By David Faust
The short letter of James is a favorite of many Bible readers because it is a book of action. James tackles gritty questions: How can we handle adversity? overcome temptation? control our tongues? develop patience? pray more effectively?
James insisted that passive, inactive faith is dead as a doornail. It’s good to believe in God, but what are we going to do about it? Vance Havner said, “It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs.”
Steps of faith don’t have to be large to have an impact. Once in a while, faith is as dramatic as a flash of lightning; more often it burns quietly like an oil lamp. Peter Marshall observed, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.”
James 1 reminds us about some small deeds that demonstrate big faith:
• Listen well. Our attention spans have grown accustomed to quick sound bites and nonstop visual stimulation, but James said, “Be quick to listen” (v. 19). Healthy families and friendships require active listening. We demonstrate the love of Christ when we tune in to the stories, questions, and insights of others.
• Use words with reserve. “Be . . . slow to speak” (v. 19). Are you a competitive listener? Instead of paying attention, do you tune others out because you’re already thinking about what you will say—how you can top their story—when it’s your turn to speak? According to Proverbs 18:2, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”
• Control your anger. Jesus expressed anger at the right time, for the right reason, in the right way—but Christlike anger is rare. In our tense, exasperated culture, volcanoes of anger erupt in foolish behavior. Shrill TV and radio debates keep frustrations boiling. Expressions like “road rage” and “going postal” describe but do not justify flare-ups of wrath. James urged, “Be . . . slow to become angry” (v. 19). After all, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (v. 20).
• Put the Word to work. James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (v. 22). Did you hear about the fellow who arrived to church late and asked one of the ushers, “Is the sermon done yet?” The usher wisely responded, “The sermon has been preached, but it is yet to be done.”
• Care for the vulnerable. True religion, James said, means that we “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (v. 27). Are there any children you can serve in Jesus’ name—especially kids who don’t have a dad or mom? Are there any widows or widowers who would appreciate a visit, a phone call, or an invitation to lunch? Small acts of kindness go a long way.
• Choose to be counter-cultural. Keep yourself from being “polluted by the world” (v. 27).
When a 9-year-old boy named William and his sister were baptized at my church, their little brother proudly told some neighbors that his brother and sister had been “alphabetized.” Their mother told me later that as William walked into the house after the baptism, he told her, “That was the easy part. Now comes the hard part—following.”
Lofty ideals mean little if they don’t result in down-to-earth actions that demonstrate we follow Jesus. “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love” (Mother Teresa).
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for October 5, 2014
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
Jeremiah 1, 2
Jeremiah 3, 4
Jeremiah 5, 6
Jeremiah 10, 11
Jeremiah 12, 13