Friday, September 28, 2012

Worship Through Service?

You’ve probably heard me say it already. FAITH IN ACTION SUNDAY is the day we "cancel our worship service, and worship through service."

Now, the first time we did this, we got some negative reaction.  Susan Reinhardt wrote a column about Faith in Action Sunday for the Asheville Citizen Times, and it was posted on their website. One of the commenters was really disgusted that we were using God’s day to help people. This person said there are six other days to help people –but Sunday is a day to worship.

And apparently this person thought that worship is something that happens inside the building. We sing, we pray, we listen to the Word, we give an offering. That’s worship – going out to help people is not.

And you know what?  That commenter just might have a good point! Can we really worship God by helping people?  Is that an appropriate use of the Lord’s Day? Or is it just another adventure in missing the point?

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the connection between worshiping God and helping people:

"Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them” (Isaiah 58:1-2).

In other words, these people go to worship. They seek God. They sing, they pray, they listen to the Word, they give an offering. They’re even doing something hard core – they’re fasting. Going without food in order to get focused on God. Going without food to give seriousness to their prayers.

But for some reason, their fasting is not working:

"'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?'" (Isaiah 58:3).

And here’s God’s reply:

"You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high" (Isaiah 58:4b).

Something’s wrong with the way they’re fasting.

Yes, they’re doing a very spiritual thing by going without food, but God says, “Your fasting is not the kind of fasting that I have chosen” –

 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:6-7).

God says, “The kind of fasting I want results in people being helped. It’s not just a religious ritual that makes you look good. It’s not just a spiritual practice for your own benefit.”

God says, “What I want to see is spiritual practice connected with service -- worship of Me that leads to helping people.”

And here's what I get from that: When God's people, motivated by God's love, feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, reach out to the lonely, and carry out other acts of compassion in God's name -- these ARE acts of worship. 

Yes, we really can “worship through service.”

That’s not to say we don’t also need to sing, pray, listen to the Word, and give an offering. In fact, we need to do that often—once a week at least. And we need to do it with our whole hearts, pouring everything we’ve got into praising God.

But when we leave the building and go out and serve – that’s an act of worship as well.

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