Devotional Day 16
What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe and shudder. But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless?James 2:14-20
The Route of Stone and Water
After coffee and our own microwaved chorizo for breakfast, we left the albergue on the later side. A fellow pilgrim advised us to wait for light, as the first section of the day’s walk was covered in trees. The path went through the forest along the river, and we passed the remains of ancient water mills along the way. The majority of the pilgrims were a ways ahead of us, so it was mostly solitary during the 6 km through the woods. I wanted the time to be a conversation with Jesus. Walking along, I asked Him to join me, and He reminded me that He was already there. Some key themes emerged during this prayerful walk.
This question has come in two very different forms. The first was more of a complaint and expression of confusion when wrestling with a brain tumor during my late teens and early twenties. I compared myself to others who seemed to have it easier. The second was more recent; actually, it is continual. I am constantly in awe that God would choose me to do the work overseas that I’m privileged to do. Every time I witness Jesus bringing healing into the lives of those we work with, I feel unworthy of the role I’ve been given.
Both come with the same answer: “I can use you in the midst of weakness, showing My strength and power” (2 Corinthians 12). In my state of weakness I learned about grace and the continual need to depend on God. That prepared me for the position I am now in to serve God and help others. Serving in the midst of weaknesses allows all the credit and glory to go back to God.
The overall, overwhelming importance of love remains a consistent theme and reminder over the years. But with that, or even from that, comes joy, the second listed “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). There is a need for more joy, there is room for more joy, intertwined with loving relationships. Joy is also fulfilled in the midst of pain and trials. James calls us “count it all joy” in trials, and Jesus expressed His desire that His joy be “made full” in us (John 15:11, 16:22, 17:13), even in the midst of grief and suffering.
Where do I find joy? Certainly nature brings me joy, as I see God’s creation. Joy is in relationships, and I’m so grateful for Dean, a relationship where we can share life and ministry. I find joy in fulfilling a calling, which for me is to help others and facilitate healing by pointing them to Jesus.
There is joy in creativity, making what is new, discovering beauty, developing what can help others. Creativity is a word God has given me as a theme for this year. There has been space for that in writing and research, from the academic journal article, to the “Life of a Tree” program, even in arts and crafts. God is the Creator, and being made in His image, we too are invited to be creative. There is always room for new discovery and creation.
Walking along I saw vineyards alongside the trail, with different levels of development. Some fields had bare cement poles, some had initial vines growing, and others had thick vines intertwining over the cement and across the wires, bearing grapes in abundance. It seems like a picture of thinking long-term and acting in faith.
Maybe our ministry is currently in fairly isolated places, but eventually it can develop into a connected, fruitful set of vines. Right now faith is necessary, trusting that God will bring the growth in the appropriate time and place according to His plan.
Into the Heat
After emerging from the forest, the sun was getting hotter, and although we still followed the river, more sections were along the road instead of in the shade. Dean was tired and taking it slowly, and when we got to a town about halfway (12 km), we stopped for a break and a bite to eat at a tiny café. He expressed disappointment that we were only halfway, but after some caffeine and calories we hit the road again and were able to maintain a steady pace. Passing by a larger restaurant, we saw a larger group of pilgrims, also taking a break, so despite our late departure we knew we wouldn’t be the last to arrive
While going up a dusty hill we had a conversation with a Korean American woman who heard we did trauma work and told me about her daughter who was through counseling identifying issues (e.g., having fewer clothes than her peers) that to her seemed insignificant compared to her own childhood experience of extreme poverty, hunger, and the Korean War. We talked a bit about “roots,” the long-term impact of childhood experience, and faith, when she identified herself as a Christian. The conversation was mostly listening to her process her own challenges in relating to her daughter (or feeling her daughter could not relate to her). She went onward when I stopped to wait for Dean to catch up with me. Trying to take my mind of the heat, I thought about James’ words on faith and works.
Over the centuries there has been an ongoing debate about salvation by faith vs. works. It seems the pendulum often swings too far from one extreme to the other. In some historical eras passages like this were used (or misused) to pressure illiterate peasants into paying for “indulgences,” for that was how you earn your way to heaven (and make the papacy wealthy along the way).
Then there were groups who cited verses that say we are “saved by grace alone, through faith, not by works” (Eph. 2: 8-9). After all, the criminal on the cross next to Jesus was promised a place in paradise and he had never done anything good. From this perspective, if someone accepts salvation, they can never be “unsaved,” making the remaining behavior less critical, and it being a little too easy to fall into complacency or sin.
When Faith Turns into Works
But here James seems to be building on the foundation he already laid. Earlier he established that we must be humble listeners, and in our growing relationship with Christ, we should not stop at the hearing, but also be doers. Hearing is the starting point; believing and declaring come next—demonstrating one has faith.
But that too is not the endpoint. What does faith look like? How is it lived? James gives a clear parallel illustration. If someone sees an obvious physical need, believes God can meet the need, and prays in faith for God’s provision, offering a blessing, that sounds like an expression of faith. But how do we expect God to meet that need? Sure, He could rain down manna from heaven, but what if we are ignoring an invitation to take part in the work He is doing? No longer are we listening and responding; we’re not living in the “royal law” of love when ignoring ways we are being called to give and serve.
After a long, hot section of walking we finally reached the shore, where there was at least a bit of a breeze. Toward the end we came across some more pilgrims resting in the shade, but we decided to push through to our destination. Finally, we made it to the albergue, got decent lower bunks (I like being further from the door), and went through our usual routine. Though still tired, I felt refreshed once out of those sweaty clothes.
Around 7 pm we walked down to the dock, looked for info about tickets for the next day’s boat journey, and bought ours at a local office. Then we got some food, though it was pricey on the waterfront and a consistent wind threatened to blow it away! On the way back we stopped by the grocery store for breakfast makings and snacks. Upon return we had more time for writing before going to bed. I was thoroughly tired and slept well, although the night was a bit short.
Thank You, Lord, for Your constant presence in my life, whether in the quiet places where joy is easily found, or the hot, tiring times when focus takes discipline. Help me to live out of faith in You, participating in Your work of caring for Your people, Your creation. Let my works be a testimony of Your goodness.
- What kind of “works,” opportunities to serve God and others, do you see in your life? Does motivation to do them come from obligation, societal pressure, relational faith, or another source?
- What might help your faith grow? How would that growth be evident to others?
- Spend some drawing near to Jesus. Perhaps you can go for a walk or picture yourself by a river. Ask Him to show you how He is at work in your life.
Would you like to be notified about future posts? Subscribe here!