Maintaining a Precious Relationship
“Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”—James 4:8
1, 2. (a) In what way is Jehovah a generous giver? (b) He who doubts is in what danger, and how can this be avoided? (c) Can faith grow, and is it more than a mental process?
JEHOVAH is a generous giver. We have already learned from Luke’s account that Jehovah answers the petitions of those who persist in prayer and who keep watching. And other Bible writers also were inspired to give practical counsel on the closely related subjects of prayer and faith.
2 James, for example, early in his letter, reminds us that we should “keep on asking God” for wisdom in meeting and enduring various trials. He admonishes and warns: “But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all.” He who keeps doubting is an “indecisive [Greek, “two-souled”] man” and receives nothing from Jehovah. Rather, we want our faith to have the quality that James mentions: “This tested quality of your faith works out endurance.” (Jas. 1:3-8)a Though, to begin with, our faith may not be as great as was Abraham’s, it can grow and must always ring true, not be half-and-half. Let it be said of us as Paul wrote: “Your faith is growing exceedingly and the love of each and all of you is increasing one toward the other.” True faith is not just a mental process, but as Paul also wrote: “Exercise faith in your heart.” We must have good motivation, resulting in good works.—Rom. 4:20; 10:9, 10; 2 Thess. 1:3.
3. By contrasts, what truths are drawn to our attention at James 4:7, 8?
3 In confirmation of the foregoing, James later wrote: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones.” Leading up to this, James made certain contrasts, as Jesus did, in order to drive home truths that needed to be emphasized: “Subject yourselves, therefore, to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”—Jas. 4:7, 8.
4. (a) To draw close to someone calls for what kind of action, prompted by what? (b) Does God extend more than just a welcome to such, and what provisions are already made for the benefit of all?
4 What an encouragement to be decisive in a right way and, finally, what a heartwarming appeal! One might be decisive and persistent out of a sense of duty, but to draw close to someone calls for something much deeper. It must come from the heart, prompting one to put oneself out and be ready to make sacrifices in order to gain and enjoy the desired close personal relationship. Notice that James does not say that if we draw close to God, then he, so to speak, is just sitting there waiting to welcome us. Rather, if we take a definite personal course of action in drawing close to God, then he too will take a corresponding action on his part. How does he do this? Well, he has already made certain fine provisions including his Word and the gift of his Son as our Redeemer, so that it is possible for imperfect, sinful humans to draw close to him. These provisions are open to all who wish to take advantage of them with a sincere and true motive.
5. How are God’s dedicated servants often used in helping those wishing to “draw close to God”?
5 Does Jehovah, however, do anything of a more direct personal nature? In so many instances, what is it that is the one thing that touches and draws out the heart of the truth seeker? More than a knowledge of the truth, is it not additionally the genuine and warm personal interest shown by the one who is being used as God’s minister? (1 Cor. 3:5) When the truth seeker attends his first meeting with Jehovah’s Witnesses, he may not understand too much of what is said, but he is again deeply impressed with the sincere friendly atmosphere manifest by all, besides the personal attention and welcome extended to him. In this way he feels that, in response to his own efforts in seeking after truth and the Giver of the truth, now God is drawing close to him. As he progresses, he experiences other evidences of God’s direction and blessing, for He gives ‘generously and without reproaching.’—Jas. 1:5.
6. How only is this made possible, and what must be kept in mind?
6 As the seeker after truth is guided step by step in the way of righteousness, he comes to appreciate what a privilege it is to be used by Jehovah as one of his representatives in helping yet others. This is made possible because of the outpouring of his spirit in our hearts, so that we may show forth the fruitage of that spirit and exemplify true Godlike love.—Gal. 5:22, 23; 1 John 4:11.
BE ALERT, BE DECISIVE
7. The general tone of James’ letter indicates what?
7 James was writing to dedicated Christians who had taken the steps of repentance and conversion. They had turned around from their previous sinful course, and had now dedicated themselves unreservedly to Jehovah to do his will henceforth. As the general tone of James’ letter indicates, many were not living up to the terms of their dedication. They overlooked the need to keep that relationship with Jehovah in a healthy state.
8. (a) Why cannot relationships be taken for granted? (b) With regard to what was James anxious to help those slipping back?
8 Relationships rarely, if ever, remain stationary. They cannot be taken for granted. They either progress, even though slowly and, like a tree, take deeper root, or they deteriorate and commence to wither. Both fruitage and foliage suffer as a result. (Ps. 1:1-3) That is what happened to the nation of fleshly Israel. Before it was too late, James was anxious to recover those spiritual Israelites who were similarly slipping back. Hence, he put the position very plainly before them, contrasting the true with the false as to the different kinds of wisdom, also of friendship, as he explained at James 3:13-18 and James 4:1-6. Then follows the appeal as above-mentioned at James 4:7, 8. It is similar to the way that Jehovah appealed to fleshly Israel, as we read at Isaiah 55:6, 7 and Malachi 3:6, 7.
9. (a) What is one method of attack used by the Devil, and how does it apply in modern times? (b) How did Peter give encouraging counsel in this regard?
9 To some extent, does the same situation obtain today? The foretold “critical times hard to deal with” are certainly here with increasing pressures and dangers of all sorts crowding in on people everywhere, especially on true Christians who are on the ‘cramped road leading off into life.’ (Matt. 7:14; 2 Tim. 3:1-5) The Devil has two main methods of attack. At times, as Peter wrote, he acts “like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone” after frightening us off that road. (1 Pet. 5:8) He brings about threatening situations, either on a national scale or on a more personal level, with the object of forcing us to make some compromise, if not completely to abandon our stand involving Christian conscience and Bible principles. Our daily living, even life itself, can be at stake over difficult questions of employment or neutrality. As already mentioned, this is where the need arises to keep praying for wisdom to discern and the strength to apply these Bible principles. That is why Peter went on to urge: “But take your stand against him [the Devil], solid in the faith . . . After you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness . . . will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong.”—1 Pet. 5:9, 10.
10, 11. (a) What other method is used by Satan, and how is it exemplified today, leading to what danger? (b) So how should we be alert and decisive?
10 The Devil’s other method of attack is more subtle. Satan also “keeps transforming himself into an angel of light.” He acts like a serpent, not to frighten, but to beguile and seduce, as “the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning.” (2 Cor. 11:3, 14) As an evidence of this tactic, there is one thing that Satan knows that he does not want you to know, and that is that his time is short. As a result of the war in heaven, following the birth of the Messianic kingdom in 1914, C.E., he, the great dragon, “was hurled down to the earth, . . . having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Rev. 12:1-12) If he can persuade especially those “who observe the commandments of God and have the work of bearing witness to Jesus” that the “time of the end” is not so short after all, then he has won half the battle. (Rev. 12:17) Many would lose the sense of urgency and fail to keep wide awake. We could easily become fully occupied with the normal pursuits of daily life. Surely in this we must learn how to look at things from Jehovah’s viewpoint and try to appreciate how he counts time, keeping in mind Peter’s words: “But the end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant with a view to prayers.”—1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 3:8, 9.
11 Both Bible writers, James and Peter, said much that helps and encourages us to be alert and decisive in a right way, with a good heart and paying close attention to prayers and to faith.
PRAY FOR THOSE IN NEED
12. (a) How does James finally develop the subject of prayer? (b) In what way are both overseers and those in need aided?
12 At the conclusion of his letter, James develops the subject of prayer in connection with faith still further and from a different angle. Whatever the situation, whether “suffering evil” or “in good spirits,” we should come to God in prayer or in praise. He then talks about praying for those in need. The one who is sick, evidently suffering spiritually and being affected mentally and emotionally, is told to “call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him.” This in itself is an indication of faith on his part and that he knows where to go for help. A person does not call in a doctor unless he has a degree of faith in that doctor. Now observe the fine results for taking such a course: “And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.” (Jas. 5:13-15) This surely gives a good lead and direction both to those in need and to the overseers who should be ready and willing to be instrumental in getting those needs supplied.
13. How does James use Elijah as a striking example in this regard?
13 James enlarges on this and, with the overseers and other mature brothers in mind, says that “a righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force.” Supporting this, he cites the remarkable instance of the prayers of Elijah being answered, first “for it not to rain,” and which period lasted for three years and six months, and then for a resumption of rainfall. And Elijah was not a superman. He “was a man with feelings like ours.”—Jas. 5:16-18.
14. As a final word, how does James give further encouragement?
14 In conclusion, and giving further encouragement to be alert to aid, if possible, even those who are being “misled from the truth,” he says that whoever “turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Jas. 5:19, 20) What a comforting conclusion! How like Jehovah’s own description of himself—“a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, . . . pardoning error and transgression and sin.”—Ex. 34:6, 7.
15. Similarly, what two ways does Jude mention for helping those in need?
15 Interestingly, Jude ends his letter in a similar vein and talks about “building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit.” He too stresses the need to be alert to help those in need in a kindly yet urgent way: “Continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire. But continue showing mercy to others, doing so with fear, while you hate even the inner garment that has been stained by the flesh.” (Jude 20-23) So here again is the exhortation to those who are mature. If you know of some who have doubts or who have stumbled into uncleanness, do not quickly cold-shoulder them, but snatch them from the fire, if possible, taking care to avoid getting burned yourself or in any way contaminated.
“LOOK INTENTLY . . . CONSIDER CLOSELY”
16, 17. In the book of Hebrews, on what basis does Paul make many comparisons, leading to what conclusions?
16 The apostle Paul was used as the writer for most of the letters in the Christian Greek Scriptures. His letter to the Hebrew Christians gives much practical help and guidance in building up a true and strong faith, leading to a close relationship with Jehovah and Christ Jesus.
17 Understandably, in the above letter Paul makes many comparisons between the Jews making up fleshly Israel and those Jews who became the first members of the Christian congregation making up spiritual Israel, and to which Gentiles were added later. Based on these comparisons, Paul shows how the Hebrew Christians enjoyed many advantages over those of fleshly Israel, but this also brought greater responsibility. All true Christians today, whatever their background, can likewise apply these same things to themselves and be benefited thereby.
18. What warning about not begging off is repeated in this letter, and on what is it based in Israel’s history?
18 Paul earlier on makes the point that if the word spoken through angels when the Law was given to Israel had to be treated with the greatest respect, then “how shall we escape if we have neglected a salvation of such greatness in that it began to be spoken through our Lord” Jesus? (Heb. 2:1-3; Gal. 3:19) A similar warning is sounded toward the close of the letter. After telling what happened at Mount Sinai, Paul writes: “For if they did not escape who begged off from him who was giving divine warning upon earth, much more shall we not [escape] if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens.”—Heb. 12:25.
19 This is where our faith must ring true in order to have the required tested quality. The heart is involved. After quoting God’s comment on Israel that “they always go astray in their hearts,” Paul makes the strong warning for our benefit: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.” We cannot stand still. If we do not “draw close to God” in evergrowing faith as we appreciate him more fully, then there is the danger that we will “become hardened by the deceptive power of sin,” and commence drawing away, not realizing what is happening. We should help one another in this respect and “keep on exhorting one another each day.” We will win “only if we make fast our hold on the confidence we had at the beginning firm to the end.” This firm confidence, this unshakable faith, must be maintained in order for us to inherit the “kingdom that cannot be shaken” and its blessings.—Heb. 3:10-14; 12:28.
20. Besides stressing faith, how does Paul, in this letter, encourage us with regard to prayer?
20 Paul also encourages us with regard to prayer, and to “look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. . . . Indeed, consider closely the one who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests, that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.” Because of all he went through he can sympathize with our weaknesses, though without sin himself, and through him we can have access to the “throne of undeserved kindness” and find help at the right time.—Heb. 4:15, 16; 12:2, 3.
21. Where and how does Paul closely connect prayer with the “suit of armor” supplied by God, leading to what conclusion?
21 Finally, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, keep in mind that “prayer on every occasion in spirit” is closely tied in with putting on the “complete suit of armor from God.” And, like Paul, we should pray for ourselves and others that we may be given “ability to speak . . . to make known the sacred secret of the good news, . . . with boldness.”—Eph. 6:10-20.