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Streams and Trees and You

In his epistle, the apostle James seems to burden us with a command to action.  He directs us to be doers of God’s word and not just hearers (James 1:22).  He argues that just hearing the word and not doing anything with it subjects us to self-deceit. When we only hear God’s word, but don’t do anything with it, we run the terrible risk of thinking that we are more transformed into the image of Christ than we really are. We also may draw the false impressions that we know more than we do, and can see more in our darkness than we can. If a husband hears his wife’s words, but not in such a way that it produces behaviors that are in alignment with her legitimate needs and desires, then he might be hearing the sound of her voice, but he is not listening to her. Such a husband never knows what to get his wife for her birthday, or for Christmas, or that she really needs him to fix the sink for the guest who will be coming next week.  He will miss the subtle but meaningful cues that she is constantly broadcasting. Worse, he may even fall into the misconception that their relationship is temporally better than it is. (I shamefully admit that I am sometimes this husband). 

So how do we become doers of God’s word? The psalms give us a major clue in a number of different places, and using them as a template, we find that James’s command isn’t a burden at all. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 1:2 that the happy or blessed person is the one who meditates on the instruction of the Lord both day and night, and that not only does he meditate on it, but that he takes delight in it. The psalmist is telling us that a blessed or happy person (Psalm 1:1) who takes delight in the word of God by meditating on it doesn’t seek advice from sinners, and doesn’t commune with them in their sin. Further, such a person is like a tree planted next to a nourishing stream so that it flourishes, and produces fruit from the water that feeds it (Psalm 1:3). That fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). All of those fruits are expressed in outward behaviors. They cannot be retained in the dusty waterless attics of our minds.  The true happy person has internalized that spiritual stream of water so much that it now flows out of them in rivers (John 4:13-14, John 7:37-39). It has become the programming code for how they think, believe, and behave.

The psalmist says that the happy person meditates on God’s instruction. That word – meditate – is translated from the Hebrew word הָגָה hāḡâ (Strongs H1897). This Hebrew term carries in its core the meaning of utterance, speaking, moaning, groaning, or musing. It is a thought process characterized by verbalization.  So the psalmist is implying that the happy person recites to himself out loud the word of God over and over again, so that it becomes the base and foundation for the way he thinks about the world, views the world, and behaves in the world. It becomes an intractable part of who he is. 

So don’t just listen to the word of God, but study it with self-transformative intention. Recite it to yourself. Say it out loud. Memorize it. Let it be who you are. Think about it constantly with the goal of not just memorizing it, but understanding it. Take delight in it because it is good, and from a good God. Do all of this with the goal of letting it flow out of you in the way that you interact and behave in the world around you.

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