“Be doers of the word, and NOT merely hearers who deceive themselves…” (James 1:22).
When James wrote his letter it wasn’t to an homogenous group of followers of Jesus. Some had converted from a Jewish background and had all kinds of traditions and rituals to overcome and replace with faith. Others were from a pagan background and worshipped amongst a plethora of gods and idols, accompanied sometimes by possibly outlandish, even occult practices. They were from widely diverse cultural backgrounds. But the common denominator is now, writes James, “the implanted word that has the power to save…” (James 1:21).
It is not a theoretical “word” but one that must have profound effect on our values and behaviour. It is the word that God’s people have had already for many generations and have yet to put it into practice. Sadly, they were hearers but not yet doers.
It is a challenge for all of us who follow Jesus. The Scriptures as we now have them, consisting of the Old and the New Testaments are so rich with teaching about how to live the godly life. How easy it is to read James’ letter, for example, giving mental assent to what he writes but then, like the Pharisees of old, fail to take the next step. Our lives must be changed.
Resonating with James’ letter, this week I read and adapted this excerpt from Brandon O’Brien’s blog (and also found in his book Not From Around Here). He deals mainly with adjusting to a new culture but this exercise is very helpful in any stressful situation or dealing with our own bad reaction to others’ poor behaviour.
1. Become aware of God’s presence. Pause where you are, stop and take a deep breath. Give yourself a moment to let your thoughts settle and become aware that God is with you always.
2. Give thanks for God’s blessings. Recognize the good things God has done for you where you are, however small. Thank God for something good about other people. Consider thanking God for this new perspective that you find challenging or frustrating.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. Reflect on what happened and how you responded. Did what you read (or heard or saw) make you feel angry? Guilty? Self-righteous? If you aren’t sure, that’s ok. Tell God about that, too. Spend enough time on this step to gain some clarity.
4. Repent and receive forgiveness. Confess your self-righteousness, fear, frustration—whatever it was that motivated your reaction. Say it out aloud. This isn’t about guilt or shame. It’s about change. Saying it will help.
5. Give thanks for God’s grace to have a better tomorrow. Thank God that he knew your motives before you did and had already forgiven you. Ask for grace to face tomorrow with greater confidence and courage in his grace.
A lot of our divisions with other people stem from divisions within ourselves. This kind of confession and repentance, over time, strengthens our capacity to deal with difficult and frustrating situations. But you have to begin recognizing that God is with you and for you, or you may quickly become demoralized. Rest in the grace God offers and let it empower you to move closer to other people who have different perspectives.
Let’s be doers not just hearers.