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Reflections: Listen, and then do

My First5 devotions are currently in the book of James, working our way verse by verse through one of the most practical “how-to’s” in the Bible. Just in the first chapter, we tackled tough topics like staying focused in faith in spite of persecution; growing in wisdom; and saying “no” to impure desires before they take a foothold and lead to sin.


I spent a lot of time on v. 22: “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” I memorized that verse in VBS decades ago, and got the idea that I’d better get busy—helping my mom when she volunteered to clean the church, inviting friends to VBS, obeying my parents. Not bad things, of course. But the phrase “not hearers only,” doesn’t mean being a hearer is a bad thing—it just means it isn’t the only thing. And it took several more years before I really took the “hearing” part seriously when it came to personal Bible study and application.


I imagined James’ letter being read aloud to groups of early Christians gathered for worship. James was Jesus’ earthly brother, a son of Mary and Joseph, who became a leader in the early Church after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. His letter would have been one of the earliest epistles, so when he says “the Word,” he is likely referring to Old Testament scriptures and to the apostles’ teaching about Jesus. Not yet having books handy, the early Christians would have heard these when gathered for worship, and then had to remember and meditate on them as they returned to daily life and marketplace chatter.


I’m no Greek scholar, but I do know there were different words for a casual hearer vs. really leaning in with the intent of obedience and application. James goes on to compare the Word to a mirror, where just a quick glance doesn’t suffice for actually seeing what’s going on and if changes are needed. The rest of the letter has some tough instructions for things like controlling our speech and not showing partiality, along with ways to build up one another through prayer.


So, being a hearer is not a bad thing; it’s actually vitally important. But being a hearer only is a bad thing. Being a doer starts with hearing, really hearing, not allowing other voices to drown out the important truths we need to absorb and apply.


We are blessed to have eyewitness accounts and letters as our New Testament, a guideline for the practicalities of Christian living, but those practicalities—the “doer” part—don’t happen without the “hearing” part. We might hear through a sermon at church, discussion at a small group Bible study, or over coffee with a trusted friend, but also directly from the Holy Spirit during our personal time in God’s Word. And the scripture verse that comes to mind about really hearing well? You guessed it: Psalm 46:10. “Be still.” Read or listen intently; absorb; let the Holy Spirit illuminate. Then take James’s advice. Any changes needed in thoughts and actions? Confession time here, I’ve had to make some schedule changes to free up time for serving others and prioritizing things God has put on my heart to get done. Will you join me? Read; listen; and then—DO.

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