We talk about preparation all the time.
Am I prepared for retirement?
Are we ready for school to start?
Are the teams ready for the rivalry game?
Or, the conversation around here lately… Are we prepared for Rally Day?
We want to be like those who seem to be the most prepared and we try to be part of that crowd by going to the best schools, practicing our hearts out with an instrument or a sport, working extra hours to get the big project done at work…
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. (Seneca, ancient Roman philosopher)
LUCK is where PREPARATION meets OPPORTUNITY.
What kinds of opportunities are you preparing yourself for?
Are you seeking opportunities to serve God or yourself?
Are you seeking opportunities to be like Jesus, or the Joneses?
We might cry out that we will not forget God, that we will worship and honor Jesus, that all of our hearts yearn for God’s plans…
Yet what are we doing on a daily basis to prepare ourselves for God’s opportunities?
James writes his letter to the people of God because they have been so focused on:
what they want
and what they think
and what they believe that James no longer sees the word of God in their midst.
They have deceived themselves into thinking they were following God, when all of their preparations were merely distorting God’s word into something to suit their own needs.
And then… when God’s opportunities came along, they were not prepared.
Instead, they argued.
They argued about who was more important and who was right, rather than listening.
They argued about who was included and who could be forgotten, rather than reaching out.
They argued about how much time they had to put in and why it wasn’t their turn, rather than get their hands dirty.
And in doing so, they exchanged the gifts of peace and love for the desires and sin of this world.
You know what? We have, too.
We teach our children they deserve to have everything regardless of the cost.
We are quick to judge when we encounter someone with different political viewpoint (ahem, or different sports team) and make assumptions about their intellect.
We walk right by the neediest around us and put a check in the mail to make ourselves feel better.
We spend our days working hard so we can have the finer things in life and then are too tired to enjoy them.
We use and abuse one another so we can get ahead.
We ask the question, “how will this help me?” more than “how can I help others?”
Those words do not describe a people, a church, a nation that is allowing the word of God to prepare them for opportunities to be like Jesus.
God doesn’t want us to strive to get ahead of each other… God wants us to sit down and fellowship with our neighbors.
God doesn’t want us to be first… God wants us to be servants.
So the question is… what kind of preparations should we make in order to be more like Jesus on a regular basis?
What can we do so that we are lucky enough to be prepared when opportunities come along?
In James 2: 1-6, and 3:13, we reminded to be humble. We are called to stop showing favoritism to the rich, and instead to honor the poor among us.
A spirit of humility helps us to recognize we are not God’s gift to this earth – but imperfect vessels that the word of God can transform.
Humility means that we treat the love of God as a gift, not something we deserve.
Humility means that we make ourselves low so others might be raised up.
Humility means that we put another before ourselves.
Humility means that we are quick to truly listen to what another person has to say before we butt in with our own thoughts and feelings.
And when we are humble, then we are also lucky enough to be prepared when someone in need crosses our path and we can help them with compassion and dignity.
James writes in chapter 4:1 that the source of our conflict is our cravings. He writes that we waste our energy and gifts on things that aren’t good for ourselves or others.
I keep thinking about all of the bad habits in our lives that are wasteful. The things that merely satisfy a craving and aren’t preparing us to be obedient and merciful and genuine.
What if (and this is one I’m guilty of) instead of wasting our time following celebrities on social media, we sought out role models who are making a difference in the world?
What if on Monday mornings we spent less time trash talking about who won the big game, and instead we shared an act of kindness with our “enemy”?
What if the gossip at lunch on Thursday afternoons was replaced with brainstorming ways to help out with a community problem?
What if we spent a few less hours watching television and spent a few more hours volunteering?
All of these daily habits can cause a subtle shift in our lives, so that we are lucky enough to be prepared… and have the time and energy to respond when God’s opportunities fall in our laps.
We also can prepare ourselves by changing where we store our treasures.
James 5:1 cautions the wealthy that misery is coming upon them… the more we have, the more we have to lose.
And in striving to be financially prepared for our future, we are hesitant to respond when we see genuine needs around us. We close off our hearts and homes and lives.
We often cling so tightly to our stuff, our issues, and our solutions that we can’t open our hands to receive the amazing and beautiful gifts of God.
Let go. Open your hearts and your hands to welcome the word of God. And then live it out in every moment of your days to everyone you meet.
And when you do so, you will be able to embrace the riches of compassion and forgiveness, patience and joy, kindness and peace.
And we will also be in luck… because those treasures are exactly what we need when opportunities to be like Jesus come around.
This is a church full of doers and I know that so many of you work your tails off to be prepared, so that when the opportunities come around, and they do… you are prepared to take advantage of them.
We work so hard to get ahead.
But I want us to remind what James has to tell us about our preparations, in chapter 4:
“Pay attention, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go to such-and-such a town. We will stay there a year, buying and selling, and make a profit.’ You don’t really know about tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for only a short while before it vanishes… Pay attention, you wealthy people! Weep and moan over the miseries coming upon you. Your riches have rotted. Moths have destroyed your clothes. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you.”
James is warning us to stop putting so much stock in our preparations.
He reminds us that when we seek our own opportunities, we tend to forget what God wants for us.
Every day, God gives us opportunities to be like Jesus, to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
Are we prepared for what God has in store for us?