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March 30, 2014

the expense of worship

If you look at my bulletin board today, you'll see a portrait of charming, impoverished Burmese boy with paint on his skin. I found the image in an old calendar a few weeks ago, and now he smiles silently above my desk. For years, I've posted pictures of international children around my home or office, and donated to child-related causes. I tell myself that I love international children.

But then I remember a recent night. I was hurrying home from doing important-person stuff and a beggar child surprised me by grabbing at my hand in the dark. She wanted change. I didn't stop long enough to pay attentionI brushed her off and was secretly glad that it was time to cross the street anyway....

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to brush off poor local beggar girls, because I'm in a hurry to go home and post pictures of cute kids from Burma.

Recently, my flatmate came home extra-late after a long day at the office. I paused what I was doing, welcomed her home, and offered to heat up the supper that was sitting cold on the table. Then I cut her a dish of cold watermelon chunks (perfect for a day when summer felt closer than ever) and visited with her for a bit (she loves this). I'm nice, right? She thanked me for the watermelon and the visit.

But what she didn't know, was that before the she came home, I had carefully chopped up kiwi, watermelon, pomegranate and banana and tucked them in the back of the fridge. Behind a few other things, where I hoped the flatmates wouldn't notice them. As I chopped my fruit, I thought, "I hope the girls don't come home while I'm chopping this. So that I don't have to share it, and I can save my fruit salad for a few days' lunches...." 

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to hoard my carefully washed and cut fruit, but still make myself look good by chopping up watermelon when the flatmate comes home.

Not long ago, my other flatmate was fasting for one of many religious festivals. During her fast, potatoes were one of the few permissible foods. She wandered into the pantry and asked if she could eat my chips that I had just bought that afternoon. My healthy chips. That I bought and carried home all by myself. From the store directly on my route home from work. (I'm trying to make it sound like it was hard work to acquire them, but it wasn't). I let her have them, and she promised to replace them the next day.

I didn't expect her to replace them, and she didn't, and she still hasn't. The problem is, it bothered me that she didn't return my chips. I found myself thinking things like, "I knew she had no intention of replacing the food she was taking from me. I wanted those chips. She was lazy to not pick up her own food for her fast...." Her fast to the god who sees nothing....

I guess that's why I came to Asia: to hold grudges against gold-god worshipping flatmates because they didn't return my fifty-cent Lite and Fit chips that I didn't need anyway. 

Father, this heart!
Have you seen it?

Can you change it?

In my heart I see Jonah. I put on the show; I go to a far country. "Hey, look at me! Listen to this testimony of how I stopped running away from God! Hey! Pay attention over here, I'm going to do a good work!" I tell someone they're perishing, but when they turn their head and actually show interest in what I'm saying, not only am I surprised (I mean, I didn't really expect them to listen to truth anyway), but I'm busy whining that I can't find a shade tree under which to eat my Lite and Fit chips while they perish.

In my heart I see the prodigal's older brother. No big history of wild living. I think I'm faithful and serving the Father, I have a list of deeds I can show. But when mercy and grace are lavished on the prodigal, I'm not rejoicing. Instead, I'm crossing my arms, furrowing my brow, and wondering where my "good girl reward" is hiding. But my Father sees that I'm keeping the nicer salad for myself or pushing away a beggar child.

At the split between Matthew 5 and 6, I found these convicting words:
"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? ...And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? ...Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
God saw more worth in the hearts of the pagan Ninevites, who were cut open by the Word of God, than in the heart of proud, Jewish Jonah. Because He's not looking for religious status or skin colour or upbringingHe looks at the heart. He's looking for true worshippers, who worship in spirit and in truth. And the thing is, what is worshipful coming from one person, might be inauthentic coming from another—He looks at the heart. The difference is broad, between a gift and a sacrificial gift.

I don't want to be Jonah.
I don't want to be the older brother. 
"Love must be sincere," so I want to be like Mary, who "took a pound of very costly oil...anointed the feet of J'esus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil."

Mary teaches me that real worship is costly. Mary gave something of real value. Perhaps my tiny, daily equivalent would be me giving up my fruit salad, that I wanted for me, instead of the watermelon, that was easy to share. Inviting someone over when I don't feel like it, not just when I do. Waking up earlier than is convenient to my flesh, to spend time alone with Him. I was asked a few years ago: "Are you content to offer J'esus that which cost you nothing?" What sort of a gift is that? What kind of worship is that? Love Him lavishly; worship Him expensively. Only you know what that will look like in your life.

I remember some cost, in coming to Asia. I remember bawling on the bumper of my friend's car, telling her how I didn't want to leave her, but I wanted to leave her, all at the same time. I recall reconciling the calendar and the calculator, figuring out when my last biggish paycheques would stop coming. It was sad, to leave my tiny niece and siblings behind. That might have been oil I broke over His feet nearly two years ago (and that oil was worth every penny—He is worthy), but what have I given Him lately? It's easy to stop giving Him gifts that cost, and just give gifts that look like they cost. He looks at the heart.

Mary teaches me that when I give Him gifts that cost me something, others will notice a difference. Because that kind of expensive, generous-toward-God living is as uncommon as breaking perfume worth a year's wages on a Man's dusty feet. I know this: the smell of a life lived as a sacrificial offering will fill the house. It will float into the elevator, and then the office. It will cling to my hair, as I run errands and encounter beggars and talk to flatmates. Half-hearted service is weak; costly worship effects a powerful testimony. 

And I guess that's why I came to Asia: to worship, at any cost.

"You are worthy, our Lord and God, 
to receive glory and honor and power, 
for you created all things, 
and by your will they were created and have their being."  
—The twenty-four elders

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I've been thinking similar thoughts here, too. JoyinKTM