Twice a month I lead a group Bible study. We’re not a bunch of very mature Christians, most of us have only a few year’s walk with God under our belts. At the moment, we’re working through the book of James, using the Purpose Driven Developing a Faith That Works, material. There are two volumes of six studies in this series and we’re working through volume 1.
This week we were looking at James 1: 19-27 and this passage is essentially focusing on getting the most out of your Bible. However, it starts with a couple of good pointers about your attitude to things:
…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. James 1: 19-20 (NLT).
I particularly loved how Rick Warren illustrated this: We have two ears and one mouth, so we should be doing twice as much listening as we do speaking. Something to remember there. Our group were all of the agreement that a good listener is a valuable friend to have.
The book of James is a great place to start if you’re a new Christian because it’s packed full of really good advice. You may not be able to get your head around the enormity of grace yet; but there are some good practical pointers here to get your walk with God solidly underway.
The big thing in this passage, is that your Bible is not a pretty book to sit on your shelf. It’s your manual, your workbook, your instruction book, your… Bible! It’s not there to impress anyone with how big it is, how luscious and leathery it is (or plastic, or metal or any other of the other funky bindings it comes in); it’s for you to read, inwardly digest and put into practice. You’re not a Christian merely from owning the book, or going into a church for that matter; but you are if you allow what’s written in it to impact your life.
James is quite explicit about how important it is to put what you read into practice:
… if you just listen and don’t obey, it’s like looking at your face in a mirror and doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the law that sets you free – and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1: 23-25 (NLT).
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has got self-help books on the shelves. But how many of them have we read, put the tips into practice and kept putting them into practice until they give us the improved life we’re after? It’s the same with diets; they will all work* if we do them and stick to them. The minute we decide to revert back to our old ways, all that good work is undone.
In that regard, the Bible is no different. It’s not a magic book, the words don’t jump off the page into your head – you have to consciously put them there once you’ve signed up to Team Jesus. And you’ve got to keep them there. Doing things Jesus’ way is only going to happen because you allow yourself to be changed. Your belief is going to be worthless as a witness to to others, if you never get past the reading stage and put what he asks you to do into practice.
And right underneath this passage is the first thing you can do: Control what you say. You have a choice what comes out of your mouth and you’re going to undermine things if you’re going to let rubbish come out of it. In chapter 3, James likens the tongue to a tiny rudder that can turn a huge ship, or the bit in a horse’s mouth. We can direct the supertanker with a rudder, we can control wild horses with a bit and we can make great leaps forward in our spiritual journey if we will do one simple thing:
Think before we speak or write anything.
The tongue is a small thing but is capable of doing enormous damage. Some of us can think back to the damage Gerald Ratner did to his business, by some very ill-chosen words in a speech in 1991. Almost daily there are reports of a person needing to apologise for something they said or wrote. It’s endemic among those who live their lives in the public arena. Just pausing to consider what you want to say, or leaving an email half an hour or overnight before you send it, could be the difference between a cooling balm or an out of control forest fire.
I’m certainly one that needs to tame her tongue, both with what I say and what I write. I am not casting any stones because I still haven’t mastered the art of not swearing, or not saying the most idiotic things at times. In this regard, I shall need the help of the Holy Spirit. Because frankly Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’s my only hope!
*I appreciate that there are some medical conditions which need specific diets to encourage the body to release its excess fat.