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Shut up and serve

“If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. Pure and undefiled religion before God the father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” [James 1:26,27 NET]

I can’t think of anyone striving to be a religious person although in James’ day and culture being religious held a certain status in society. Religious people were educated and respected leaders who strove to uphold and enforce the law. Yet Jesus saw right through their outward piety and shamelessly exposed their hypocrisy. James continues a similar thought pattern. The inside matters, namely your heart and attitude and your actions speak volumes about your beliefs.

The tongue seems of particular interest to James who will share further thoughts on the topic of speech in chapter 3. For now it suffices to introduce the topic that leaders in particular must engage in an ongoing discipline to control their speech. Which really means controlling your thoughts, checking them and running them through some mental filter before releasing words into the world. Everyone has said something unhelpful or regrettable and no one will perfectly employ a word filter but nevertheless we’re encouraged to consider the discipline as an act of authenticity and integrity.

I am pondering the way I engage verbally with those in closest proximity, those most affected by unbridled verbal vomit. I’ve never regretted a brief pause before launching into the tempting lecture or seemingly urgent rebuke. More words do not lead to improved learning though and I am slowly catching on. Nonverbal communication accounts for most of effective communication so it’s worth stopping to check in with yourself before opening your mouth.

I am learning to listen and James keeps repeating this topic in one way or another. Good leadership holds a listening posture in high regard and allows information or advice to get out slowly. And hopefully does not engage in gossip. Furthermore the respectable leader is engaged in social justice type work- actively caring for the most vulnerable members in society while at the same time not getting burned out or overrun by a egocentric culture which holds different values. Here then is a great litmus test for any spiritual leader: How well are they actively engaged in caring for society’s most vulnerable members?

I grew up with adopted/ foster siblings and greatly admire all my local friends who engage in this work. I have not taken that step. It’s messy work, demanding great patience and grace but it’s a work which matters to the father so it should matter to us. I used to think that keeping yourself unstained by the world means you find your own little fortress in which you and those of similar values honker down. Others may be welcome to join you there but you yourself will not go to great length to get messy.

I see a different approach in the gospels, a savior who is unafraid to enter the dark, messy places and who emerges bruised and stained but victorious. I think keeping yourself unstained by the world means refusing to adopt whatever cultural beliefs would negate getting involved with social justice. Like the common and acceptable belief that while you are raising young children you are basically off the hook engaging in any other type of service work that would benefit someone not related to you. I refuse to believe that lie, a said friend recently and I keep thinking about her words. Getting socially involved is hard while you are raising a family but at the same time you will pass on those values to your children by serving together. We’re part of a team which will welcome and assist a refugee family over the next few months. I am looking forward to serving together as a family and we’ll keep working on bridling our tongues too.

In summary: Shut up and serve.

Me first.



One Reply

  1. Debbie Jenne

    Dearest Astrid, Again, spot-on!!! So important to be reminded of the “messy” parts of life. I did it while my kids were very young and needy. Looking back I often wonder how I managed caring for a handicapped and chronically ill little Malcolm who could hardly walk and then a new-born. But the positive memories remain of the many ladies and kids I had contact with. It was definitely a win-win situation. (Although not my intention). So, Lets “go for the messy times”. After all we’re not alone

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