Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what is says. James 1:22 (NIV)
For the past six months, I have been studying French in Europe as preparation for missionary service in Africa. While at a continuing medical education conference in Lyon, France, this week, I was encouraged by my progress. I understood practically everything the French speakers said. I could have been deluded into thinking I knew French.
French people use the same phrase to say politely both 'please' and 'you're welcome'. In casual conversation with other physicians, I errantly used that expression to say 'thank you'. I am certainly grateful for my progress thus far, but my oral mistakes serve as a frequent reminder that hearing with understanding comes long before successful spontaneous speech.
As far as language acquisition goes, my instructors are 'Baptists'; they believe in 'total immersion'! One must be in a setting to hear the language daily. The student must study newly acquired information. And, most importantly, the language must be spoken; it must be practised and used. 'Speak, speak, speak,' was the advice of one teacher as the year began.
having been a Christian for many years, I have a tendency to hear God's word apathetically. But God has reminded me that the same guidelines that I've been given to learn French apply to my life spiritually. James knew that the readers of his epistle had heard the word of God. Yet he challenged them to look at the word 'intently'. We, too, must handle the Bible with diligence; we must spend time studying it. James went on to say that as we continually look intently into God's word, we must then be 'doing it'; we must put it into practice. This leaves us vulnerable. God has put us on the battlefield of his kingdom. We each stand at the individual interfaces where God's kingdom meets the world. We must act according to his word.
Each time I open my mouth to speak French, I risk failure. At each moment we live as Christians, we risk failure. Yet God himself promises to uphold us, to strengthen us, to provide for us. We need simply to act on the basis of his word. Then, as James told his readers (Jas 1:25), we shall be blessed in what we do:
'He who looks into the perfect law,
the law of liberty and perseveres,
being no hearer that forgets but a doer that acts,
he shall be blessed in his doing'.
Further reading: Jas 1:19-27.
This devotional is also available in Italian on the website of CMF's sister organisation AMICO