I find the letter of James particularly challenging because his teachings are practical and straight to the point. He doesn’t leave us anywhere to hide!
Last week James was cautioning those called to teach, reminding us of the power of the word and its ability to have an impact disproportional to its size. A little bit of preaching can have a significant influence, especially when it comes from someone vested with authority. It is the responsibility of every teacher to ensure that they remain faithful to the true gospel rather than some personal version that suits their own bias, which is where training and supervision, alongside prayer and study come in.
This week James has moved on to point out how our inner unresolved cravings and desires betray themselves in our outer unhealthy behaviours. Have you ever had one of those days where, despite your best efforts, you keep catching yourself saying and doing things of which you are not proud? The kind of day where you look back and find yourself having to go back and apologise for the way you behaved?
If a time of desolation such as this goes on over a longer time, it can become your default way of behaving and then you find it increasingly difficult to like yourself, let alone expect anyone else to like you. And that is a sad place to find yourself. Good friends and loved ones may well know, without being asked, what it is that you need to bring you, back to yourself, and to a place of peace. They do this by offering you love, perhaps undeserved and yet able to remind you of the beauty of the image of God within you. We can find similar comfort through reading scripture and through prayer. When bad behaviour betrays our need for love, it is time to return to the love of God, remembering that it is both undeserved and unlimited.
For some people the loss of the sense of self made in the image of God, becomes too great and they need more help to rediscover it. The church has an important role to play in being a community of love, modelling the love of God for those who need it most. Showing people that they are made in the image of God, helping them to heal the wounds that put them at odds with themselves and the world, liberating them from unhealthy appetites as they rediscover who they are made to be. Such work begins with ourselves.
James encourages us to own up to our needs and to ask for what we want. Healthy human relationships depend on people being able to be honest with one another about their needs, so too with God. We should not be shy of saying how we really feel and what we really want and then trust that God has our best interests at heart.
It is this trust in God, that keeps us in a place of peace and consolation. Undeclared, un-met needs drive us to unhealthy appetites and ungracious behaviours. So, says James, if you want to send the devil packing, turn away and draw close to God.
- Do you recognise the relationship between inner turmoil and outer bad behaviour?
- Can you think of a time when the undeserved love or kindness of another helped you to re-connect with your better self?
- When faced with the bad behaviour of another, how are we called to act?