I don't know about you but I'm not one that loves to do anything that I feel like I HAVE to do. If you boil it down to the simplest thing I can think of this philosophy applies...take sleeping, for example. During the week when my alarm goes off at 3:50 a.m., I groan knowing the moment has come when I have to get up and go to work. Everything in my body cries out, "Just text your client and cancel. It's 4 a.m...think about how good that extra sleep would feel!"
I have to very intentionally and very stubbornly remind myself that 50% of what I've been hired to do is just show up so that my client(s) have the accountability to show up. However, I find that on the weekends my eyes typically pop open about 4:30 a.m...alarm or no alarm. What's crazy about that is that, unlike the weekdays when I have to work, I wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
When I can sleep, I don't want to sleep. In fact, I love those early weekend moments when I have some time to myself to sit in silence, sip my coffee, and have Sam and Tucker asleep at my feet. Those very same wee hours that seem like such a burden when I "have to" don't seem so bad.
I'm very sure that says something about my nature...the fact that I don't like to do things when I feel like I have to. However, I'm fine when it feels like its on my own terms. Resistant, slightly rebellious in nature, questioner of Authority, stubborn...yep. I'll cop to those things.
I say these imperfect truths about myself not to whine but because I hope that I've painted a clear picture - the decent things and the flaws included. Its my attempt at not being the type of person who puts up a picture of a supermodel on their Match dot com profile and then claims that its them. That happened to my friend once. Let's just say when he met the person they weren't the model - and things didn't go well. He clearly felt seriously deceived and so I'm trying to put up a "real" picture of self here.
Anyway, in studying the book of James, I ran across the verse that most people know whether they've studied the word or not. It's one of those sentences 99% of us can quote but I'm unsure if I've ever slowed down enough to really think about what it means specifically.
Love your neighbor as yourself... (James 2:8)
Easy enough to understand. Hard to apply. We are prone to love ourselves a lot. I mean, we live inside of ourselves so why wouldn't we be kinda a big deal? We think "me" and "mine" are important and we don't want to suffer. So I have to ask, what does that mean "love someone as yourself?" So I wrote down some questions as I studied this morning:
How much do I love my own body? How much do I think about myself? How much do I want my needs met? How often do I think I deserve good things or want people to treat me with respect? If I were starving would I want someone to feed me? If I were poor, would I want someone to put a roof over my head? If I were a widow with no support, would I want someone to help me? If I were an orphan, would I want someone to love me?
So is understanding this principle as simple as flipping those questions inside out and inserting the word "others" in place of "I, me, myself" words.
How much do I think about others? How much do I want to meet the needs of others? If someone were starving, would I feed them? etc..
Same questions...but when they're asked while focused outwardly, there is a much different view of the world and life and faith happening. It was simple when I heard it as a child...and it's not grown more complicated...I've just grown up to be more "me" focused.
The thought crossed my mind this morning, with all the severe weather in Alabama, that it would be easier if there were a tiered list for the bad things people do. Like the way they categorize Hurricanes or whatever.
F1 (will produce some damage):
White lies, gossip, laziness, coveting, selfishness
F2 (will cause extensive damage):
Unforgiveness, disrespecting others, pride
F3 (devastating damage will occur)
Overspending, jealousy, bold lies, slander, ignoring the poor
F4 (catastrophic damage will occur)
Adultery, Rape, Crimes Against Animals
F5 (do not pass go, do not collect 100 dollars, go directly to hell):
Murder, Crimes Against Children
Surely we could all feel better about ourselves this way...I mean, if we have only done an F1 category sin, what's the big deal? I'm a lesser sinner on the scale. So for you F5 sinners, good luck.
Sad, really, that I've probably actually thought this way on some level. But James knows we tend to think like that because right after that verse to love your neighbor comes one of my favorite verses of all time:
Speak and act as those who will be judged by the Law that grants Freedom. (James 2:12)
Boiled down version for Believers: Give what you have gotten.
Believers have been given an incredible Freedom in Christ (Mercy) so we are told to treat others with the same Mercy we have been offered. Mercy isn't a Club with only a few memberships available. Thank goodness. I'm quite sure I wouldn't have gotten in.
I guess I was just really struck this morning that this verse is a little bit of everything important in the Bible boiled down into one, beautiful sentence:
It tells me what God expects of me and how I'm supposed to treat others - how I should speak and act.
It reminds us that being a Believer isn't simply about a set of The Bible isn't a book meant to rob us of everything fun in life, its a guide on how to be truly free. and don't
It's shows us that life, as a Believer, is a level playing field....and that no matter what you have done in the past, once you are given Mercy, you are pardoned from guilt. Your past is 100% forgiven but its not permission to keep being the same.
It points out that our relationship with our God isn't just about following the Law, it's about experiencing the Freedom that comes with a relationship with Christ.
Its a horse-sized pill to swallow...that whether I like to do things I "have to" or not, I am required to give people mercy...even the ones who haven't asked for it or don't think they need it. God isn't asking me to give Mercy, He's telling me to because I should give what I would want for myself. The "law that grants freedom" means I am not bound to ritualistic law but I am bound to love others with a merciful love.
Most importantly, He's telling me to offer mercy because He did it first for me.