What the book of James taught me about making money.

I will never read James 4:13-15 without smiling at the memory. I was 22 years old.  I had just finished an internship in college ministry in Boulder, Colorado.  I thought that God might be calling me to more ministry, and I needed more training.  That meant seminary, and a three-year Master’s degree. The problem was, I had a lot of student loan debt from collSeattle Skylineege.  I thought to myself, “I’ll go back to Seattle (my hometown), find a job, make as much money as I can, and pay off the debts.  Then, I could think about going to seminary.”  I told a few family members and friends my plan.


The thing was, I couldn’t seem to find a job that paid me a lot of money.  Instead, I found two jobs in two churches!  One was making copies at what had become a “home church” for me, University Presbyterian Church.

Folding machine I made $7 an hour, with an impressive title of “Production Coordinator.” I ran the copy machine, helped stuff the church newsletter, cut flyers, and folded the bulletins with a machine that may have been developed during World War II.  (folding machine to the left may be exaggerated for dramatic effect. I don’t recall mine being so shiny.)

The other job was as a part-time youth director for a church in the south part of Seattle.  I developed an after school program for kids in the neighborhood, most of whom had never stepped foot in a church.  At the same time, I shared a house with five other twenty-somethings, all of us committing to live out our faith in Christ, being good neighbors, and helping with the kids in the after-school program.

My original “plan” didn’t quite work out.  And it was in that year that I came across these words in James 4: “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.”…Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will.” I couldn’t get away from the fact at how much the words of James echoed exactly what I had said a few months earlier.  It was as if the Lord was writing to me through this letter. I learned that year that my plans should be written in pencil.  And that the Lord might have different plans.  Those experiences I had that year in those two churches and with my housemates were ones I wouldn’t replace.  And that the Lord’s will (the word literally means “wish/want”) is better than my plans.

Question for reflection: What about you? Has there been a time that your plans were replaced by the Lord’s wishes, and you’re glad they were?

“I can do it myself.”

“I can do it myself.”  It’s a phrase that we hear little children say.  They can say it in trying to tie their shoes, put on their clothes, or put away their dishes. tying-shoesWe smile as we watch these little ones begin to assert their independence.  We look upon statements like “I can do it myself” as good things, recognizing them as signs of that child growing up.  And they are good things, because growing up and maturing is part of life.  But is there a place where that statement can lead to an attitude, which leads to a way of life that might take us away from what God intends?  Can “I can do it myself” actually lead to selfishness? Because selfishness isn’t just an attitude.  It’s a belief that that centers on the “self,” and at its core, it’s a belief that says, “This will be better if I just take care of it.”  Or, it says, “I have what it takes to figure this out, and I don’t need any help.”

From an early age, we catch this idea that “doing it ourselves” is important.  Perhaps this is why ideas like humility and submission are so hard for us.  “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up,” James says (James 4:10).  “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” (James 4:7)  We balk at words like these.

Dallas Willard, in a speech to Wheaton College Chapel, once gave a good picture of what humility looks like.

Never pretend.  Be exactly who you are.  Share your gifts honestly, share your struggles and shortcomings honestly.

Never presume. Never presume that you should be treated in a certain way, that you are entitled.  Be who you are, where you are.

Never push. Stand for yourself, stand for God, stand for what is right…but let God do the pushing.

Willard goes on and says, “This doesn’t mean you are passive.  It means that there isn’t anything you wouldn’t undertake” because you believe that “He will lift you up.” (James 4:10)

Those three pieces of advice Willard gives are telling:  never pretend, never presume, and never push.  In the world we live in today, how hard is it to live those out?  How often do we see others pretending, presuming, and pushing?  And how often do we find ourselves doing the same thing?

James 3:13-18 ends with talking about a wisdom that is “pure, peace-loving, considerate,sandals submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” What a contrast to a life of pretending, presuming, and pushing!  Who could ever live such a life? The truth is, we probably can’t.  But we can learn, and turn, again and again, day after day, to the One who did…and someone once said they couldn’t even tie His sandals…