More Than Words

September 23, 2018, Pastor Galen

Psalm 1, James 3:13-18

Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:1,2-3a)

I don’t know about you, but I am one of those people who cannot sit still for very long. My mind is always racing, I’m always thinking about the next thing, so the idea of meditating on God’s law day and night makes my head spin. I work with a group of law students, and I see colossal textbooks that they carry around. Let’s just say there’s a reason that never studied law.

It’s even difficult for me to focus in prayer for very long, especially if I’m just sitting by myself in my room. I need to be out in nature — often I pray while going for a run, or I take a walk and talk to God while experiencing God through nature.

Fortunately, I’ve noticed that nature is one of the ways that God speaks to us. Sometimes God speaks to us through the Bible, sometimes through a still small voice, and sometimes it’s through things that happen in the world around us.

I’m Not A Tree

Several years ago, I was down in New Orleans for a conference related to my campus ministry job. We were given some time during the conference to go and be alone with God, so I went outside and took a walk, and eventually sat down underneath the shade of this gorgeous gigantic tree. I sat with my back leaning up against the trunk of the tree, praying and journaling and talking with God. A few yards in front of me there was another tree, almost identical to the one I was leaning against. These were beautiful trees, with branches reaching up to the sky. They must have been around for over a hundred years.

As I sat there praying and talking with God, I stared at the beautiful tree in front of me. While I was praying, I was asking God to show me what God wanted me to do in the next season of my life. I was in a time of discernment in ministry, I’d been doing college campus ministry for quite a few years, and I was considering moving into a church ministry role, but I wasn’t sure where to go or what to do next.

As I was praying and looking at that tree, I was thinking about how solid the tree was. And I thought to myself, “You know? Maybe God is saying that I’m somehow like that tree! Maybe God is saying that God has made me to be a pillar in my community. People are counting on me and relying on me, and I just need to stay firmly rooted and grounded where I am. God just wants me to stay put, to just be faithful, and stay where I am. I don’t need to get up and move anywhere, I’m already where God wants me to be.”

And as I was just sitting there, sort of relishing in this thought that I was like that tree, thinking about how faithful and solid I am, I began to feel this prickling sensation all over my body. Actually, it was much more than a prickling — it was more like a burning sensation! It came upon me all at once, and I had no idea what it was. I really hadn’t spent a lot of time down south before, so I was completely unfamiliar with this phenomenon that they have down in New Orleans called the “Red Imported Fire Ant.” Apparently I had sat down on or near a nest of these fire ants, and they didn’t like that I was in their space!

Well, let’s just say that I learned that I was not nearly as rooted and grounded as I thought I was! Unlike that tree, I did not stay put. I took off running, straight to the room where I was staying and tore off my clothes and jumped in the shower.

I wasn’t exactly sure what God wanted me to learn from that experience, but it felt significant. I will say that it was definitely a humbling experience, and I think God was trying to tell me that although it is important to be rooted and grounded in the Word of God, that doesn’t mean we have to stay put. When God tells us to move, we need to move!

But I think the moral of this story for us is that:

  1.    God can speak to us in a lot of different way.
  2.    When God speaks we don’t always hear what we expect or want to hear.
  3.    God has an incredible sense of humor.

To me it is encouraging to know that God can speak to us today, through many different means and in many different ways. We don’t all have to be Biblical scholars – we just need to make time and space in our lives to actually listen to God.

More Than Words

Now, although Psalm 1 exhorts us to meditate on the Law, or Word of God, James 3 reminds us that true wisdom is shown not just in knowledge of the Word, but also through “deeds done in humility.”

In our society, wisdom and knowledge are usually associated with words. We tend to think that someone who is smart or wise always has just the right words to say. To us, a wise person is eloquent, has an exhaustive vocabulary, and the uncanny ability to quote just the right proverb in any given situation.

According to James, however, wisdom is shown through correct actions. James declares that the wisdom that comes from God is peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.

Why does James challenge our preconceived ideas of wisdom and knowledge? Why does he insinuate that wisdom is more than words?

Well, anyone can memorize intelligent-sounding proverbs. Given enough time and discipline, any of us could enlarge our vocabulary, or learn to arrange words in such a way as to impress others.

But only a genuinely wise person can consistently act wisely, in any situation, when the pressure is on, whether or not anyone is watching.  Not only do wise people act wisely when the pressure is on, but those who are truly wise normally try to avoid situations where they know they will be tempted to make poor choices – which are often when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

But how does one become wise? For that we must go back to Psalm 1 — by meditating on the word of God.

Meditating: Wrestling and Ruminating

Meditating on the word of God day and night of course does not mean that you have to sit still at a desk and study all the time. You don’t even have to find that perfect shade tree to sit under. Meditating on God’s Word entails taking in the Word of God, and then ruminating on it, chewing on it, even wrestling with it.

My favorite questions when I read a Bible passage are:

  1.    What do I like about this passage?
  2.    What don’t I like about it?
  3.    What am I going to do about it?”

Yes, I admit it! Even as a pastor, there’s a lot of passages I don’t like in the Bible. Sometimes I don’t like a particular Bible passage because it’s difficult to understand. Other times because it seems too far-fetched and implausible.

And sometimes, if I’m honest, I don’t like a particular passage of Scripture because I simply don’t want to put it into practice!

But you know, It’s OK to wrestle with God – some of the most godly characters in the Bible wrestled with God — either literally (see Gen. 32:22-32) or figuratively (Moses, Job, Abraham).  And it’s even OK to be angry with God, to question God, to ask God “why do bad things happen”? Again, we’re in good company with the biblical saints when we do that.

I think that it’s when we wrestle with God’s Word, when we ruminate on the Word, when we question God that we become more deeply rooted in God’s Word. If we just take things at face value, then they stay on the surface. It’s only when we wrestle and squirm with the Word that it sinks down deeper into our souls. And it’s when we move beyond the easy, pat answers that we become humbler, more compassionate people.

It All Starts and Ends with Jesus

In the end, though, we find that Jesus is the only one who fits James’s description of one who is truly wise. Jesus is the one who always acted in humility, who was always pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, and sincere. Jesus is the only one who truly lived a life that was always good and righteous, who never harbored bitter envy or selfish ambition. Jesus is the tree planted by the rivers of water, whose life always yielded good fruit.

As we look at Jesus’ life, we see that Jesus was indeed someone who cultivated wisdom through meditation on God’s Word and through deeds done in humility.

  1. As a twelve-year-old boy, Jesus was in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).  When his parents told him to come home with them Jesus “was obedient to them…And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52).
  2. In Luke 6, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12).
  3. And Acts 10:38 says that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and…he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

And so, Jesus is both our role model, and the means by which we can live a life that is righteous and fruitful. We all have been selfish or envious at one time or another. All of us have harbored bitterness, or boasted and denied the truth. We need the grace, mercy and forgiveness that only Jesus can offer. We need Jesus to help us become firmly rooted and grounded, and to make wise decisions, and to bear good fruit.

With Jesus’s help we can become solid, deeply rooted, trees that bear good fruit. With Jesus’s help we can bear “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Through Jesus we can move beyond bitterness, selfishness, and envy. We’ll still make mistakes on this side of heaven, but with Jesus’s grace, mercy and forgiveness we can become people who “sow in peace [and] reap a harvest a righteousness” (James 3:18).