It never fails.
No matter how many times I have heard and found out that something is true, I tend to forget until I experience it for myself (again) and think, Wow, that really is true.
Yesterday, I received a copy of The Poverty & Justice Bible, an excellent CEV version of the Bible that highlights (literally) nearly every reference to justice and poverty in the Bible, over 2,000 verses from Genesis 3:17 to Revelation 22:12. I read the Bible often, although I have still never read it completely. But yesterday I found myself driven by something, an unexplainable passion and I was up until well past midnight, reading.
What I found broke me down.
It wasn’t anything new. I’ve read it before. In fact, I’m pretty sure it had the same effect then, also. But here it is, highlighted in bright orange, and my heart still sinks as I read it again. Keep in mind this is the Contemporary English Version:
“I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and the homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed. Your honesty will protect you as you advance, and the glory of the Lord will defend you from behind. When you beg the Lord for help, he will answer, “Here I am!” Don’t mistreat others or falsely accuse them or say something cruel. Give your food to the hungry and care for the homeless. Then your light will shine in the dark; YOUR DARKEST HOUR WILL BE LIKE THE NOONDAY SUN.” — Isaiah 58:6-10
That last sentence just kills me. I’m ruined, seriously. If you read back a little bit, Isaiah (a prophet) is talking to religious people, those who make a big show of worshiping God by fasting publicly, wearing rags, and sitting in ashes. But Isaiah says, That’s not true worship. Loving others, helping the poor and needy, sharing your food & your home, giving clothes to those in need, THAT’S true worship. And that’s what God asks for.
I know a lot of people who get caught up in the acts of worship, or should I say the processes of worship. Gotta make sure I go to every church service. Oops, we’re praying. I’d better close my eyes and look serious. Why is that guy shouting during prayer? Doesn’t he know we’re supposed to be quiet? Okay, now we’re going to sing. I hope we sing a hymn because everybody knows hymns are more pleasing to God than that contemporary praise stuff. Oh, now the preacher is preaching. I like him. He’s calm and old-fashioned, none of that radical “take up your cross and follow me” stuff. I should nod a few times to let him know I’m listening. Here we go, my favorite part, the invitational. I’m going to go down for prayer again. I hope the pastor asks the elders to come down to pray with me.
You get the idea. Of course, this is just a humorous hypothetical. And I am not judging or condemning any of those things (well, maybe the hymn comment doesn’t swing well with me). But… the problem is that this kind of worship on its own is hollow. It’s like an exterior shell that needs to be filled with something more important, something more pure.
Now I understand why so often I have prayed and felt nothing; I have lifted my hands in worship and felt nothing. It’s because I was going through the motions of a worship that looked and sounded great in practice, but was really just the shell. What it needed was a heart, a center filled with compassion and kindness, sacrificial love and submissive humility. Something that does not come easily and naturally to any of us.
Which is why I need Jesus every day.
My darkest hours are pretty dark. I have a temper that flares up at inconvenient times and is often targeted at those I love the most. I have days when I don’t want to move because everything agitates me.
Most of the time, these days come when I have wasted time or money on myself, pursuing and purchasing my own desires. After too much of this, I start to expect others to “do” things for me, pay attention to me. I make what Kenny Luck refers to as “eighth grade threats”. I throw tantrums.
But when I give… I am a new person.
I notice it right away. My wife notices it. My kids notice it.
Most importantly, God notices it.
More than any prayer, more than any hymn (or contemporary praise song), more than any “thing” you do to worship, God notices when you love others more than you love yourself.
Because when you do these things (give to the poor, feed the hungry, care for the homeless), even your darkest hour will shine like the noonday sun. That’s bright. Noonday suns are bright. And if your darkest hour is that bright, what do you think will happen when God really gets hold of you on your brightest hour?
I can’t wait to find out.
…let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. — Matt. 5:16