Poetry in Grace

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).

I was maybe 10 when I discovered Dad’s 1929 edition of One Hundred and One Famous Poems atop Mom’s secretary in the living room; but over the years, I’d leaf through it and be swept up in runaway tales of “the gingham dog and the calico cat” or the boy who, “jest ‘fore Christmas,” was as good as he could be. A now ragged leaflet inside the front cover boasts of some of the finest poems in the English language: “Poems that grip the heart and stir the soul.” Some of them still tease a chuckle or a tear from me.

Good poetry evokes a visceral response. The reaction might be emotional, social, intellectual, or even spiritual, but a good poem elicits signs of life in the reader. The best poem reaches the greatest audience and continues to strike their senses even after they’ve read it many times over.

James’ previous thought about being quick to hear was leading up to his next point – God calls us to action: “But prove yourselves doers of the word.” The Greek word, translated “doers,” is “poietes,” which can be rendered as “poet.” To be a poet doesn’t mean to sit around cafés all day and attempting to rhyme words. It means to respond to God’s Word by making something beautifully God-honoring with our lives.

James points to two kinds of poets, or “doers”: the one who looks at himself and then forgets what he’s seen, and the one who looks into God’s Word and remembers His grace. The first poet begins by looking in the wrong direction. He sees himself as the standard for everything that’s good. Then, he loses sight of himself in his pursuits. In the end, he has no standards at all. Paul said, “…when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). Such is the fool who goes about seeking his own immediate pleasures at the expense of eternal things. He may have fun for a season, but there will come of day of reckoning when the scales of justice will balance.

The second poet begins by peering intently into the eternal Word of God. He studies, learns, and embraces all that the Word teaches. He doesn’t walk away from it, but stays in the Word. He carries it with him, hiding in his heart. The Word guides him in every decision he faces, as a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Psa. 119:105). It strengthens him against temptations. It fortifies him in trials. He walks in God’s blessings because he abides in God’s grace.

Your poetry may never be famous, or even noticed, but God sees it. Jesus said, “Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt. 6:4, 6). The poetry you make in life doesn’t have to rhyme, or even make sense to anyone else. The life that’s lived before the face of God exudes a pleasing poetry of grace and gives Him glory.

By grace,

Chris

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