20 January 2024

Wisdom in James: Do we ‘merely listen’?

Major Vikki Burr

Major Vikki Burr encourages us to listen to others and God.

Key text

How well do you know yourself? Are you someone who likes to listen and hear what’s going on? Do you reflect, ruminate and figure it all out before taking action? Or do you prefer to jump in with both feet, to experiment and experience and test an idea through action rather than thought?

As with so much in life and in scriptural teaching, we need a balance of both to find the best way forward. If we are to have a healthy, strong and resilient faith, we need to fully know and understand God and his word.

God reveals himself to us when we spend time with him listening to his word and as we spend energy doing what he asks of us. Jesus said: ‘Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock’ (Matthew 7:24). In other words, we need to be both listeners and doers.

Time and time again God’s word tells us we need to be slow to anger, we need to think about what we say and we need to take that moment to breathe and to think. How many times have you written a message and then been grateful that you thought first before sending it?

In our study passage, James goes even further and tells us we not only need to think, but we also need to be swift to listen (see v19). We need to hear the other’s point of view and pay attention to their story, and we also need to be able to hear God’s thoughts too.

For some people, stopping for a moment and hearing what is going on around them is quite easy. Others might find silence frightening or think best when they’re the ones talking. Sometimes, when emotions are rising, it can be very difficult to stop and count to 10. It is a discipline that needs to be learnt in calm times so it can be used in storms.

Pause and reflect

  • Take five minutes to be still and to listen.
  • Listen to your heartbeat. Listen to the sounds around you. Listen to the whisper of the Holy Spirit.
  • What do you hear? What do you notice?
  • What thoughts and feelings are brought to mind?
A photo shows someone jumping into a puddle with bare feet.

James 1:21

Humbly accept the word planted in you.

Read James 1

James tells his readers that God’s word is already planted within them (see v21), but they need to ‘humbly accept’ it. This means acknowledging our need to know God, to digest his word and allow it to take root within us so it can flourish and bear fruit. Humbly accepting it means taking time to listen so that we may understand, whether that is through studying, listening to a teacher or conversing and discussing it with others. It means being intentional about wanting to know and understand more as well as open to being challenged by different viewpoints.

If we are not intentional about listening to God, then how can we expect to know what he wants of us? We can’t do what we don’t know!

I have always been amazed by Christians recalling a particular Scripture passage, which they have then obediently followed. A wise man once asked me if it was likely that the Holy Spirit would bring Scripture to mind if I hadn’t first spent time looking at it.

Pause and reflect

  • How well do you know and understand God’s word?
  • What might you do to understand it better?
  • When has Scripture come to mind in a particular situation?
  • What happened? Did it help? What difference did it make?

It’s essential that we are intentional about listening to God. James, however, does not want us to become self[1]congratulatory about our knowledge. Listening and knowing is only half the equation. In fact, James says if we stop there we are deceiving ourselves (see v22). It’s not possible to fully know God and his word unless we put into action what we learn and discover.

Rooting God’s word deeply and securely within us can only be achieved by seeing it worked out in the reality of our day-to-day lives. Having listened, we have to take it in and display God’s love and good news in whatever situation we find ourselves and to whomever we meet. Anything less means that we are only glimpsing the true meaning of God’s word and it’s not becoming a part of who we are; we are not allowing it to mould us into the people God created us to be.

Humbly accepting God’s word planted within us also means having an attitude of obedience and an expectation that the Holy Spirit will nudge us and use us, whether that’s through a particular action or simply through bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Pause and reflect

  • What have we learnt about God this week that will make a difference to how we live every day?
  • Do we expect the Holy Spirit to use us wherever we may be and whatever we are doing? Do we want him to?

We often talk about Jesus being the rock upon which we build our lives. If that is true, and you want to be the wise person of Jesus’ parable, then do what he says – listen, put it into action and know God’s freedom and blessing.

Bible study by

Major Vikki Burr

Major Vikki Burr

Deputy Head of Regional Wellbeing Services, THQ

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