“If you read the book of James, once a day, for 40 days it’ll change your life.” I first heard this statement years ago while on a mission trip with a group of kids from my church. It was also a challenge issued by one of the project leaders. 2 weeks ago I shared the same challenge as part of our James sermons series. Since then I have had several members approach me to tell me that they are reading James daily. This has sparked some interesting conversations about how the book has pushed them to reflect on their own lives. It has also prompted me to consider the whole idea of the challenge, particularly as I prepare the 3rd sermon, dealing with James 1:19-27. Several things have come to mind and I hope to explain them in this essay.
Reading the scriptures is sort of like watching an exercise video. My wife owns a handful of workout videos and routinely spends time lifting weights or doing aerobics with an overly chipper spandex clad individual shouting encouragement at her. The video is only effective if she hops up and actually does the exercise. If she sits and enjoys the show while eating Oreos, the video is unlikely to make any impact on her. The same can be said of James. Simply reading it is a good start. However, reading the book of James, in and of itself, will not change you. Real change that takes place in any person happens as a result of the Holy Spirit convicting you and prompting change. Further still, we are made new and changed as the Spirit aids us in overcoming our sinful behaviors and habits. This change is a process that is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s action in us. God’s actions aside, we cannot read as a passive audience. We must act in response to what we read.
Reading James, or any part of the scriptures, puts God’s word in our minds and provides an entry point for the Spirit to prompt us. For example, James contains all sorts of material regarding how we talk and the effects of our words. For example, as a believer reads James, the passages about language provide opportunity to reflect on how we talk and whether or not it conforms to the standard set forth in scripture. If I read the book and never reflect on myself. If I pour over James and never pray for the Spirit to open my eyes to where I need to grow, or worse yet if I read it and think about how all sorts of other people I know are falling short of the standard, then I will not see any change. It’s roughly similar to sitting and watching an aerobics instructor and thinking about how your neighbor really needs to exercise more. It simply doesn’t have any impact on your life. James puts it better than I do:
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
For reading the scriptures or listening to messages to make an impact on you, it is necessary to look at them, like a person looking in the mirror, and reflect on the state of ourselves in comparison to what ought to be. The scriptures will show us perfection and in doing so give us a standard to strive for. For a believer, who is already forgiven for sins through the blood of Christ, our job is to pursue holiness. We look at the law, not as a list of do’s and don’t’s, but rather as a standard to strive for out of love for God and gratitude to Christ.
It doesn’t make sense to get out of bed in the morning, look at the messy state of my hair and instead of combing it, consider how terrible our spouse’s hair is. We look to know God and to know where we need to grow in Christlikeness.
Real change that results from reading the book of James for 40 days is a result of studying, praying, reflecting, and applying. The scriptures aren’t magic. They can change you, but they do so through the lens of your relationship with Christ.