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Hear and Do: What Nike Said

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

I got into this habit a while back of downloading task-list software from the Internet. It was an excellent way to avoid actual work. It felt productive; I was cataloging all the important things I had to do. I was building a system. I was making a fresh start.

heardo_350But there was a problem. After going through the little ritual of typing in a “to do” and categorizing it and putting it in context, I got this little buzz of satisfaction. “There it is! I know exactly what I must do. It is captured!” I felt proud of myself for being so organized as to have this sophisticated list-making knowledge.

And then I didn’t do anything else. Why? Because I already got the completion buzz from just adding the task to the list. It felt “done” even though I didn’t do anything. James noticed we have the exact same problem with the Bible. We feel great because we take time to listen to God’s Word – so great that we sometimes don’t worry about actually doing anything about it.

Think: Ever feel so satisfied with yourself for having devotions or going to church that you skip actually doing what God’s tells us to? Yeah, me too.

Pray: Ask God to help to be both a listener to and a do-er of His Word.

Do: Find a way to “do” something today you’ve heard in the Word recently.

Hear and Do: No Outlet

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21)

Have you ever spent any time in a maze – either on paper with a pen or pencil or inside some kind of life-size contraption? The implied goal of being in a maze is to get out, to get through it, to get to the other side. You can’t escape if you keep getting stuck in dead ends.

heardo_350James makes an assumption in these verses. He assumes that our goal in life is to live “the righteous life that God desires.” If that’s not our ultimate goal for life on this side of heaven, then his book isn’t going to make much sense to us.

He told us yesterday that human anger is a dead end; it does not lead to choices that please God. Today, James drops some more knowledge on all of us maze-dwellers: “Other dead ends: moral filth and evil. The way home? It’s in the Word. The Word’s in you. Don’t resist the Word (unless you like dead ends).”

Think: Have you discovered some dead ends in life? What are worthless choices or attitudes you’re learning to avoid because they don’t get you where you want to go?

Pray: Ask God to give you a radar for worthless paths so you can keep heading in a worthwhile direction.

Do: Off the top of your head, write a quick definition for moral filth. Then look the two words up in a dictionary.

Hear and Do: Speed Control

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

I love that the Bible never says, “Don’t feel angry!” God understands that’s not possible. Instead, he gives us some of the most practical and profound teaching on what to do with anger in all of recorded human history.

heardo_350First, rush into hearing. Listen long enough to clearly understand all the facts and all the motives, as best you can. Then listen again. Second, shut up. The first words out of our mouths in an angry situation are often the worst ones. When you’re angry, doubt your mouth.

Finally, own this: You’re not going to make any real progress toward your real goals while the anger meter is in the red. Wait for it to cool off before taking action or making big decisions. Don’t let your anger run your life.

Think: What are some ways you can slow your anger down – and keep it from sending you spiraling in an unhealthy direction.

Pray: Ask God for speed control over your listening (faster), talking (slower), and getting mad (slower).

Do: Ask a mature Christian friend or two what their strategy is for keeping anger from controlling their lives.

Glory: A Prayer for the Connected

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

[Cue movie announcer’s voice:] If you only attach one Bible verse to your forehead this year, attach this one.[/announcer]

To my knowledge, King David of Israel never Googled anything. He didn’t have Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t write comments on someone’s Instagram. But under the inspiration of God, he wrote Psalm 19:14 for all those of us who do those things today.

glory_350The Internet and our smartphones practically beg you and me to convert every random thought in our heads into published words. That’s dangerous, and it should scare us way more than it does. Not just because we might say something to make ourselves look foolish – but because we might write something unkind or deceptive or immoral and make our God look foolish.

Maybe even worse, the Internet offers an avalanche of ideas and images for our hearts to “meditate” on. And even if we don’t consciously think about them all, our “hearts” and minds are always processing those messages. We must develop the ability to delete the worthless thoughts and keep the valuable ones.

David sees that the only hope for pleasing God with our words and thoughts comes from our Rock and Redeemer.

Think: Do you have a different standard for what you will say and think about online or on your phone than in the rest of your life? Is that standard more or less pleasing to God than the one you stick to in the real world?

Pray: Write down this verse with your hand and pray it every day this week and/or month and/or year.

Do: Notice someone who reflects God’s character on any social network this week and thank him or her for that.

Glory: Hidden and Willful

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. ” (Psalm 19:12-13)

If you’ve been following along in Psalm 19 this week, you’ll notice another shift in verse 12. In the first few verses, David looked up. He found himself amazed by a God who could create the heavens, especially the enormous and powerful fireball called the sun. Then he looked down into the pages of God’s Word and was overwhelmed that the creator of the heavens would talk to us in words on paper.

glory_350Now David looks into his own heart. Compared to the sun, he sees his smallness. Compared to God’s commands in Scripture, David sees how sinful he is. He realizes immediately he often does not live according to the Law. He is not operating according to the design. He naturally sins without thinking of it sometimes.

At other times, David admits, he intentionally rebels against God’s commands. For the fist time in this chapter, he asks God for something: “Forgive the sins I do without realizing I’m doing them – and keep me from doing the ones I know are wrong. Please help me not to be controlled by my sinful desires.”

Think: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sense that you are way off the path of living according to God’s design for your life? Do you ever run into a brick wall of conviction over your sinful choices?

Pray: Pray this passage to God. Ask him to convict you of sin and to give you the courage (and power in his Spirit through faith in Christ) to obey him.

Do: Ask someone you trust to tell you if they think you have any “hidden sins” that you aren’t aware of most of the time. (Be brave and try not to get defensive.)

Glory: How to Drive

“The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Proverbs 19:9-11)

Imagine if you lived 1,000 years ago and you woke up one morning to discover that everyone in your village had a car parked in front of their house. Cool, yes? Except nobody has ever seen a car before. Nobody knows what it’s for and why it exists or where it came from. Some people start using their cars for beds or dining rooms or less pleasant things. Others begin to worship the cars as a kind of god.

glory_350What would it be worth to discover, hidden under one of the floor mats, an owner’s and driving manual written in your own language? If you studied it, you’d suddenly understand the point of “car.” You’d get that it was transportation, that it was meant to be fast, that it has an in-dash stereo. You’d realize what the key was for – and you’d learn some things not to do if you wanted it to work properly (e.g., put sand in the gas tank, drive at night without headlights, etc.).

Having the car’s maker explain in writing how the car works best would mean the difference between having a worthless hunk of metal – and having a ticket to drive really fast. Paying attention to the maker’s warnings and direction would mean the difference between life and death. (Okay, you get the metaphor – God’s directions to us about how to live are worth everything. Don’t worry about where you’d find gas or the lack of roads. It’s just an analogy. Come on. Work with me here.)

Think: What are the chances of coming to the right conclusions about how our lives are meant to be lived if you eliminate God’s instructions in his Word?

Pray: Ask God to help you to value his Word for what it’s worth.

Do: Write down three things the Bible warns you to avoid on the road of the life. Then briefly describe (in a sentence) the reward of obeying God’s commands.

Glory: Light and Heat

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.” (Psalm 19:7-9)

Wait a minute? Wasn’t David just describing the heavens? Wasn’t he just writing beautiful poetry about the sun? Did someone change the channel on the psalm? Now it’s all about the law and statutes and precepts and commands.

glory_350Nope, same story. David is expecting us to make the connection between God’s glory in creation and his glory in Scripture. If you’re impressed with the sun – and who is not? – then you should be astounded by the Law. David is talking about the Scripture he knows, which would have included the first five books of our Bible. Specifically, he’s describing God’s instructions to his people Israel.

These revelations of God’s heart tell us about God just as his creation does. They revive our souls, teach us wisdom, and bring us great joy. Why? For those called to live under God’s Law at the time, it showed how the Creator of life intended for life to be lived. And living life as he designed it is the best life there is. Just as the sun helps us see what is hidden in the dark, God’s commands in the Law lit up dark roads, showing what to avoid and how to stay on the path.

Think: What other connections can you find between the beauty of God’s creation and the beauty of his Word?

Pray: Thank God for showing you his heart on the pages of your Bible. Ask him to give you the courage to follow his commands to you for your good.

Do: Off the top of your head, write down three commands from the Bible, instructions to you personally, that light up your path by telling you what to avoid and which way to go.