A letter from Jesus' brother

This devotional is written by Stefy Barton. I first came to St Mary's in December 2018 while church-hopping after I had moved to London. I am an actor, stage manager and freelancer about to start working on my first post-COVID (!) theatre show with company Dante or Die.

James 1:1-18

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Trials and temptations 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation - since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 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.

13 When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Reflection

This passage initially seems quite strange. It jumps around between scolding, warning, and encouraging almost every single sentence. But, however confusing it might seem, I actually think the way James writes is helpful.

As a teenager growing up Christian, I always pictured my walk with God as a mountain climb. The Bible told me to expect trials, and to trust Jesus through them, so I imagined everything as an uphill hike leading to the top of the hill. Over the last 18 months in various lockdowns as I've struggled with my mental health, I have come to understand that this image has been incredibly harmful. I gave myself only one option, which was to be slightly better at "Christian-ing" than the day before; if I wasn't, that was an abject failure. There is no downhill section on a mountain climb.

Here, James presents a new picture of walking with God: it is messy. It chops and changes. Yes, on one day we may be able to find 'pure joy', but the very next day we might give in to temptation and 'give birth to sin'. Maybe even the next hour! Human beings are temperamental, fickle, unfaithful, and easily distracted - our lives follow a similar rhythm of these 18 verses. Of course, we are fixing our eyes on the example of Jesus and doing our best to live without sin as He did, but that doesn't mean our progress is linear. If we demand that of ourselves, we are paving the way for endless self-criticism and un-godly guilt.

As God's children we are like bumbling toddlers, and he doesn't love us any less because of it. When we see our walk with Jesus in this way, we can't help but understand a little bit better how big and awesome God is.

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