Jan 29, 2012 2
A guest message this week by my daughter, Heather Shaw.
“What are your expectations for your life?” our pastor asked the congregation this past Sunday as he preached on the Book of James.
My husband and I began jotting down some of our personal and family goals and dreams. The pastor then asked, “Do you feel disappointed with God over dreams that haven’t turned out the way you wanted them?” Our answer: Yes.
We’ve had a rough few years involving having to sell our house at a loss; our son born prematurely; moving; a job layoff; and a job for my husband that is not where his ultimate passion lies, and which requires a long commute. We are strongly committed to our faith and try to please God in all we do. We are driven people who have, in the past, been able to dream something and make it happen. We have alternated between feeling peaceful and trusting God, and feeling restless and angrily questioning Him. We have prayed “Your will be done”… and we have prayed “Are you there? Are you listening?”
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This is a hard one. It is hard to be thankful for the trials in the midst of them. It might be easier to look back, when things are (you hope) in a better place. But when the storm is raging and you feel like you’ve lost your footing, it can be hard to stay joyful.
In the Book of James, it says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (1:22-25, NIV).
We always thought about “doing” the Word as assignments: God says to care for others; God says to be generous, loving; etc. But Jesus calls us to something deeper instead of merely a task-oriented faith. When we look into God’s Word, just like looking into a mirror, we discover who we are.
The picture isn’t always pretty. We are sinful creatures who fall short of God’s holy standard, incurring His punishment. But the Good News is that Jesus loves us so much that He rescued us and took our punishment for us by dying on the cross. When we “look intently” into that truth, then nothing else will matter and no trial will shake us because we will have the joy of knowing we have such a loving God who saw our real need. Sure, we feel we have other needs – for example, for a job, or food, or security. But our ultimate need was for a Savior… and Jesus already met that need. This is true love and what Jesus offers us. Not just a list of tasks to do.
The Bible can teach, pastors can preach, but sometimes this lesson can speak to us the loudest and clearest from unexpected places. In 1971 a homeless man understood this truth… and shared it in his own way.
English Filmmaker Gavin Bryars was working on a documentary about the homeless around London. One man of the many captured on film sang a quiet chorus to himself over and over:
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet, never failed me yet.
Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.
This one thing I know, For He loves me so.
This actually was not used in the film, but it haunted Bryars, who eventually added an accompaniment to the man’s simple song, extended it, and turned it into a recording. many people have since heard it – Tom Waits and Jars of Clay have made recordings too – and it has touched millions.
This is powerful! This man had nothing that we might consider worth singing about. Contemporary Christians often spend more time focused on “worldly” desires than spiritual needs. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about our life’s details or to pray about them, but what would happen to our daily lives if we were to come back to a focus on what really matters: our salvation?
Whatever other trials this anonymous, forgotten man faced, he looked in the “mirror,” recognized his true need for a Savior, and proclaimed that to others, where he was, in the way that he could.
I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head all week! This simple, quiet, musical prayer, reminds us that absolutely nothing is more important than Jesus’ gift of salvation that he gave us when He died on the cross. That’s all. The economy may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Employers may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Health may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. Our own plans may have failed us, but His blood hasn’t. He loves us so.
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I thank Heather for sharing this message, and this song. It is impossible, I think, not to hear it once and not want to listen again, and again. Its truth becomes stronger. “Poor homeless man?” No, he was rich in the knowledge and understanding that he was a son of Jesus our King. Knowing the Truth, and rejoicing in it: a simple task, after all.