Christians have a problem. We love to talk about our faith. We enjoy expounding on various elements of Christianity. Many of us also find fulfillment in reading books or blog posts about the Christian faith. We hear an encouraging sermon on Sunday and we leave feeling good about ourselves. We read a faith based book and we feel as if we have accomplished something. The problem we often have as Christians is moving beyond the hearing and getting to the doing.
I have heard sermons on feeding the poor and agreed with everything that was said, but then did nothing in the days following the sermon to help the poor. I have read books on spiritual disciplines, but then failed to practice the disciplines I just read about. I don’t believe I am alone. I think this probably happens more than we would like to admit. There is a disconnect between taking information in and doing.
Why do we like hearing about the things we should be doing more than doing them? I believe when we hear or read about what we should be doing, we envision us doing it in an ideal situation and under perfect conditions. In other words, when we hear a sermon about feeding the poor, we see ourselves as the hero. We imagine a person who has fallen on hard times who simply needs a helping hand. This is where we rush in and save the day. The reality is that helping the homeless or less fortunate is a lot more messy. You have to deal with people who are suffering from mental illnesses. Sometimes you encounter drug addicts or prostitutes. Most of the time, you are feeding a person whose problems are not going to be solved with just one meal. Feeding the homeless is not as simple as we would like it to be.
We do the same thing when we read a book about spiritual disciplines. We picture ourselves praying in silence for hours. We would like to believe we have the capacity to fast like the heroes of the Bible. We want to be a super-Christian, but when we try praying in silence we are disturbed by the small children who are under our care. When we fast, we are tempted by food, Facebook, or whatever else we have given up. We like the idea of spiritual disciplines, but doing them is sometimes frustrating.
We often seek excuses for doing. We would like to help the poor, but we are not sure we have the right plan and we are not even certain if the poor in our community really need our help. We would like to fast, but no one at church has ever talked about it in detail and we are just not sure how it all works. We would like to devote more time to prayer, but now is not convenient. We love the message, but we can always find a reason for not living out the very thing we profess to love.
The thing is, the Bible has a lot to say about doing. Jesus is a big fan of doing. In the Sermon on the Mount he spends most of his time talking about what we should do. In chapter 6 he focuses on giving (1-4), praying (5-15), fasting (16-18), and living simply (19-34). At the end of the sermon he says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (7:24). Jesus doesn’t just want us to like his message or feel good about it, he wants us to take what he says and put it into practice.
Ever since the reformation we have read James 2 through a certain lens. We often believe it is about a debate between faith vs. works, but this was not why James wrote what he wrote. James 2 is about doing, and not just doing, but doing the right things. He begins with what we do at worship (1-7). He then addresses how we are to move from mere words to actions. James understood that there is a natural tendency to like the message but fail to practice what we believe.
When we commit to doing, we are loving God and loving others. This is obvious, but there is much more to doing. It is transformational. Doing often shapes us more than hearing or reading. We become like Jesus when we give, pray, and fast. We are formed into his image when we feed the poor and help the sick. Doing is essential to the Christian faith. It is like oxygen to our spiritual health. Without doing we whither away and die.
Doing is not always easy. It can be messy. There is never a perfect time or a perfect plan, but thankfully Jesus does not challenge us to seek out the ideal situation. He simply asks us to do. We encounter Jesus in the messiness of doing. We learn to trust God when things do not go our way. We learn, love, and forgive in situations that are less than ideal.
It is time that we start doing. Leave the excuses behind. Give up any grandiose ideas of perfection. Let us get up, go out, and be the people God is calling us to be. The crowds heard what Jesus was doing and they flocked to him. May we be known, not simply for what we believe, but also for what we do.
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