If you see someone check the time on their watch, and walk up to that person moments later to ask, “What time is it?” What will that person do next?
The answer is easy. Most of the time, the person will look at his or her watch a second time.
If you want someone to learn to tie a knot with a length of rope which of the following will work best:
- 1) tell the person how to tie the knot. For example say, “When tying a bowline, they must make a loop with the rope that forms something like a tree with a whole at its base, then pretend the opposite end of the rope is a rabbit. The rabbit goes out of the whole, around the tree and back into the whole, then pull the rope tight and you are done.” or
- 2) You give the same directions, but this time you take a rope and show the person the actions you are describing. or
- 3) You do everything in B, but now you get the person who is learning to tie the knot to actually take a rope in their own hands and do the actions alongside you, so that he or she ties the bowline while watching you both describe how to do it and tie the knot.
Once again. The answer is easy. Every human I know would learn better by doing the knot tying for his or her self rather than just hearing about it or watching it being done. That is how humans work best.
Sometimes in describing this means of learning, the term muscle memory is used. We say that doing the same action again and again gives you muscle memory. That is why a soldier drills taking apart a rifle and putting it back together over and over until he or she can do it with eyes closed or seemingly while asleep. The muscles remember the actions and taking apart a rifle and putting it back together becomes second nature.
The Book of James tells us that we are not just to be people who sit and listen to the Word of God, but we should also put the words into action. James calls it being a doer of the Word. James writes, “For is any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like” (James 1:23-24).
This is like looking at a watch and then moments later rechecking the watch if someone asks the time. You saw the time, but it didn’t sink in deep. Before you are ready to answer again, you have to check again. By comparison, James writes that those who are not “hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed by their doing.”
First, you need to hear something that you should act on that comes from the Word of God. I will give you the shortest and best version of that I can. Jesus teaches that the essence of everything he taught is that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
What would it be like to put that teaching of Jesus into action? There are several ways this could work, but we will take one that Jesus returned to over and over, loving your neighbor. Jesus taught that everyone in need is the neighbor you are to love. And as everyone is in need at some point, then everyone is your neighbor.
Let’s make it literal though. Let’s imagine that your literal next door neighbor is going through cancer treatment. You know that he usually cuts the grass himself and that there is no way his wife can do it. Sure, they probably could hire a lawn service, but who can afford that while going through cancer treatment. You walk next door and let them know that you would like to cut the grass until he gets cancer free and feeling better again. He will balk at the idea, but you insist. Then you start cutting his yard. That is a very concrete example of what I mean.
To add one more level to this, Jesus would say that this is all well and good, but if you only did this so others would see what a great guy you are then it is meaningless. If you just started cutting his lawn so that you could brag about it to others, then you were not doing it out of love. If you wave at all the neighbors as you mow to say, “Look how nice I am to mow this lawn,” and then go tell folks at work and the woman behind you in line at the grocery store how you are so nice to cut your neighbor’s grass, then your intentions are not in line with the action. But if you really are out there just caring and concerned about the guy next door who needed a hand, then you are being a doer of the word and not a hearer only.
Putting your faith into action with the right intention of heart will change you for the better. The more you put your faith into action, the more you develop the muscle memory to love your neighbor as yourself. This is why groups like Habitat for Humanity are crucial as they give us a place to make the idea of loving your neighbor real. But you can do the same thing by volunteering to be a scout leader, or by any one of a number of actions.
Notice what you are not doing. You are not doing good deeds to chalk up brownie points with God. You are not impressing God, or earning favor with God. What you are doing is teaching yourself by example. Look to Jesus life and teaching. Pattern your life after what he said and did as well as you can. And each time you take some concrete steps to actually live in to what Jesus’ taught; those teaching will become more real to you.
The above is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian.