(Read James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a)
When I was a kid, I loved fairytales. And now my neice, Soliel, loves fairytales. She is obsessed with “princesses.” There’s Cinderella and Bell and Jasmine and Snow White and Ariel and Aurora. They are all princesses to her. Even though Soliel likes me to tell her the stories, if I mess up or change some of the storyline, Soliel stops me, and she corrects me. “No, Mandy. First, the prince kisses Snow White, and then, she wakes up.”
Lately, I have been changing the storyline a lot. Why? Because I feel like I am indoctrinating my precious niece with the idea that the way to happiness in life is to fall in love with a prince, get the prince to fall in love with you, and get married. In all these stories, that’s how one lives happily ever after. As a woman who is 31 years old, single, without children, working in a profession once available only to men, and as one who knows countless women who believe that if they just get married, everything else will fall into place, I cannot in good conscience teach Soliel this fairytale.
Today, I’d like us to question what we are taught by fairytales, movies, and advertisers, and to get serious about seeking wisdom from God, the real teachings we ought to live by.
In today’s Scripture reading, the community that James is writing to is experiencing conflict; people are fighting, disputing. Commentaries say that there were various teachers within the community, and several of them were not wise teachers. It appears that some of the teachings were flawed, and some were downright incorrect, “false to the truth,” contrary to the teachings of Jesus. But since the teachers were filled with selfish ambition, they kept insisting on proclaiming their warped message. It was causing real disorder within the community. As the Message puts it, things were falling apart and people were at each others’ throats (James 3:16).
When you think about it, our community, our society is filled with unwise teachers and teachings as well. And this also creates problems for us. I think that advertising has one of the loudest voices in our society, teaching the masses when we don’t even realize it. And the crazy thing is: advertisers don’t care about us. They are trying to make money.
They make promises to us with their products, but these are promises that their products cannot ultimately fulfill. Just because you drink a certain kind of beer, does not mean you will be surrounded by a great group of friends, where everyone is filled with laughter. Makeup, hair dye and expensive lotion might enhance your appearance, but they can’t make you feel beautiful inside. Certain prescription drugs can be very beneficial to one’s health and wellbeing, but they can’t fix all your problems; they do not guarantee happiness. But advertiers falsely try to convince us that is the case.
James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly.” I think we ask wrongly in that we desire, we go after that which cannot fulfill our deepest needs. We settle for cheap thrills and quick fixes. Sometimes, we do this knowingly, but often, I think we are unaware. We don’t know what will truly satisfy our souls. And earthly “wisdom” (if it can even be called that), leads us astray.
On a surface level, you might desire a donut or a drink (pick your poison), but when you go deeper, when you wrestle with God dwelling inside of you, you might realize that what you are really hungry for or thirsty for is a closer connection with your family or friends or partner. You might pray for time and money to take a vacation, but when the still, small voice speaks to you, you might just discern the Holy Spirit telling you that what you really need is to live every day at a slower pace. You may ask God to change something about someone else, but maybe what you really need is for something within yourself to change.
Vincent Van Gogh said, “I wrestle with nature long enough for her to tell me her secret.”
I think that now is the time for us to wrestle with God long enough for God to tell us the secrets that we need to know. Since God dwells within us, we will find answers when we wrestle with ourselves. Let’s cut to the heart of the matter. Ask yourself: what does my soul really need? With all that you pursue or purchase or are attracted to, what’s underneath it? What do you really need in your life?
Cars and anti-wrinkle cream make promises to you that they can’t keep. But God keeps his promises. And God wants you to be fully satisfied in healthy ways.
What a little girl needs when she grows up is not a prince. She needs a family that loves her, a community that will support her, and strength within herself to walk unafraid through this world. God taught me that when I wrestled with him.
My friends, like there was no shortage of unwise teachers and false teachings in biblical times, there is no shortage of unwise teachers and false teachings in this day and age. It’s time to question many of the messages we have been sent.
What abounds even greater than the false teachings is the wisdom of God available to all of us. We are called to be the wise and to live wisely. It is important for you to know what you need and to seek it directly.
You will be wise if you wrestle with God, if you seek his face, if you seek his kingdom. And in being wise, you will be truly satisfied.