Many of us feel overworked— and at times overproud in our abilities to multitask. We have our careers, job responsibilities, coworkers, civic duties, responsibilities to care for those less fortunate, and extended families. We have church duties, community concerns, and financial worries. Then there is terrorism, crime, war—the issues are overwhelming.
But for Christians, there's a better way, a surer priority. That priority, after securing our relations with God, is to ensure our personal care (Exod. 20:3), which includes the spiritual, physical, and mental dimensions of life (1 Cor. 6:19). Then comes our relationship with our spouses (Eph. 5:25-33) and our responsibilities to our children (Deut. 7:7), followed by obligations we have to the world surrounding us.
Of course the pressures are relative and subjective. We know full well, there are people in much worse circum stances than we are, which reminds us to be grateful, to be thankful, to count our blessings, to think of others more than of ourselves. A fresh look at the book of James, particularly chapter 1, can be especially helpful.
In rereading that chapter the other day, I realized that perhaps some of us don't really take in the full impact of its message. We love verse 2, because it tells us to be happy about our trials— opportunities to grow spiritually. We feel reassured by verse five that we will get wisdom if we ask God "who gives generously to all" who ask.
But grateful thoughts alone are not enough to stop the stress, because we're missing part of the equation.
We tend perhaps to somewhat ignore verse 21. We need to humbly accept the word of God planted in us which will protect us and in this way help save us. The idea of God's protection is soothing, but the humility part is less easily swallowed. Humility means honestly—honestly— letting go. It does not mean, "I know they are wrong, but I'll just be the bigger person"; or, "I know I'll get my stars in heaven for bearing this burden that I don't deserve to bear." But we are not called to bear our burdens alone. Jesus has done that— and beyond—for us. The slashing of the whips onto His arms, the smashing of the thorns into His head, the pounding of the nails into His arms and into His feet were not the worst of His suffering.
Beyond the physical pain, He suffered the weight of the guilt of all our sins, which so overwhelmed Him that He could not feel the presence of His Father. He suffered this agony for us.
When we begin to feel like bearing our burdens alone, we must remember that doing so is not our part.
Easier said than done, and I believe God knows and has mercy on our human shortcomings. Yet I also believe it is our responsibility as Christ's followers to take time to read and absorb the true meaning of Jesus' message, given to us through the writers of the Bible, and apply that message to us. It is easier to read, for example, James 1:14, 15 and wish other people would listen and learn how they should treat others. We nod our heads along with the sermons we know a lot of people need to hear.
But often at least part of that sermon may somehow apply to all of us if we listen closely—and with an open heart.
James 1:14,15 reminds us that every person "is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." Surely this warning fully applies to all of us who are tempted to feel reassurance for our suffering without actually praying for and being open to developing that true humility that is the basic ingredient of the whole recipe.
Cookies without sugar don't taste very good—or so said my children after my post-camp-meeting experiments.
Perseverance without humility, likewise, doesn't add up to the Christlike character we pray to have. In the full context of the message, we must accept humbly—not self-righteously—the complete "word [of God] planted in [us]" so that our character becomes "mature and complete" (1:4).
In other words, accepting the complete word of God is accepting God's work in its pure form. Any kind of self-talk that implies that he or she is just a little wiser or better—the kind of self-talk that we do secretly to help us be able to act the way we think we should—is not only arrogant, it is impure—as James says, it is "double-minded" (verse 8).
We all pray for our characters to be molded into what God wants us to be.
Let's also remind ourselves to take the time to slow down a little for priority one and take in the complete context of God's words. For now, I'm working on giving—completely, purely—whatever problems arise to God, who strengthens me as I humbly accept His gifts,
*AII Scripture passages in this article are from the New International Version.