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Caring for those in need: "true devotion"

September 3, 2022

Daily Scripture

James 1:26-27

26 If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. 27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

Scholar Craig Keener showed how what James called “true devotion” at the end of chapter 1 was deeply rooted in Hebrew Scripture. “In Scripture, true piety included defending the oppressed and vulnerable (cf. Amos 2:6–7; 5:21–24), including widows and orphans (Isaiah 1:17). In most ancient cultures, fatherless children and widows had neither direct means of support nor automatically dependable legal defenders. God took special interest in defending them (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; 146:9), and wanted leaders to defend them (Psalm 82:3; Isaiah 1:23; Jeremiah 5:28) and not exploit them (Exodus 22:22–24; Deuteronomy 24:17; Psalm 94:6; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10). * And, of course, James was also echoing Jesus’ teaching about caring for “the least of these” (cf. Matthew 25:31-45).

  • As Keener pointed out, in Old Testament Hebrew, the phrase “widows and orphans” stood for those who had “neither direct means of support nor automatically dependable legal defenders.” Who can you think of in our culture and our world who, while not strictly “widows” or “orphans,” fit into the broader picture of the kinds of people that God called both ancient Israel and all of Jesus’ followers to care about and for? Reflect prayerfully about ways that you, in joint efforts with others and in personal efforts, can show the kind of “true devotion” that goes beyond words into actions.

O Lord, you care about all of the hurts in our broken world. And much of the time, you ask me (and all who follow you) to be your instruments to show your love in action. Guide me in the path of “true devotion.” Amen.

GPS Insights

Dave Pullin

Dave Pullin

Dave formerly served on staff at Resurrection for 18 years and currently serves in leadership at L'Arche Heartland, a local nonprofit supporting adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities through housing and work opportunities. He and his wife regularly host foreign exchange students through AFS and have found it a wonderful way to make the world a more tolerant place. He considers loving his family his greatest ministry and is most at home climbing mountains with his wife and two dogs.

Last January I began teaching in a local university’s school of business. This past week was the beginning of a new school year. It’s inspiring to be back on a university campus, as a feeling of excitement permeates the halls. But along with that excitement, I feel a great weight of responsibility.

One class I am teaching is ‘business communication.’ To prepare, I began diving into the theories and components of communication. I was quickly reminded of a convicting truth: Our words are powerful. Our words can create, build up, and empower. Yet if not used carefully, our words can also destroy, tear down, and marginalize.

I’ve become acutely aware that our words aren’t just “out there,” but can take the form of thoughts in our heads. Thoughts are just inaudible words we speak to ourselves. And our inner monologues are often extremely critical….especially toward ourselves! I’m rediscovering a variety of literature that supports the idea that what we allow into our thoughts has a controlling effect on our behavior.

Which leads me to our scripture passage, James 1:26: If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves…. (emphasis added).

In John Acuff’s new book Soundtracks, he observes that we each have false thoughts he calls ‘broken soundtracks’ playing in our mind. These broken soundtracks do two things: 1—they highlight something negative about ourself, and 2—they play on repeat at full volume. John suggests that, when faced with one of these broken soundtracks, we ask:

  1. Is it True? (most often it is not)
  2. Is it Kind? (most often it is not)
  3. Is it Helpful? (most often it is not)

If the answer to all three is “yes,” congratulations—you have a healthy soundtrack in your head. Proceed to Go and collect $200! If the answer is no to any of the questions, then you know it is a broken soundtrack, and you can counter it by repeating a healthier thought.

For example, someone may see something in the mirror they don’t particularly like about their appearance and then dwell on that, constantly repeating “I’m ugly, I’m ugly, I’m ugly.” But when tested by the three questions, we get 3 resounding NO’s! The next step, then, is to then find a feature they like and repeat a positive soundtrack, such as “I love my smile—it makes people happy.”

Of course, how long the broken soundtrack has been playing determines how easily we can replace it. This may take years of hard work—these soundtracks may have been created as far back as childhood. That’s why we need trained therapists to help us manage our broken soundtracks. We take our cars to a mechanic, we go to the doctor for an annual physical. Let’s start doing the same for our mental wellness.

When we allow these broken soundtracks (negative thoughts) to fill our mind, we begin to believe them. And those beliefs, those broken soundtracks, shape our behavior.
–A person who regularly tears themself down will tear down others.
–A person who views themself as a victim will treat others as victims.
–A person who harshly judges themself will harshly judge others.
We cannot love others as ourself, if we do not love ourself.

And this, I believe, is one key way our words mislead us and prevent us from being the embodiment of God’s Word in the world.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* Comment on James 1:27 in NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook . Zondervan. Kindle Edition.