As we concluded our January focus on consuming God’s Word, I wanted to highlight the importance of living the Word. James 1:22-25 emphasizes this:
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Pay attention to the way James phrases his instruction. “be doers of the word…” He could have instructed us to “do the word” or “keep the word.” Instead, he says be a doer. He wants us to think beyond one-off actions. He wants us to be people who are characterized by the doing of God’s Word (vs. only hearing). I think this is the difference between application and contemplation.
When most people think about living the Word of God, they go straight to application: putting the text to use. How do I apply this to my life? Maybe it’s a principle or a command that we apply to specific attitudes, behaviors, or situations. Sometimes when we’re driven by only application, our reading of the Bible can be a kind of “search and apply” mission. While application can be a part of living the Word, I believe that contemplation is much broader. It’s the difference between doing the word and being a doer of the word.
Application has to do with specific actions or behaviors. Contemplation is about absorbing what God is speaking into the pattern of our lives, to let it actually shape our identity. Contemplation considers how the Word can affect my broader outlook on and approach to life. While application is how I use something, contemplation is how I become something different.
I think that’s why James uses the metaphor of a man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like. The man doesn’t just forget what he must do, but he forgets something more fundamental to himself. God intends to address and transform our very self-concept, identity, thought processes, stories by His Word. And he does it day by day through small measures of response and obedience.
When I take up the identity of a contemplative whose obedience is motivated and favored by Christ’s obedience on my behalf, I begin to experience the Word as it was intended to be – not just a manual for life but a mirror and transforming influence on my soul.
What have your experiences with contemplation been? What questions rise up as you think about the difference between application and contemplation?