For my brave sister in law Joanna who challenged me to speak the uncomfortable and has chosen to let God grow her in her discomfort.
Do you ever read parts in the Bible and it feels like for the rest of the day your heart is coming to terms with what you have read? For me the book of James is one of those books and when I read it I find myself saying “Ouch! That was uncomfortable!’ It is uncomfortable because it challenges me beyond my flesh and my flesh hates it! It feels uncomfortable but it will continue to feel uncomfortable until I change. God’s word will not bend to suit me; it does not shape itself around my ways, it is the complete opposite. I HAVE to change! I HAVE to do the work in order to feel comfortable again, even if it is only until I read something else that does the same. But this is a way of life for me. I must be made to feel uncomfortable to grow.
In the first chapter of James, the very opening of the book, in the NRSV we find this verse:
“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind consider it nothing but joy because you know the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have it’s full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Trials are uncomfortable. Sometimes they hurt…a lot! So how can we consider it nothing but joy? That bit was uncomfortable! My flesh says, “Joy? It’s not joy! That was the worst day of my life, how dare you say consider it joy… you obviously don’t know what has happened to me!” But my spirit says, “Hang on. If I choose to consider this joy I will be complete and lack nothing. That’s what I want… to be complete, to feel whole again, to get back the joy that the enemy stole from me.” Which do I choose? I choose to work against my flesh. My flesh hates the fact that this verse reclaims joy in the sadness. My flesh wants to mope around. I am not saying that we don’t feel pain… we do and we suffer but we can choose to not let our joy be taken from us. My flesh says, “Testing my faith produces endurance! I don’t want endurance! I’d rather have an easier life where trials are few… or in fact I could just give up on God, He’s let me down one too many times this time and I am not sure it’s worth it!” But my spirit says, “ You need endurance if you want to fulfill all the promises over your life, the dreams and the goals. You need some shaping, you need to be more mature and you need endurance, so persevere. You cannot give up on the God of hope.”
The battle of the flesh and the spirit is uncomfortable. We have to die to our flesh. When I say ‘flesh’ I mean the things of me, the ‘I want… I need… I deserve… I don’t like… I’m not doing that!’ I mean the part of us that thinks that the Bible should bend to suit us. We have to fight hard for the spirit inside us to win sometimes. We have to choose that. The spiritual man wins when we work against our flesh, but it is uncomfortable.
Here’s another one: Chapter 1 verses 5-8 say this:
‘If any of you is lacking is wisdom, ask God, who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.’
Ouch!! ‘Must not expect to receive anything from the Lord!’ Wow! Have you ever doubted that God could do what you need? I confess I have. To doubt is to be ‘double-minded and unstable’. I don’t want to be that person. I want to know beyond any doubt that God is on my side and that His plans are to prosper me not to harm me, so I have to work against my flesh when it tells me that there’s a good chance God won’t do that thing that I need. If I let myself become that person this verse tells me that I must not expect to receive anything from the Lord! It is there… in this verse and it will not move just because I feel uncomfortable with it!
We are 8 verses in to the book of James and already, again, I am suitably challenged. In fact my heart is restless as I write because I am so aware of my failings. Nevertheless, sometimes we just have to get over ourselves and try harder.
I am going to jump now to chapter 2 and unpack some verses that continue to make me uncomfortable. I hope that you will feel the same and that together we can understand what this means for the future of the church.
James 2:1-5 says this,
‘My brothers and sisters do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also come in, and if you take notice of the one wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘stand there’, or ‘sit at my feet’, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?’
These verses led me into some thoughts; if you shun someone who comes in to your church who doesn’t look right, or is dirty or who smells or has an alcohol problem or has mental health issues or is gay or who doesn’t fit your mould, you leave yourselves open to the question ‘Do you really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? I know I have taken this out of context but I am trying to put it bluntly into our world today. If we show ‘favouritism’ to anyone more than another we become ‘judges with evil thoughts’. I don’t believe this verse is just about poor clothes and rich clothes, I believe it is about people; people who we decide ‘don’t fit’, who deserve to fit and who belong to the family of God.
The thing that makes me so uncomfortable with these verses is that these acts of favouritism are still rife in our churches, whether we recognise it or not. We judge people because of how they appear. They may be vulnerable people who desperately need a family. It is not up to us to judge them. It is up to us to welcome them and treat them as people who God is especially fond of. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Something that challenges me is the use of the term ‘weirdo’. I know that we are all weirdos in our own little ways and usually this word is used in a harmless humorous way, but we have to be so careful with it too. If we look across our congregation and see someone and say of them ‘There’s that weirdo’ we have to check our attitude. Are we willing to give an available seat to someone who makes us feel uncomfortable? Please hear me right, if someone potentially presents a risk then, of course, proceed with caution and let these people shape our structures so that they can be cared for by those who are skilled in this area. But if someone makes you feel uncomfortable because of how they appear, challenge yourself, open up the seat. Firstly, because your flesh hates it, but also because they need it. They might need that seat more than we will ever know. They might need acceptance and love. In fact that seat might save a life, it might save yours too from showing favouritism and become ‘judges with evil thoughts’.
I believe that God is on the move. I believe that there is a world out there who need to hear the good news of Jesus to change their lives but I find myself uncomfortably asking the question “Will God trust us with more people?” If we want to see our churches grow, I believe we all need to understand that God will only bring more people to us in a supernatural way if He knows for sure that we can be trusted to welcome them in with open arms and love. Love does not label someone as ‘weirdo’. It keeps no record of wrongs.
Sir Francis Drake opens His prayer with these words ‘Disturb us Lord when we are too well pleased with ourselves’. We have not got it all together! Far from it! Work against your flesh for the sake of His Kingdom. I hope you feel uncomfortable. I do! I feel challenged to change my part in this and do better. I hope that very soon God will be able to trust us all with precious people. Not numbers to fill a building, people who will change the world in their own way, and with people who are willing to say “Ouch! That was uncomfortable! What can I do about it?”