A small cloud of dust swirled upward toward the rotating blades of the ceiling fan as I lifted the stack of yellowing magazines from the table next to my evening chair. Curious as to what was in this impressively sized collection, I scanned the titles and the feature articles displayed boldly on the covers. Each and every magazine promised to provide an organizational panacea of some sort. Organize your office. Organize your house. Organize your home life (complete with charts for spouses, kids and pets). Organize your life.
I took this carefully hoarded stash of detailed directions for an Eden of tidiness, walked outside and dumped them in the recycling bin.
They had proven utterly worthless. Most had been there since January and had not made my home one particle of dust neater. Their graphically pleasing covers had promised a place for everything, but my stuff had missed their marching orders. I had paid good money for such widely respected magazines, but just as money can’t buy happiness, it also doesn’t seem to buy cleanliness.
Trashing them was a groundbreaking action that instantly produced a less cluttered end table. Their greatest effectiveness came as a result of their demise.
Possessing written instructions for achieving a better environment did not produce a better environment. Even reading, or in my case skimming the articles, didn’t produce the hoped-for result. In order to get my money’s worth, I needed to do what the articles outlined. It was more about obeying the directions than owning manual.
This isn’t just about dealing with how-to magazines. I have a library of books on Christian growth. I have a shelf of commentaries and another of writings by the Desert Fathers. I collect and peruse, but do I read and apply? I own a dozen copies of the Bible and have access to many more via the web. Why do I expect to change simply because my shelf displays an attractive leather bound volume and my I-phone has the latest Bible app? Any lack of effective spiritual growth cannot be blamed on an absence of biblical instruction.
Apparently I am not the first to have this disappointing experience. First century Christians had similar tendencies to absorb information and not effect change. In retrospect, I should either discard my reading collections or heed what James, the brother of Jesus, told the early church.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. - James 1:22-25 (NLT)