Belief, Without Action, is Dead

Over the weekend, I was reading the Bible with Courtney, when we stumbled upon the section below, from James 2:14-17 (NIV):

(14) What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  (15) Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. (16 ) If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (17) In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Wow.  Instantly after reading that passage, I had one of those lightbulb moments in life.  That’s me. I’m the guy who says “Have a safe trip… I hope things get better…  We’ll be thinking of you…”

I feel that I’m kind by nature.  I really do hurt for people when they are in need.  I really do wish that their circumstances would turn for them.  I’ll even take time to listen and provide any advice if that’s what I feel they need.

But often, I stop short of helping them in any real, tangible way. Why?  I’m not sure.  I guess because it’s convenient.  It’s convenient to think “Oh, I hope that homeless guy catches a break” or “I’m not giving him any money, he’ll just spend it on booze.”

So many times I hear myself saying, “If you need anything… anything at all… let me know!” I really do feel that way when I say it to people, but at the same time… this is such a cop-out.  I know 95% of the time, even if they were in need of help, they’d have trouble asking.  Even with an open invitation, our society teaches us not to rely on others… not to ask for help.

Talkers vs. Doers

Yesterday, J.D. Roth published a post entitled, Action Not Words:  The Difference Between Talkers and Doers.  You need to read that post, I think it is one of J.D.’s best posts he’s ever written.

It’s so easy to be a talker, especially when it comes to helping others in need.  It’s easy to put the ball in their court… Let me know if you need anything… It’s easy to hope that they get help.

But, we don’t have the time… make it!

But, we don’t have the money… change your priorities!

As a cultural, we love saying “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed.” It makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside.  It lets me feel warm and fuzzy, while keeping my selfish priorities in tact!

But a Doer, they take the hard next step.  They offer help outright. They take the burden off the person and need and take it upon themselves.  They stop and talk to the homeless… they walk them to the food stand to buy them food.  They apply to be foster parents, even when they could easily have more kids themselves (or once their kids are grown and moved out).

They do more than wish and hope… they act. They prioritize their time and their money to enable them to give a little of both. They show their beliefs and their faith through actions.  They lead and inspire, both the people they help directly and the people (like me) on the sidelines and waiting to jump in the game.

Courtney and I have the ability to put helping others and volunteering at the front our lives.  In all likelyhood, so do you.

We’ve decided to take steps in the coming weeks and months to re-prioritize the role kindness and giving play in our lives.  We want them to be at the very front, leading our other values not just in theory… but in action.

I’ll share details about our personal changes in the coming weeks.  Come join us.  Take action.

photo by dhilung

32 thoughts on “Belief, Without Action, is Dead”

  1. Baker, you’ve struck on something really important here. Positive thoughts, prayers, and intentions all are good things, but someone needs to swing the hammer for home repairs, stir the pot to make the meals, and donate the items for the charity events.

  2. Baker, thanks for sharing such an intimate moment with the world. It takes courage to do so and, thus, is the hallmark of a kind, true, and giving person. You’ve already proven that to me as you surely have with so many others. It’s both inspirational and touching.

    If I may share, I’ve been wrestling with a similar paradox the last few weeks. A month-ish ago I lost my beloved grandpa (Opa). And then, just this past weekend, my younger cousin was killed in a tragic car accident. I’m trying to apply meaning to these events, as well as understand my role within them. Like you, I hurt and try to be there for my family, but am I “doing” enough?

    To your larger point, this is a societal imperative – how we each design and execute our lives. This is certainly a “steering” vs “aiming” process; at least I know I can’t get it right at the first take. The world is dark indeed without active kindness and honest giving. Thanks for reminding me of it.


  3. @Matt – I’m sorry for your loss. We experienced a recent loss as well so I know how ones mind can grapple with putting meaning to tragic events. For me it begged the question “what am I doing with my own life that is making a positive difference in the lives of others?”

    This post reminded me of a Jack Welch quote: “Giving people self-confidence is by far the most important thing that I can do. Because then they will act.” I think one of the most important ways we can apply action to helping others is in building up their self-confidence so that they can stand on firm ground and be confident in their life journey. Baker, you’ve inspired me to find ways in my own life that I can be more available for others. Looking forward to reading more about your personal changes in the coming weeks.

    1. Many, many thanks Matt. I agree with your sentiments; and the Jack Welch quote is acutely appropriate. “Live your life each day as if it were your last” has become cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

      My great sympathies and condolences for your recent loss.


  4. I love the Book of James and enjoyed reading your post that was inspired by it!

    One challenge that I’ve run into is resistance to take one up on their offer. It’s been my experience that rather than simply offer, infer what is needed and take a step or two towards following-through on the offer. For example, offering to cook for a friend, but then following-up later with a choice of this dish or that dish. The thoughtful determination seems to make accepting the offer easier and the offer itself, more genuine.

    BTW: In many parts of the world, a person’s word is to be trusted (they mean what they say), but too often folks from the US say something to be nice without intention of following-through.

  5. Unfortunately, for me it’s the exact opposite. I really need to stop helping each and every one. When someone needs something, anything, they come to me, I leave everything I’m doing and help them.

    Yet when I need help, they always find reasons why they can’t help me (too busy, no time, out of town, other things I already know are lies). That’s why I decided I need to stop doing that. I and too kind, and that is bad for me. I’m trying to just say “No”, but it’s very hard.

    So you should be happy you can just feel compassion, yet not take any real action. It saves you time for yourself and those that are really close to you and really need your help.

    1. After many years of martyring myself to help others, I’ve come to realize that’s just another form of selfishness. I had put so much effort into helping the first person along that I had little left for the next person with a need. Just like I budget to get the most for my money, I need to budget my time, strength, and resources. I must take care of myself first, or I will have nothing to give others. I must look next to my own family (by blood or by love), or I will be neglecting my home base. I must then look to those who interact with myself and my family, so my home base is stronger. I will then have the strength and means to help strangers without looking for any gain other than the improvement of the world and society we all live in. I no longer feel any need to brag or complain about all I do for others, It is just my stewardship of what I have been given.

  6. I’ve been following your blog for awhile now, you’ve always got some of the best insight and advice…this sticks out as one of the best posts yet…when I shifted from a life of chasing selfish and non giving ways it sucked the life out of me…a few years ago I made the personal shift in life to giving and have seen great changes in all areas of life’s incredible!

  7. Great post Baker.
    I am someone who offers to help with anything, but I find that my offer is followed up on more if I offer something specific. For instance, a friend was thinking about doing some landscaping work at his house, so I offered to take him to the compost lot in my truck and pick up mulch that they were planning on putting in. It took about 25 minutes to complete the whole task, and it didnt really bother me one bit. There have been other situations where I can offer a specific thing and I get taken up on it, but I’ve found that if I just offer to help someone, it can be a very nebulous term and someone wont ask for help.
    Also, you make note that asking for help is culturally frowned upon in america. I would suggest we just “get over it” but I doubt that’s going to happen.


    1. Great point about offering something specific. My wife and I are always willing to help others if we are able to, but most of the time no one accepts. That is probably because we aren’t specific enough.

      Like Baker said, the Doers of this world ACT on what they say.

  8. I just happened to come across your blog few weeks ago, and I’m really enjoying. Keep up the great work. BTW – my life’s motto has been James 4:17 – “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins”. Ultimately, you know deep down what is right and wrong, even if we may not want to admit it sometimes.

  9. I am lucky that got has given me that intuition to know when people really need help and when they would appreciate it but don’t want to put anyone out.

    I use my gift wisely and don’t take no for an answer. I show up announced. I bring food, take dirty laundry to wash (sometimes forcefully lol) but when all is said and done, the help is appreciated.

    Don’t offer just do. If you are at a similar stage of life think what would help you. If you are at a different stage, ask someone in that stage what things they would appreciate.

    Good for you, because realizing where you need change is one of the biggest important step.

  10. Too many times we find ourselves saying and wishing someone well, but never really willing to do anything about their situation. Helping others takes time and motivation. As you said, the time part is as easy as just rearranging our priorities; and for me, my motivation is wanting to demonstrate God’s love to others.

  11. Hi Baker, I came across your blog last week and I like your content and the points you make. I live in Holland, so I am sorry if I do make mistakes in my English….

    I am blessed with the small group of friends I have, especially because I don’t have much close family around. My dad lives in the US and my mom died. My friends can always call me if they need, I babysit a lot for two of my friends who’s parents live abroad and I do get so much love in return. And if I need a shoulder to cry on, or some help in any kind, they are there for me. I sincerely believe that what you give will come back to you. Of course you need to take care of yourself as well. I always make the comparison with first aid: if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will end up laying down next to the victem. That doesn’t help either one of you.

    We have a big internation event in and around the city I live in: the four days marches of Nijmegen. It is a march of four days 50 kilometer a day. This year I decided to do something special in 2011. As I do want to walk the marches again, I will ask people around to sponsor me for each kilometer. The money I collect is for a special charity project that I want to pick. As I love to travel and I want to make sure the money will come in the right place, I will go visit the project myself and bring the money. And of course I will help for some time as well. All details I still need to figure out, as the idea is only a week of six old.

    I believe that small things can and will make a difference, so if you are not up to something big, do some smaller things. I knew my neighbour was feeling sad and miserable. She loves reading and flowers, so I brought her a book from the library, some nice flowers from nature and made her a nice cup of tea. Three weeks later she told me that made a big difference for that day and yesterday when I came home, she had cleaned my two windows at the front of my appartment! I did it out of love and not to get something in return. I do believe however that what you give, will come back….

  12. Going from thought to action is always a huge hurdle. Action is hard. It takes time and real sacrifices. While thinking the right thing requires virtually no effort. Unfortunately, it also offers virtually no benefits.

    I think the most important thing for building the tendency to act is to create powerful habits that will lead to real benefits that reinforce the behavior.

  13. Wow, you’ve really hit a cord with this blog. And you really seem to attract intelligent, compassionate and insightful readers (i.e. me-LOL) from each of the comments they’ve made. Jeff & Susie – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, offer something specific to do and/or just show up and do something. The years 2002-2005 were the most difficult of my life. Each of my immediate family members were struggling with life-threatening illnesses and I was the only (from immediate family) left to be there, take care of problems, sit and hold their hand, talk to doctors, fight with insur companies, and later, make funeral arrangements. I can’t tell you the hurt and shock that no friends or extended family offered to come visit any of my family during hospitalizations or otherwise (with an exception of a couple of one time visits over a few years). And no one to just come and sit with me at the hospital. I was so alone, yet,how could that have been possible with relatives and friends I loved and had known most or all my life? Yes, people called to see how my family and I were doing, and offers of “let me know if I can do anything”. I never took anyone up on it, because it was too hard to just say, “I’m raw, be with me”. I felt that given the situation, how they knew I loved my family, knew me, instead of putting me in that situation, that if they were really wanted to, they could have just shown up, or call and say, I’m coming over at 2pm, where can I find you at the hospital, or what do you think Steve would enjoy, a book or magazine because I’m coming to visit (Steve was my brother, died of cancer). My father, while in the hospital (my parents were divorced), because no one was coming to visit him except me, asked if anyone knew he was in the hospital. Broke my heart. But I have to say, it was a HUGE learning experience for me because I had been guilty myself. When relatives or people I new were in the hospital, I would send a card but for the most part, didn’t visit because I had worried about being intrusive at a bad time and was concerned I wouldn’t know what to say, especially if the illness was terminal. No more. I now so totally understand how meaningful it is, no matter what, that people you know in a meaningful way, that their life means something to you. And not just one time to feel your obligation has been fulfilled. Well, Baker, if I wasn’t already impressed with you enough, it’s gone to new heights with your compassion and vulnerability you expose yourself to in reading your blog and this particular post. I also have to say, in fairness, not everyone’s wired the same way. It just may not be natural for some people to get involved, ‘just show up’, etc. When I ‘show up’, it’s not because I’m better than anyone else, not at all. It’s only because I AM wired for it (I’m an ENFJ, Myers-Briggs Temperment Type Indicator) and can do it even if it doesn’t always come easily. Baker, I’m planning to link this blog to my blog – it’s important for people to read. Remember I was mentioning that link I want to add on my left sidebar for sites that help the world. I only had one so far, now I have two (yours).

  14. Matt :sorry for your loss by the way. I also love the bible quote (Those without a vision shall perish) Ok,I’m not sure what chapter and verse it is but to me it’s the first step. Define the dream. Set goals . Get moving. Dreams without action are just dreams. Action is the key word in every thing including setting your priorities, The other day I was talking with a guy who had build a multi- million dollar business. I was working as a Fire Inspector. He told me I should be in business with the way I worked with people. I had told him I’m waiting for the right time. His response floored me.
    Going into business is like having kids. If you wait for the right time you will never have kids. Like was said early on make the time,make the calls.Define and make your life. If you don’t ,someone else will be making your life and you will be getting a paycheck but making their dreams come true. Great comment from all

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  16. Baker,

    Those verses are so true. I love that it also says, “Show me you faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works.”

    In other words… show me the result of all your talking and I will show you the results from all my doing.

    Success is NOT an Accident,

  17. Thanks (again) for a very insightful blog… you hit me on this. “ACTION” is the real thing to feed your faith and beliefs. I am currently in a financially shaky organization, I am undecided on whether to move out and go forward, follow the instincts triggered by my is really hard to be ” a legal slave” , especially of your job and your debts (the latter has been a huge chunk of all the decisions I’ve been making)… and so far it has gotten me to worst heights). Thanks again for striking me…I think I hit it rock bottom this time….I am forward into ACTION….

  18. I’ve actually had the opposite problem. I tended to act even when it wasn’t needed. I would try to do everything for those who I thought were in need, in the process sacrificing my own needs and not allowing them to grow and act on their own behalf. While I agree with you that actions speak louder than words, we should also temper our actions with a sense of self preservation and a desire to see others help themselves. It’s a very fine line but one we should be aware of.

  19. I agree with your article.The quote from the bible is excellent. I find that when I am in that place where I do not know what to do. This is where I go for an answer. I pray and open it randomly and every time I get an answer that is specific to me and my life situation. The amount of times I have seen people not give and be selfish always makes me sad. I always give to the homeless and people who beg when I have the money. I also tell them to take care. I do this because I care and will help anyone but I am no pushover. I believe that anyone can get into a situation like them and end up destitute due to circumstances. Keep up the good work, Look after your family and keep inspiring people to live to their fullest potential.

  20. This post also reminds me of the quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

    I’d add more but everyone else above has already said it 🙂 Way to go team!

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  22. This is my first comment on this blog. Really like the style of it 🙂

    So, what I think about talkers vs. doers. One thing, that I’ve recently tackled on my website about mind thieves is that there are two ways to help others. One way is to feel forced through societal pressure to help for help’s sake. Could I contribute to Pakistan flood victims ? Sure, but to what point? Because it’s the “right” thing to do?

    The other way to help is to help based on your definite major purpose. You CANNOT help everyone that needs help, but you can help those that you are aligned to help. I feel aligned to help many people in the world, but not others. If helping someone amounts to me going outside of my definite major purpose, it is useless to me and to them. My heart isn’t in it, and they are getting help from somone that doesn’t care. See the difference?

  23. I really enjoyed this post. It’s true as Christians we are called to help those in need -both in prayer and in action. I read about a couple that budgets extra “giving” so they can help those in need when the situation presents itself. I really thought it was an excellent way of ensuring money is available for these purposes.

    I have to ask, why did you choose the picture you did to head this post? I can’t reconcile you reading the Bible with the picture of an idol (e.g. Hindu?)

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  25. Excellent post, linked over here from STD. Most of the previous comments stand on their own but I wanted to point something out to Ellen, which is that AS MEMBERS OF A SOCIETY we are called to help those in need. It has nothing to do with being Christian. There are plenty of animal species that behave in altruistic ways, and I’m pretty sure none of them self-identify as Christian!

    Also, a figure of the Buddha is not necessarily an idol, any more than a crucifix is. I appreciated that Adam used a symbol that evokes spirituality, rather than one specific to a religion. The foundations of all religions are the same … it is what people build on top of them that creates conflict.

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