complete perfection, living in nothing but love and harmony to come walk around on this earth with mankind, a hit-and-miss species at best. If that’s not a sacrifice then I don’t know what is.

Then after growing accustomed to life as a man, Christ sacrificed His life for us. Now, I know that was the plan all along, and Jesus knew that too, but a lot changed between Christ leaving heaven and Christ leaving earth. Jesus knew He loved the people down here, but then He physically met them. Jesus made enemies, friends, and memories. He surely developed a fondness for certain places. He could’ve picked up a hobby or two. He was no longer on the outside looking in at human life. He had experienced it.

He didn’t want to lose it all. Luke 22:39-44 shows us that much. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with the disciples. They’re there to pray, and Jesus steps off a little to pray by Himself. The disciples, as we learn later in the scripture, are tired. Maybe Jesus saw them try to stay awake and pray as He knelt down. Perhaps one poked another as his eyelids slid down to a gentle close. One of them might have said, “No, guys! We can’t sleep now. Jesus needs us,” as prayers became sleepy mumbles.

I imagine Jesus sighed as He watched all this, but He also probably smiled. They didn’t know the soldiers were moments away from taking Jesus. He did, and He was dreading it so much that He started sweating bullets of blood at one point. But maybe right before the storm, He also felt sad. Sad at what would transpire, and sad at what He was leaving.

The only recorded words of Jesus’ prayer here are, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42, NLT).

Maybe that’s all that was said. Maybe that’s just all that was recorded for us to read. Regardless, we know that Jesus wanted to use another plan if God had one, but really and truly, He wanted God’s will done above all else. And it was done. A sacrifice for all mankind was made, but don’t think for a minute that it was easy physically, emotionally, at all.

True sacrificing never is. That’s why it demonstrates love and devotion. If we only give what we don’t really care about or what is easy to give, how much do we really love who or what we’re giving it up for? What we give tells a lot about us and our affection for the one receiving it. Jesus’ immeasurable love and flawless character was shown through His life and Him going to the cross. What exactly are our sacrifices saying about us?

By Carrie Prevette

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