Ministers preaching from the Lectionary for this weekend may choose the Epistle reading from James 1:17-27. Taking this text into context with the whole chapter, sermons may draw from an analogy used for the entire letter of James comparing it to driving through life with God.
Trials and temptations arise in life and can easily distract a person from keeping God as life’s destination. Assuming that one is on a journey toward God while occupying all one’s attention with these distractions is akin to driving on cruise control while being asleep at the wheel. It may not be as dangerous, but the effect of eventually “driving off into the ditch” so to speak is the same.
James assumes that the reader of his letter is in the midst of facing trials, maybe many trials. What happens in the minds of people who face hardships every day? If a person feels victimized by life, maybe even by God, do they start living on cruise control? Asleep at the wheel, so to speak? Adam Sandler starred in the movie “Click” in 2006 (not to mix metaphors). A comparison can also be drawn to James in which a person puts his life on fast forward and is asleep at the wheel for the years in between.
Whether we are facing trials or joys in life, James helps us to see that we should grab the steering wheel regardless of how rough the road is and drive toward God. A distinguishing mark of Christians is not that we’re immune to the trials of the world. What distinguishes a person of God is how we meet our challenges and what we make out of them.
Imagine a person who breaks their leg very badly and is on their back for several weeks and cannot exercise for a few months after that. This situation presents an initial challenge of misery and pain followed by the challenges faced through rehab. Comparisons could be drawn from other challenges people face in life; cholesterol, glucose, stenosis = out of shape. Exercise, getting back into shape, eating right equal a healthy person finding the joy in life. We get out of spiritual shape being asleep at the wheel, back into shape when we take the wheel and drive toward God.
When people move God out of the rear view mirror and make God the destination, they become empowered. James writes that the effect of steadfastness is perfection and completeness. Perfection is the transcendent goal that keeps us from becoming complacent and thinking that we have “arrived” at holiness. Holiness isn’t the destination, God is. The fuel in the spiritual gas tank is prayer, which brings wisdom without reproach. Wisdom brings the awareness that we do not pray to change the mind of God, but to open our hearts to the transforming influence of God’s spirit. Our prayers must be for the devotional work of our journey, not for any other reason, and especially not to let others see how holy we are. Pray with faith with no division in purpose.
Now what kind of spiritual car do you drive? Is it like a Mercedes, a Caddy, or an Aston Martin? Do you have to walk a spiritual path with a fancy Bible, well-to-do church, nice clothes, and noticeably large charitable gifts? James makes it clear that man’s glory and social distinctions are nothing to God. In fact, if we are concerned only with the trimmings and the appearance of spirituality, we are asleep at the wheel. Power and wealth are things that are to be used for the glory of God and to help one along the journey, not as a means for the “haves” to hold down the “have-nots.” James writes to people who may have enough money and power to be above daily trials, but it doesn’t mean that such people are any closer to holiness. To brandish power in such as way as everyone is kept in line and order is to abuse what God has given.
James ties the end of letter back to beginning. 5:11 reads, “We call those happy who were steadfast.” Can’t a car be driven on a straight road for a lifetime without the driver falling asleep at the wheel? Patience and endurance are required. The midst of the journey is the greatest hazard; falling sway to evil by grumbling and judging against one another. Establish your hearts means that the only one who can judge is standing at the doors of heaven.
Be steadfast in your faith and stay awake as you drive toward God instead of leaving God in the rear view mirror. Good luck and blessings to all who are preaching the Gospel this weekend.