2015 Verse of the Week #19: James 1:17

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My 19th verse of the year is James 1:17. I love, love, LOVE the Seeds Family Worship song for this verse, “Heavenly Lights,” which is track 6 on “The Power of Encouragement.” I have a special attachment to this verse because it was one of my preschoolers’ favorite songs, and I had them perform it at graduation and as I watched them (and mouthed the words for them) I cried from all the adorableness. It was more than simply adorable, which I’ll get to, but first I should share the verse. The image above is from my Bible app, which I have set to the ESV translation. I think the 1984 NIV is easier to memorize, though, and that is the version used in the Seeds song, so here it is:

James 1:17

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

My challenge today will be getting through this post without crying, because I can’t help but think of two different classes of 3- and 4-year-olds shout-singing these words while smiling, looking around at their peers, and doing motions. I am also preparing to attend preschool graduation tonight, and will be saying goodbye to the little ones I was blessed to spend a few months with as a substitute helper in their class. Preschoolers typically prefer more rowdy fare for their action songs, and while there is some rocking guitar during the chorus of this song, it’s definitely on the mellow side overall. So I was always surprised that my munchkins loved it so much. But should I have been?

As I pondered this verse from a grown-up perspective I felt like maybe I taught it to my kids out of context. It sounds very nice and happy: God, our father and creator, gives us good gifts. And this is true (look up Matthew 7:11 for a start). But the verses preceding 17 are about temptation and the results of sin, and the first part of the chapter is about enduring the difficulties of life. Chapter 1 of the book of James opens with that classic pick-me-up, “count it all joy, brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (verse 2).

That opening may sound like a downer on the surface, but this first portion of James 1 is actually quite encouraging, full of assurance and truth and affirmation. Verses 2-6 are particularly rich, and verse 12 boldly affirms God’s heavenly reward for those who trust and follow him. James also wanted us to know that God does not tempt us. And his reasoning behind the statement is that God cannot himself be tempted by evil (13), and when humans are tempted it is by our own evil desires (14). Verse 17 confirms that God is unchanging and gives good gifts. To put it all together, he would not lure us to evil because that would contradict his intrinsically, naturally, permanent and unchanging good nature.

When I taught this song, maybe I did disregard some of the context. And maybe when I try to dig really deep into the context of the passage, my brain hurts a little bit. I don’t fully understand the placement of this verse and all of what it means past what I have shared above. But despite my lack of understanding, I latch onto it just as my little preschoolers did. Why is that?

I believe this attraction is due to the power of God and his Word. I believe that the human authors of the Bible were guided by God’s Holy Spirit in their writing, and that his Spirit also guides our reading of the Word. James 1:17 not only contains powerful truths about God, but it is also written beautifully, and something about the beauty of the words is conveyed to our hearts by the Spirit. This is such a beautiful and unmerited gift from God to us, and now I have failed my “no crying” challenge. 😉

There is something about the Word of God that draws us to Him. That something is actually someone, or God’s very Spirit. So even if we’re 3 years old (or 31 years old) and don’t feel like we fully understand the theological implications of a verse, it can speak to our hearts. This is the uncontainable, unstoppable, unchanging power of God. He does not change like shifting shadows. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6, Ps. 90:2). He acts out of his everlasting nature of love and righteousness, and his desire is for every person to choose to be reconciled to him through Jesus (John 3:16-17, Acts 17:27).

Sometimes we may “feel” a verse before we fully understand it. And that is alright! God knows our limitations- that’s why we need salvation, and were given a perfect Helper in the form of the Spirit to guide us as we seek to know God better. I would love to hear from you– how does this verse or passage encourage you? Do you have any experience with being drawn to a verse even if you don’t fully understand it?