“Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4:9–10, AV)
When I worked in the printing business, I discovered that one of the things you could not print was a perfect white. No matter how hard you tried, every white had at least a little bit of tint to it. When we would try to print a photographic image with white, the white only appeared to be perfect as compared to the contrasting background.
I used this knowledge of printing once when I preached about sin and came up with this illustration. I took a light gray piece of paper and placed it in the middle of a black posterboard. I asked the congregation to tell me what the color of the center square was. Everyone agreed that the piece in the center was white. Then I took it and placed it in the center of a piece of white posterboard. They then could see that it was gray and not white. The problem was one of perception. The congregation perceived the gray sheet of paper to be white based upon its contrast with the black background.
I used this illustration to show that we do not see our actions, thoughts, and attitudes properly. This is because we most often view them against the backdrop of a sin darkened world. If we could see our actions, thoughts, and attitudes against the backdrop of God’s infinite holiness, we would be shocked and appalled at how far short of God’s glory we fall. Regardless of how highly we might regard ourselves, we still drastically miss the mark of God’s infinite holiness. If we understand this, we will understand this verse that James wrote to his readers.
In the previous two devotions, we looked at steps necessary to approach God. The first was salvation. The second is attached to the first. It also involves cleansing from sin and turning from it. Here I am referring to the response believers, who hate sin and thus, will immediately confess their sins when they wander from the path of righteousness and repent from that direction to get back on the path of God’s righteousness. You see, for the believer, confession and repentance is an ongoing life long process. This leads to the third and absolutely essential step, a humble perception of one’s self.
The third step in drawing near to God is that of having a proper perception of our condition. This requires humility for we generally do not want to think of ourselves as deficient in any way. Rather, we want to think of ourselves as better than others. Yet this is exactly the problem. In reference to this problem, James gives his readers several commands. We are to be afflicted, meaning to be sorrowful over our circumstances. We are to mourn over them. We are to weep. Our laughter is to turn to mourning and our joy to heaviness. He does not tell us to feel good about ourselves.
His exhortation reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:3–4, AV). It is these who have a proper perspective of who they truly are the ones who may draw near to God. For they see themselves against the backdrop of God’s infinite perfection and thus, realize how far short of God’s holy standard they fall. These come with the proper attitude of humility to the throne of Grace. God loves the broken and contrite of heart and detests the proud and arrogant. Thus, He gives us this great encouragement. He will always lift up and exalt those who are humbly broken in spirit.