by Jacob Hudgins
Our world tempts us to live superficially. Our culture offers us fast food, shallow relationships, and quick fixes. Even in spiritual things, we are encouraged to exchange gradual spiritual growth and organic community for five minute “devos” and dodgeball. The book of James is a hard sell in our culture. It invites us look at the deeper things of life—things of real value that require serious thought, intense commitment, and continual effort.
James teaches us a deeper perspective on suffering. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”(James 1:2-4). When hardships happen to us, our instinct is to complain, get frustrated, and even blame God. Yet James teaches us that we can “count it all joy” when we encounter trials, not because they are pleasant but because they help us grow. They produce steadfastness (patience) and push us toward spiritual maturity. Impatience is a mark of childishness, yet we only learn to overcome it by having to wait. Suffering is incredibly difficult, but James urges us to think deeper about it and see the good it can produce.
James teaches us a deeper perspective on religion. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”(James 1:26-27). We often think our service to God consists mainly of going to church, or taking certain moral stands. Yet James teaches us that true religion must impact the heart and life. We must bridle our tongues, care earnestly for those in need (widows and orphans in particular), and be passionate about our own moral purity. Religion without personal application is “worthless.” How often do we attend church services but put little of our heart into it? Do we go to church while still living for ourselves? James pushes us to think deeper.
James teaches us a deeper perspective on prayer. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him”(James 1:5). Often when we have a need, we naturally assume that we must do something to meet it. We talk to doctors, or experts, or friends. God wants us to ask him! “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask”(James 4:2). Do we ask God for the things we need? “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”(James 4:3). James also teaches us that God sometimes refuses to grant our requests because we are only using him to get all the stuff we want. There is something deeper in prayer—real faith shown in asking God (rather than ourselves) and real honor shown in asking for things that reflect God’s priorities (rather than our own).
We don’t have to live superficially! Let’s think deeper!