An ancient Chinese philosopher said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” He was right in so many ways, and I keep thinking that if Big-Brother James had ever heard that now-famous saying, he probably would have paraphrased it to say that the life of faith begins with a single step of obedience. Not being the kind of man to sugar-coat anything, he is likely to warn you that the journey will be difficult, and you should not expect otherwise. But he would also be quick to point out– and this is what makes you want to keep on reading– that the rewards of the journey far outweigh any hardship along the way. All the single steps of faith are adding up into something wonderful under God’s watchful eyes and guiding hand.
What James actually says, is “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4) He’s already looking ahead to where that first single step is going to take you, which makes sense if he is thinking about the journey being a rough one. It is wise to count the cost, to judge the value of the journey by its lasting benefit. In this case he declares any obstacles well-worth-it for the sake of arriving Whole and Healed at last. But just in case any of his readers are feeling cautious about committing fully (and can you really blame them for hesitating to follow in the footsteps of a Man who was tortured to death?), James reminds them that life’s entire journey is only a prelude to the Real Life ahead. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
Looking at that big picture, any one of us would declare our full intention to hang in there and finish the race, to claim the prize of Everlasting Life. And none of us would have any intention of giving up what we believe. Maybe a better question is What are we willing to do in order to persevere in our faith? What is the step right in front of us?
Because James isn’t talking about some abstract set of beliefs. James is intent on making our faith-journey real in the everyday. As he puts it, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17) From his perspective, the next step is always one of real life obedience. He’s talking to real people like us, struggling with circumstances we all experience…with our desires…with our emotions. And a real God who can help us deal with them in a way that brings growth, if we are willing to do the hard work of applying what we say we believe. The Church-planter Paul agreed, and knew how easy it is to get discouraged in the daily small things. He included himself in his pep-talk to others: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) This is what perseverance is really all about, and it lives and dies in the small individual steps of Today:
Will I choose to be joyful and patient when circumstances stink, because I believe God is growing me to maturity through them?
Will I stop to ask God for His wisdom and guidance, instead of trying to figure out this problem by myself, because I believe His ways are better?
Will I set my mind on His promises amid the wind and waves of my emotions, because I know He is unchanging and true?
Can I set aside time to pursue knowing God more, despite basketball schedules, the movie that is on the DVR, and posting the latest on Instagram, because my relationship with Him is more valuable than anything else?
Can I lay down my fears for the future and rest in my Maker’s provision of daily bread?
Can I resist the pull of possessions in the face of marketing and peer pressure and the whining of my children, because there is no significance or security to be found in Stuff?
Can I choose to be content with whatever Jesus gives me in this life, because He is weaving it all together for my eternal good?
Will I face honestly the bottomless pit of wanting in my heart, and all the destructive ways it seeks to have More? Have the courage to just say no?
Will I trust that God is who He says He is: unchanging goodness, faithfulness, perfection, light itself? In every situation, even when I don’t understand what He’s doing?
Will I bite back the angry careless words and instead say words that heal and encourage? Forgive that person one more time and seventy-times-seven? Trust God with the safety and happiness of the people I love? Champion the outcast and the needy?
James includes all these in his letter, in a heartfelt plea for us to put our faith into action. You can say you believe in God all you want, but it is the path you take that proves Who you are following after. Paul expands on the subject with more theological depth, and from him we know that it is the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit that enables us to walk by faith. He explains that Christ’s very nature will sprout up in us as we obey Him and walk hand-in-hand with Him. Paul goes so far as to say, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
And if I will live the Christ-life, choose to act out what I believe over and over again– day after day for a lifetime, and against the world’s current that flows in the opposite direction– someday I will step right through the door into Eternal Life, still following in the footsteps of Jesus.
But for Today, all that is required is to take the next step…
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
“When the weight of the world begins to fall,
On the Name of Jesus I will call;
For I know my God is in control
and His purpose is unshakable.
Doesn’t matter what I feel;
Doesn’t matter what I see;
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me.
Now I’m casting out all fear,
For Your love has set me free;
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me.
As I walk into the days to come,
I will not forget what You have done;
For you have supplied my every need
And Your presence is enough for me…
You will always be more than enough for me.”
(Your Promises, Elevation Worship)