The fact of the matter is, sometimes we have to do things we just don’t want to do. For example, today I’m spending my Sunday morning reading about suicide to see if I can knock out these last few articles today. It’s really not how I would choose to spend a Sunday morning. However, I have a deadline in 19 days, and so I have to get this done. To make things a little better, I do plan to drink copious amounts of coffee. If I do really well today, I may even go to the store to get my new favorite type of Romanian cookie which I won’t say the name of because it’s slightly embarrassing (now THAT is a veiled comment, for those of you keeping track)…but I promise I like them for the taste. The reality is, I have work that has to get done. It’s not something I feel like doing today (hence I’m blogging instead of reading), but how I feel about it doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done.
The thing is, the Bible is also full of things we should be doing but don’t necessarily want to do. No, I’m not talking about the Old Testament law. I’m talking New Testament, words of Jesus, Paul, James, etc. This whole Christian lifestyle is not always an easy road to follow because it asks us to do things most people would not do. And, to make matters worse, I think some of the most important things we are supposed to do get lost in the mantra “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Yes, the relationship with Jesus is more important than the traditions and rites. However, it is really easy to ignore some pretty blatant commands when you are living under the guise of, “It’s ok, I have a relationship.”
So, I have a question for us all. If our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in our life, do we really know what makes Him happy? In addition, wouldn’t we want to do the things that make the most important person in our lives happy?
Yes, we go to church, we pray, we read the Bible, we worship, and, hey, we may even pay tithes. We give countless hours of service setting up, tearing down, greeting, teaching the kids, etc. All of those things are important. I’m not discounting any of those things. It really does take love to give so much time to something and not end up completely worn out and jaded. But, are we really seeking after the heart of God? Do we really have an understanding for what He wants and what makes Him happy?
I’m going to step out on a limb here. I think for most of us, the answer is a big fat No.
Every time I read passages like Luke 4:18-19, Matthew 19:16-30, and James 1:27, I feel both convicted and outraged. In my own life, I know I can do so much more, and I feel sad that the church, in generally, doesn’t do more or really challenge me to do more. Those passages are just a few of many verses of caring for the poor, the orphans, and the widows (these words should be taken both literally and figuratively). These three passages are probably all familiar to us, and I intentionally chose them for today’s post. I encourage you to read them (they’re only a click away).
The passage from Luke is a great place to start. It is here that Jesus goes into the synagogue in his home town and basically announces He is the messiah. In case you don’t know the story, everyone gets mad and thinks he’s a little crazy. When we read this passage, it is easy to get caught up in how the people responded, why they responded, etc. However, I think verses 18 and 19 are so important. When Jesus gets up to read, He chooses the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads from chapter 61. What we need to realize is He is doing more than just saying, “Hey, I know you all knew me as a kid, but guess what? I’m the messiah.” It is here that Jesus outlines what is effectively the mission statement for His entire ministry and how He plans to fulfill the Old Testament prophesies about Himself. It is His plan for reconciling a people back to God. He comes for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed.
Next, I’m going to skip Matthew and go to James. I probably should have written them in the order that I wanted to talk about them, but I didn’t. So, this is like being in a more traditional church and the song leader says to go to Hymn #274, but then he tells you to bookmark it and then go to #165. Some of you are laughing right now, and some of you need to experience a more traditional church.
Back to James.
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:26-27
Read this passage again, but, every time you see the word “religion,” replace it with “relationship”. It should now read something like this:
Those who think they have a relationship with Jesus but can’t keep their mouths shut (are all words but no action) are lying to themselves. You know you have the right kind of relationship with God when you are willing to take care of the forgotten and vulnerable and are willing to live and act differently than those around you. Jame 1:26-27, the QAP translation
I think these verses not only point out what the output of a relationship with Jesus should be, but should be a reminder to us that we can’t have a real relationship with someone we don’t actually know. If we really knew Jesus, I mean really knew Him, we would trust Him wholeheartedly and live in such a way that expresses that love. Yes, there are lots of ways to show that we love Jesus. A big part of worship is expressing that love. However, worship can be a very safe experience. You can do it in church or at home with no one watching. Most of us have an expectation of how we will feel, how long it will last, what we will be expected to do. However, taking care of someone else is quite different. You don’t know how long you will have to do it, you don’t know how it will make you feel, and you don’t always know what is expected of you along the way. Taking care of someone else can be awkward and uncomfortable. It is often a bigger sacrifice than we originally imagined.
In short, we just don’t want to do it. We can think of a thousand reasons why we shouldn’t. We don’t have the time or money. The person my take advantage of us. What ever we give might be used for something bad (read, “If I give money to this homeless person, they might use it for drugs.”). Yes, there are ways to take care of people which are more beneficial to them than others, but what I’m trying to point out is the problem with our attitude. I think if the first thought that pops into our head is why it’s a bad idea, we might need a serious attitude check. First, we are automatically judging someone we know nothing about simply by their position in life. Second, we aren’t trusting God that He will use what we are willing to give. I think this lack of trust can be summed up in Matthew 19.
This passage is the story of a rich man who comes up to Jesus and asks, “I follow the Law, but how do I take it to the next level?” Jesus replies with something that is hard for all of us, including me. He says, “Sell everything and give it to the poor so you can follow Me.” The man was sad because he was really wealthy. He had probably worked really hard for every penny. I think he was sad for more reasons than the fact that he was rich and Jesus was asking him to live a different lifestyle. I think he was sad because Jesus was asking him to give up something he had put years of hard work, sweat, and tears into. Jesus was asking him to give up everything. He was sad because he was going to have to give up the one thing he loved, his success, for the one thing he longed for, life. I think we can all relate to that feeling. However, the story doesn’t stop here. Peter then asks, “Yo, Jesus. What about us? We’ve already given everything up.” At this point, I can imagine Jesus patting Peter on the back and shaking His head. Jesus replies (more graciously than I’m about to paraphrase), “Peter, are you really that dense? Don’t you get it? When you give up everything to follow Me, I will take care of you.”
I think many of us are caught in the limbo between the rich man and Peter. On the one hand, we have things we have worked so hard for. We have put so much into these things that they are not easily given up. On the other hand, though, we don’t really trust Jesus to take care of us when we do make that leap of faith. The story from Matthew probably took place close to the end of Jesus’ ministry. Peter had been with Jesus for nearly three years, and he still did not really trust Jesus. I think many of us are in a similar places–we’ve been in church for years, maybe our whole lives. Yet, we still do not trust God to do what He says he’ll do. If we did, would we have not given everything up a long time ago?
So, here’s a challenge.
1. Think about who in your life is poor, imprisoned, blind, and oppressed–physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally (is that a word?). Who in your life is an orphan or widow, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or relationally?
2. Think about who is missing from your life. Do you know the poor? Do you know the imprisoned? Do you know the blind? Do you know the oppressed? How can you fill any gaps in these categories in your own personally ministry? How can you encourage larger ministries or your church to not only serve, but also seek out these populations?
3. Think about what you are afraid to let go of. We all have something–it could be something physical we’ve worked really hard for, or it could be something that happened to us in the past. What is holding you back from trusting God 100%? If you were to give up everything, what would it look like?