Are You Listening?
It’s easier to say than it is to act.
Believe it or not, there’s a point to all this. It’s easier for all of us to say than it is to act. It’s easier for us to say something. To believe something. Than it is to put that belief into action.
As a result, our behavior and beliefs don’t always line up. Don’t always match up. What we say or think, isn’t reflected in our actions. Or inaction.
Sometimes that’s on accident. My youngest daughter, Lennux, is like 1.5 days away from taking her first steps. So she’s crawling everywhere, moving around, and you just can’t keep her still. And I fully believe that, given the chance, she will climb right up any staircase she finds. Furthermore, I believe that would be a really bad idea. It’s dangerous. But, I sometimes forget to put the baby gate up. On accident, my actions don’t reflect my beliefs.
But, sometimes that’s on purpose. I believe that speed limits exist to ensure the safety of motorists, pedestrians, everyone. But, I also believe that I’m running late. So everybody just needs to get outta my way. This time, on purpose, my actions and what I believe are at odds.
This dilemma isn’t anything new, though. From the very dawn of time, humanity has struggled (deep down) with this disconnect. Our actions. Our beliefs. They don’t always complement each other.
One of the earliest letters we have from a follower of Jesus addresses exactly this issue.
If you have a Bible with you, go ahead and open up to the book of James. It’s almost at the end of the Bible. If you have trouble finding it, don’t be afraid to use the table of contents. If you’re using one of the brown Bibles underneath the chair in front of you, our passage starts on Page 977.
What we call “the book of James” is a letter, who was written by a guy named James. Surprise, right? James was the brother of Jesus. At first, James didn’t buy into everything Jesus was saying. Think about it. Would you? If my brother came to me and said, “Hey, bro! Just a quick heads-up, I’m God.” You’d better believe I’m checking him into the psych ward. I bet you would, too. James did just that. But, then, something happened. James saw his brother. Who had been dead. Who had been nailed to a cross, stabbed in the heart, put to death, and buried. He saw him alive again. He became a really important leader in the early Jesus movement.
He’s writing this letter to Jewish Christians all over the world. He was Jewish. They were Jewish. Remember that, because it’ll be important as we read what he wrote.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect 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.
Are You Really Listening?
Are You Really Listening?
It’s really easy to tell when you’re in a conversation with someone who’s not listening
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
Listening was such an important idea in Judaism. One of the central points of the entire Hebrew Bible is found in
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
Every morning, and every evening, for thousands of years, the Jewish people have repeated this prayer. It’s called the Shema, and it comes from that first word, “Listen.” One of the fascinating things about “Shema” is that it doesn’t just mean to let sound waves enter your ears. It means to respond to what you’ve heard, as well. Listening/obeying were the same concept in Hebrew. It was an active process that required a response.
Listening/obeying were the same concept in the Hebrew world. It was an active process. Shema.
Jesus emphasized the same point through his whole ministry. On the one hand: Jesus shows us about God’s incredible mercy, and his amazing grace. That he loves us so far beyond our comprehension that he would do whatever it took to pursue us. On the other hand: Time and time again, Jesus calls his followers to this radical obedience. To not just learn the lessons he taught, to not just hang out with the guy, but to actually follow through with action.
On the other hand: Time and time again, Jesus calls his followers to this radical obedience. To not just learn the lessons he taught, to not just hang out with the guy, but to actually follow through with action.
Some of us might be tempted to focus on one of these over the other. Some might want to really deeply study the Bible, learn all the factoids and trivia you can, find all the fascinating bits of information. But, when it comes time to put legs on the message, you just… “Meh.” Or maybe you’re really excited to act out in service. Do the things that you think God wants you to do. But, if you don’t listen to God’s word, how do you know what he wants you to do?
We can miss this reality, though. For Jesus, for James, it wasn’t one or the other. It was both listening and doing, working together. This is what the message of Jesus is. You can’t separate the two things. If you are, if I am, then we truly have only half of the Gospel. Those are the parts of it. Two sides of the same coin. And, if we try to do one without the other, James says we’re deceiving ourselves. We’re delusional. Listening and obeying go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.
We need to pause here. Because I don’t want you to misunderstand me. I did not, I am not, and I will not say that the things we do make us right with God. No. That’s done. That’s all Jesus. It’s only because of his action on the cross, and the blood that he shed, that we get to call God our loving father. What I am saying is that it doesn’t end there. Once we’ve received his grace. Once we’ve given our lives to him, we respond to that grace with obedience.
We “do.” We obey. As a response to God’s grace. Not as a means to earn it.
James moves from his listening/doing rap, into an example that we all understand pretty intuitively.
Video: Magic Mirror Clip
Now, before we get into the Mandela Effect, and whether or not you think it’s “magic mirror,” or the “berenstein bears”… what’s the mirror doing? It’s answering her question. She wants to know who is the fairest in all the land. She’s hoping it’s herself, but she wants to be sure, so she checks with the magic mirror. Presumably, he can see everything going on, and answer her question. But, more important than just giving her an answer, the mirror tells the truth. The mirror calls 'em like he sees ‘em.
James uses this familiar picture to describe what happens when we look in God’s Word.
For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect 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 is setting up this really fascinating contrast. He starts it with a simile about a mirror, but then he gets distracted or something halfway through and just abandons the imagery. But, he’s comparing these two people. There are a lot of things that are different about the two people. What they look at. How they look at it. And what comes about as a result of their looking. All different. All terrifically interesting.
If I were teaching a class on Biblical Greek, or if we were studying in a seminary, we would totally get into the interesting, fascinating things about this comparison. But, for today, I want to keep the main thing the main thing. All that fascinating, interesting stuff would just be a detour anyway. The real thing James is trying to compare is the result of their looking. One of these people walks away from looking at the mirror, and forgets what he looks like. He walks away without letting what he sees change him.
What they look at is different: One of them is looking at his face in a mirror. The other is looking at “The Perfect Law”
Looking at his “natural face.” He sees his face, warts, pimples, and all. Looking at “the face of his beginning.” Seeing all God’s possibility. What he has ahead of him. What his life could be. Looking at “the face of his existence.” The condition of his life. Not what it could be. The mess of right now.
The other one, though, looks into what James calls the “perfect law.” The message of Jesus. And he remembers. He puts it into action. He lets God’s word sink down deep into the very fiber of his being. Into his heart, mind, soul. He’s not just listening with his ears; he’s hearing with his heart.
Looking at “the perfect law.” For a Jewish reader, they may have thought it was the Torah. The first five books of what we call the Old Testament. The Mosaic Law. But, all through this letter, James is putting another spin on that law. He keeps talking about how Jesus has refined the law. Clarified the law. Fulfilled the law. And, it’s Jesus, and his message that this guy is starting into.
How they look at it is different: “Glancing” vs. “Stoops to investigate”
This guy looking in the mirror. My translation says “glancing.” Yours might say “looking.” It’s a pretty boring word
Those are both really interesting detours, but the real thing James is trying to compare is the result of their looking.
The one looking in the mirror forgets and doesn’t act. The one looking at God’s Word remembers and puts it into practice.
Maybe mirrors aren’t your thing. I get it. Some of us know we’re lookin’ like a hot mess. There’s not much we can do to change that. If you’re with me, maybe there’s another picture that will help get to the point.
Two Houses Built
Two Houses Built
This example comes to us from Jesus. If you’re following along with me, we’re heading to . This passage is at the very end of what’s known as the “sermon on the mount.” Jesus has given this long sermon, with a lot of teaching, a lot of instructions, and the people are like “Whoa!! This guy knows what he’s talking about.”
Before he leaves them, though, he says this.
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
Beach House Pictures
For a lot of us, this seems maybe a bit unnecessary. Like, yeah, don’t build a house on sand. Got it. But Jesus, and the people he was talking to, lived in the desert. There’s lots of sand in the desert! It is easier to build on desert sand than to dig down deep to the bedrock. It’s faster. Cheaper. The temptation would have been to cut corners.
I mean, why even waste the time to dig down to the bedrock. Both houses look the same from the outside. Both of them fulfill their housely functions. Jesus tells us, though, the storm is what really tells the difference.
The storm is what really tells the difference
Beach House Pictures
When we come to God’s Word, we have the same choice to make. Do we listen to it, hear what it says, and say “Yep. I believe it.” Or do we let God speak into our lives, speak into our hearts, confront the deep dark corners of our lives. Do we listen with our ears, or do we hear with our hearts?
Easier Said Than Done
Easier Said Than Done
As I think about this tension, the question keeps coming back to me: Why is it so hard? Why do we struggle to do what we know? Often, the things we want to do?
I think part of the reason we struggle is because we have a limited perspective. It’s part of our human nature. We live our lives, centered around ourselves. Our own perspective, the things we like, the things we have learned, they all shape what we think our lives should look like. Then, when God’s Word speaks from God’s perspective, and it challenges our own, we second-guess it.
God’s perspective is outside of time, is everywhere, he knows everything. But we get stuck in the weeds. We get focused on ourselves. It doesn’t make sense, because we can’t fully wrap our minds around it.
That limited perspective, though, leads to a deeper problem: We trust ourselves more than we trust God. We might not say that out loud. We might not even dare to think that to ourselves. But, when God tells us to do something, and we choose not to. We are saying, with our actions, that we think we know better than God.
We have a limited perspective.
We need to say, “God, I might not understand. God, this doesn’t seem to make any sense to me. But, I’m going to trust you. I’m going to do what you’ve said, because I’m putting my trust in you. Not in myself.”
A Blessing Is In Store
A Blessing Is In Store
If we can do that. One day at a time, if we can start taking those steps to put our trust back into God, James tells us what we’ll get:
But if you look carefully into the perfect 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.
We’re not talking health and wealth stuff here, though.
And what’s this blessing piece? Is this like a cool birthday present or something? James already told us back in verse 21 what the blessing is. God’s word has the power to save your souls. The message of Jesus is what brings you freedom from sin, from death, and it brings you into this relationship with God.
So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
And when you let that grace, that free gift of God’s grace, really soak into your heart, and renew your mind, then you just can’t help but respond. You just can’t help but listen to what he’s said, and respond with obedience because of what he’s already done. You just can’t help but look beyond yourself, to see the needs of others. You just can’t help but see where your life isn’t following Christ, and moving to trust him there. Even if it doesn’t make sense.
Then you can’t help but respond.
And isn’t that a blessing in itself, too? To know that God is working, and moving, and that we get to play a part in it. That we’re in the middle of something that is much bigger than ourselves. That we get to tag along and see the amazing stuff that God wants to accomplish all around us, and we have a front row seat to it! Sometimes the blessing is in the doing.
We’re not talking about Jesus putting your life on easy street. And, if anybody tells you that if you can just believe the right things, or check the right boxes, or give enough offering, then Jesus will make money, power, and success rain down on you, you had better be careful. In fact, Jesus told us the opposite is true. When you decide to follow him. When you decide to give your life over to his leadership, and you take a step to trust him and obey, you will face trouble.
This is the last place I’ll take you, and then we’ll land this plane. But, this is so important to know. At the end of , Jesus is mere moments away from being betrayed, arrested, beaten, and handed over for execution. He spends his last evening with his followers, celebrating a Jewish holiday, Passover. During the meal there are like 5 full chapters of Jesus just teaching, comforting, and preparing his disciples for what’s to come. At the end of all of it, right before he prays, he tells them this:
We have the peace of Jesus.
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
We will have trouble. In other places, Jesus says it as a promise. But the good news, the biggest blessing of it all: We don’t have to live in the chaos, pain, sorrows of this world.
The storms will come. The diagnosis will be made. The heart will be broken. The tragedy will strike. Life will be hard. In the middle of it all, we can live in the peace of Christ. He has overcome all of that, so we don’t have to.
All it takes is a step. Just one step forward, to say “God, I trust you. I don’t know where we’re going, I can’t see past the horizon, but I trust you. What would you have me do?” And, when we show up, God shows up. When we take that step. When we listen and obey.
Bottom Line: When we choose to trust, we can expect God to act.
Bottom Line: When we take a step toward trusting God, we can expect God to work through us.
Don’t just hear with your hears; listen with your heart.
And, if you make that choice, where does he want to take you? What does he want to accomplish through you? What is he asking you to do?
Prayer today: God I Invite You To show me the truth about my walk with you.
Am I being like the listener who forgot, like the house built on the sand? Or am I listening and obeying?
Move into communion
Choose one thing in your life that you need to listen/obey. Suggestions? Read the book of James, Read the sermon on the mount.