A while back I wrote a blog on “The Green-Letter Bible” in which I suggested highlighting in green the rhema words of God—that is, those verses which from time to time we hear Him speak personally to us. For me, one of those verses is James 3:17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure.”
I’ve often thought that First of All Pure would make a great book title, as this guideline is such a reliable principle for discerning the Lord’s voice. James goes on to list other qualities of divine wisdom, which is always “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” All of these qualities are important, but I feel James begins with the most important one of all: purity.
What is purity? The dictionary definition is simply “freedom from contamination.” True purity will not admit any impurity, not a single particle of anything foreign, twisted, debased, or immoral. The human heart is not pure—“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer 17:9)—but our hearts are capable of sensing and knowing purity. If we are honest, we know purity when we see or experience it, for it is unlike anything else. It feels like a starlit night, a field of flowers, or the sound of a perfect golden bell struck in our souls.
This is the quality of the voice of the Lord. Indescribable, yes, but also unmistakable. We all know God’s voice. If we think we do not, we’re only fooling ourselves so that we won’t have to obey Him. When we’re in a jam, when things get bad enough, then we may want to hear from God. We listen and obey insofar as it suits us, but the thought of deferring to our divine Master in everything may not suit us. We think: Where then is my freedom?—ignoring the truth that to serve our Creator is perfect freedom.
This is why James offers purity as the prime criterion for discerning the wisdom of God. Purity is the very essence of what we wish to be. It is who we truly are. Are you worried or in doubt? Facing a big decision? Tossed on a sea of contradictions? To move forward, what you want is purity. Therefore present your problems to God, and wait for His answer. Hold out for an answer that is absolutely pure. You will know it when it comes; do not accept any answer that is not first of all pure.
It is perfectly normal to have problems and worries, and very often, as hard as we may try, we cannot solve our problems rationally. We need God’s wisdom; we cannot live as Christians without it. Ideally I want to live every moment in the pure energy of being who I am meant to be and doing only what I am meant to do. I want to be fully myself, but this secret path is only discoverable through the Lord who made me. Therefore, as Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7). When the answer comes, it will be first of all pure. Take this purity to heart, and you will be blessed, for “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Mt 5:8).
At the very beginning of his letter James outlines the procedure for hearing God’s voice: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea” (1:5-6). Notice the three steps:
1) When in doubt, pray for wisdom.
2) Wisdom will be given to you.
3) When God speaks, do not doubt Him.
For many years I’ve tested and tried this path and it has never failed me. In fact, so important is this principle that I married it—for my wife’s name is Karen, which means pure.
Photos by Karen Mason
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