Summary: When we truly see ourselves in the light of Christ, then we cannot help but be changed.
I have always loved sports. As a child, I was involved in several rec sports leagues. I played soccer for a few years. I played tee ball one season, and then I played basketball. I don’t recall that I really had any great intentions of playing basketball; it’s actually kind of funny the way it happened. At the beginning of my sixth grade year, my gym teacher (who also happened to be the girls’ basketball coach at my school) got me connected up with a city league team coached by a friend of his. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself! I was going to play basketball on a city league team! Well, as it turned out that particular year, I played on both the city league team and a Girls Incorporated team. So for several months, I basically had two practices and two games a week. And then, in the Spring of my sixth grade year, I tried out for the school team, which, as it turns out, is what my gym teacher had in mind all along.
The tryouts for the school team took four days, with a few girls being cut each day. I made it through the first two days with no problem, but the third day was a different story. We were doing lay-ups, some from the right side of the basket and some from the left. I dribbled in and laid the ball up nicely on the right side, but coming in on the left side was not so pretty. I botched the form and lay-up something fierce, and as I ran back to my place in line, I looked at the Coach, who said, “Travis, you gotta work on the left side.” I was crushed. I thought my chances of playing ball on the school team were ruined. I had been feeling pretty good about my abilities, and then all of a sudden, the mirror was in front of me and it wasn’t a very pretty picture. That evening I went home and got my ball out of the garage and started doing left hand lay-ups over and over and over again. First, I worked on my form, making sure I was dribbling comfortably with my left hand and always getting to the basket such that I could lightly stretch my left hand up and push the ball towards the backboard. Once I got comfortable with the form, then I started working on actually getting the ball into the basket. I didn’t stop practicing until I was completely satisfied that I had made significant progress on the left-handed lay-up. Sure enough, the next day, I returned to tryouts, and when it came time to do lay-ups, I put the basketball in the hoop as nicely on the left-side as on the right. “Good job, Travis” Coach said. “You been practicing?” “Yes.” I said. I’m pretty sure my overnight improvement on the left-handed lay-up sealed the deal for the Coach, and I made the Junior High basketball team for the next two years, but it took Coach pointing out to me the sheer ugliness of my left-handed lay-ups for me to get to a level where I made the team.
How often does this happen in our lives? We’re feeling pretty good about our abilities, thinking we’ve got it all together, and then all of a sudden we get a good dose of perspective. I, personally, deal with this on a fairly regular basis, as I’m sure all of us do. Certainly, “being put in our place” is never a very fun experience, but what we do in the midst of such experiences can make all the difference. In the case of my early basketball career, I took a rather embarrassing moment and decided I needed to do a little work, so I went home and practiced for a few hours. That practice ended up making a world of difference, enough that I made the team when I might not otherwise have. Coach held up the mirror, I saw I had some work to do, and so I got busy. The same must be true in our Christian lives as well, James tells us. We cannot simply see ourselves in the mirror and walk away forgetting what we have seen. We must see and remember, and then we must act to improve, becoming more Christ-like. Our entire lives as Christians must be shaped after the example of Christ, because this is the mirror that stands before us.
Think back with me for a minute to Jesus’ time. “Mirrors,” if you can call them that, were not exactly commonplace like they are today. The wealthy might have had heavily polished metal that would function somewhat like mirrors, but that was pretty much it. People in Jesus’ time probably did not have much of an idea of what they looked like except from their shadows or maybe from reflections in the water. Even if they were lucky enough to see their reflection in the shined finish of metal, they still were not getting a very clear picture of themselves. Today, we have mirrors everywhere. I went around my house this week just to see how many mirrors I have. I live by myself, and in my house are five mirrors. We have a very clear picture of ourselves, but it’s probably fair to say that we see ourselves in the mirror so often that we rarely actually take real notice of what we look like. I imagine that quite often, as James says, we walk away from the mirror and immediately forget what we were like. Perhaps it’s so easy for us to forget about our appearance in part because our standard is only ourselves; what we saw in the mirror a few hours ago, or maybe yesterday. But what if our standard is God in Jesus Christ, and the image being reflected is our whole lives, not just our outward appearance.