As my Christian walk has developed over the years I’ve found the book of James to be a very interesting one, as its core meaning has taken on a very different form as I’ve matured. I’ve noticed that my old view of the key take-outs from James remains prevalent for many people and the deeper meaning remains hidden. The old view isn’t actually wrong but, for the full picture James paints to be seen and applied, you need to see the deeper meaning too. It got me thinking about the reasons for this and I thought I’d put a few of those thoughts down My old view was that this was all about action in the outward sense. There’s faith – believing who God is and who I am in Him – and then there’s action – the outward demonstration of this faith in visible actions. On the surface, this is true and right but there is a piece that connects the faith and action that is often missed, that gives the action, the true power My view now is that, yes, those things of outward demonstration of our faith are important, but it is something deeper that empowers and fires the outward acts. Something that, if absent, makes the outward acts much less meaningful and impactful. What I now see as James’ bigger call here is within the heart, within our attitudes. If we are to do the outward acts in any meaningful way, aligned with God’s will for our lives and linked with his wider work, we need to be living and being Christ-like from the depths of who we are. This is internal, not external. It powers the external, but it is very different. James talks about looking in the mirror and then forgetting what you look like (James 1:23-25). This is a great example of what happens: we hear the truth of God, we hear his voice tell us he’s got us, we can trust him, we’re doing well, but we then allow those words to sift through our fingers like grains of sand. The power contained in those words, to set our feet on solid ground as a deep foundation to stand settled and firm on, is lost. We are then left with faith (in our heads) and actions (from our extroverts mainly). Our heart, as the engine room and the place that properly links faith and works, is not connected to our actions.
A great analogy here is with two of my favourite sports – tennis and golf. I have two extrovert temperaments which have been rampant like two wild horses pretty much my entire life and I like to hit the ball hard in both sports. To get maximum power I have always tried to whack the ball as hard as possible. I have been utterly bemused when playing more experienced players and seeing an effortless stroke hit with twice the power of my shot. Think Roger Federer in tennis. I have learnt over time that the power comes from the legs, into the hips, the core and, finally, out into the arms. As long as everything is connected all the way through, the end result can be incredibly powerful even though it doesn’t look like the person is really trying to smack the ball. If the connection is lost somewhere along that chain, to get anywhere near the same power you will have to throw everything into the arm action. It does not have the same effect – it won’t go as far and often wildly misses the mark.
In the same way, if we are connected through the whole of who we are to God’s truth, love and power, then our outward actions are so much more impactful. They are charged with his energy, not our own. They are powered by his Spirit, from our core and out to every part of us – they will hit the mark, every time
So, how do we become fully connected up – our hearts, souls and minds – with God? We get rid of the bits in us that question who God really is in us, as Tim mentions in his talk ‘Judgement’ on 20.09.2020. How do we do this? We consciously choose to accept, all the way through us, who God is and who we are in Him. We have to discipline our minds to accept his truth, his love, that we are safe. To expose these areas of skew, doubt and fear we will be faced with trials and tribulations as James mentions. These pressure situations throw up the problem areas to the surface so they can be dealt with.
For God to fully inhabit the whole of who we are, we need to come face to face with the fears about who we are and overcome them by letting God be bigger. It's tough enough to face your fears and try and beat them yourself but doing this won't allow God, or more precisely God's love, to replace and eradicate them. To do that requires giving up trying to fight them and, instead, trusting God to do it for you.
God will keep allowing crisis points (as Andy eludes to in his article ‘Our problems should not surprise us’) into our lives to create this scenario and opportunity as long as we are receptive to the task and face the challenge in the right way. They are opportunities to work those love and trust muscles – the key muscles in the spiritual body that form 'athletic' Christians.
If we can love those around us and no-one sees our sacrificial act and if we can trust who God says he is and that we are safe in his love, then we can be made whole and connected. We can carry out genuine works alongside and connected to our faith. Works that could be a simple smile or touch to someone who just needs that, at that time; [JS2] a ‘sorry’ to our wives or a friend,[JS3] a text message or phone call letting the other person know you are thinking about them. I believe God is in these simple works and there would be real power and transformation done in this world if all God’s people were living out these works every day. Often these simple ‘works’ go sadly missing because we have not done what James is really saying at the heart of his message – to live out our faith by fully accepting God’s word into every part of our being so we become a continuous God-centred act of genuine ‘work’.