Throughout my lifetime, I have witnessed disturbing issues and images in my culture. It has become commonplace, and I have to admit that I have often dismissed our society’s problems, because they didn’t affect me. Even worse I have ignored them.
In this last month, I have not been able to escape the images on the streets of America. And what I have witnessed is wrong. God has disturbed me.
It was about time! I needed to see the reality of who I was. I needed to acknowledge my pain toward others. I needed to admit the brutality I have hidden in my heart. I needed to have compassion. I needed to change. I need to care.
Are the problems we are witnessing today new? No. For sure, they have haunted our nation since the beginning of our country four hundred years ago. But in reality, the same problems are seen throughout the Bible. And that goes very far back. It’s always been systemic.
Some may want to call our current injustices “normative.” But they should never be called right. Some people call our actions a sickness. God’s label is much more serious. He calls it sin.
The Royal Law is found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking [God’s] Law.” James 2:8
Lately, I have been reading the New Testament book of James in my time with God. I didn’t choose it. He did. He knew He needed to get my attention … have a word with me … better yet, to get my heart. God has always been a heart surgeon.
“God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
There are two things I want. I want God’s blessing, and I want to see God. I need to have the peace of accomplishing those two things.
What does God want me to do?
1. I Need to Listen
The hallmark of true Christian faith is listening to God. That’s what we’re really doing when we open the Bible. And when God directed me to the Bible book of James, He went to work on my heart.
James 5 has some very disturbing words for me … Hear the cries of those whom you have cheated … you have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire … you have condemned innocent people.
Had I been reading the Bible, but not really hearing? I accepted Jesus as my Savior many years ago. And, God has been good to me. I have been exempted from the injustice and massive hatred that so many of my fellow citizens have been subjected to.
I wasn’t listening to the voices of people around me. God was awakening me from my spiritual slumber with their renewed shouts. Things were not just wrong in our world. Things were wrong in my heart.
I could have closed my Bible out of anger or out of denial. “No! Not me, God. Doesn’t apply!” But I knew I was guilty. For too many years, I thought I was better than others and good enough for God. Obviously, not!
“If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealously and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.” James 3:14-16
That word – demonic – pierced my soul. Yes, I had problems, but God wanted me to make sure I understood that if I continued to disregard or deny the injustice in my world and in my heart, I was serving the wrong god … and this world (and I) would only get worse. I was sitting on my couch, but I was getting very uncomfortable. Like my parents said when I was a kid: I was not excused to leave. God was telling me I need to …
2. Keep Learning
That’s what real Christianity is. God doesn’t do complacent. Instead, He pushes change. I think that’s why some people end up not serving Jesus. He’s demanding … but He’s right.
Having been in a career of teaching, I know that the best way to propel learning is to ask questions. Jesus was a master at it. He, the greater Teacher, took me back to His classroom. I needed to relearn things.
It was test time, and God needled me with questions.
It was about time! I needed to see the reality of who I was. I needed to acknowledge my pain toward others. I needed to have compassion. I needed to change. I need to care. Click To Tweet
“How can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James 2:1
“What good is it if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? … Faith by itself is not good enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…. We are shown to be right with God by what we do.” James 2:14, 17 ,24
And then there was His real lesson.
“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” James 1:22
Not only was there wrongdoing in my heart, I was wrong because I was not doing what was right!
I remember praying desperately before I took tests throughout school, but this time I sincerely prayed.
3. I Must Pray
Genuine prayer is humbling oneself before God. That’s the best – and the only – place to start. And when I come to God with that heart attitude, God is not only listening, but He is giving.
“He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:6-7
Repentance is the beginning of hope. Understanding my sin and guilt was a heavy, long-standing burden, but I was inviting God to lift that off and lift me up to His new healing work in me.
Had I been reading the Bible, but not really hearing? I accepted Jesus as my Savior many years ago. And, God has been good to me. I have been exempted from the injustice and massive hatred that so many of my fellow citizens have been… Click To Tweet
Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly. James 5:16-17
Have you ever read how hard the prophet Elijah had to pray [see 1 Kings 18:41-46]? I’ve never prayed that hard!
After I confessed my sins of pride and complacency and generally not caring, God challenged me to keep on praying, because our society’s problems of injustice and reconciliation were not a one-shot deal. They were a daily obedience.
4. Start Doing
God pushed me further through His words in the book of James. Yes, I was challenged. He had done His work in me, but now He wanted to do something through me.
But I really didn’t know where to start. Faithful as He is, God had the word for me.
“There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when He judges you.” James 2:13
“Start here,” God said. Accept and activate mercy in my heart. Mercy is noticeable. Mercy moves. Mercy acts for the benefit of others.
“Give great honor to those who endure under suffering.” James 5:11
“The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18
Begin honoring others. Bring about peace. I must desire the righteousness of God in all things. At all times, not just in the heat of the moment, but from this point on. God doesn’t change on this.
In what ways can I do that? As always with God, the sky is the limit!
“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.” James 3:13
I need to have His eyesight every day. Accept people and their circumstances into my life. I need to always do what is good and right.
This is not a time of fear. It is a call to faith. Because Christians are not silent. They are doers. Their change helps to transform. Wherever there is injustice … hatred … wrong.
The Bible says we are all made in the image of God. “God, keep Your image of others in my mind and in my heart.”
That’s not just a news byte for this month or the next. It needs to be a new behavior in me … for my world … with new friends.
I want a better world. I want a better me.
I want a better diversity … a beautiful unity … a bold clarity of purpose. I want to be on God’s side.
I hope you do too. Let’s get to work!