As in a mirror
“The Readiness is All” —Hamlet
Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd opens with a farmer, Gabriel Oak, spying on a young woman from his hiding place in the woods. She gazes at her face in a mirror and smiles to herself, fully satisfied with her appearance. “She did not adjust her hat, or pat her hair, or press a dimple into shape… She simply observed herself as a fair product of Nature in the feminine kind.” Gabriel’s terse assessment: “Vanity.”
I think of James’ comparison: “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-23, The Message)
Obedience is not agreeing with truth and intending to do it. It’s doing what God asks us to do as soon as possible. He does not ask us to do everything at once, and he does not ask us to do things that are impossible to do. Nor does he ask us to do anything by ourselves. He is within us to will and to do his good pleasure.
But he does ask, and sometimes he asks very hard things. It’s no good merely wanting to do them. “Good intentions must take advantage of their first ripeness,” George MacDonald wrote. Otherwise we may one day cease to have any good intentions at all.
Why, then, do I fail to act? Vanity. I see my face in the mirror and smile to myself, fully satisfied with my appearance. Pride has blinded me to the need for alteration. The answer, as James continues, is to “receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21). The word must fall into a humble heart.
So, I must ask God for the humility to look into my heart and take heed to his words. Then I must make a start and ask Him to perfect it. He waits to be gracious.