Giving God the Effort
I recently watched a documentary on the history of Hasidic Jews in America. It was absolutely fascinating. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading the first five books of the Bible, and the two seemed to go very hand-in-hand together. I’d just finished Numbers about the time I watched this documentary, and something occurred to me. God really, really likes an effort.
Everything in our culture right now is so casual and so immediate. There was a time when a woman wouldn’t dare travel without the hat, dress, heels – and now it’s not unusual to see people in shorts and flip-flops in the airport. We went to my daughter’s evening play at the local community theater and most of the parents were dressed in jeans or shorts. Food is prepared under the guise of “quick and easy” or “instant.” Drive-thru food, drive-thru ATM’s, drive-thru dry cleaners…if it can’t be serviced fast, immediate, and without the effort of even getting out of the car, then it’s not worthwhile.
Our worship hasn’t avoided being affected by this trend. God spends an entire chapter (Exodus 39) giving the detail of the garments a priest should wear, and today you have pastors of mega churches wearing jeans and no tie. A HUGE portion of the first four books of the Bible do nothing but explain in intricate detail the rules and rituals for worship, for feasts, for sabbath, for anything special to do with God, and we have a hard time putting forth the effort to make a homemade cake for the church Thanksgiving dinner.
We want a blessing from God, and we want it now, while we’re dressed comfortably, and while we’ve dug out an hour or two a week in our schedules to be made available to Him.
While I’m not suggesting that our priests and preachers suddenly be fitted with breastplates and carry budding staffs, I think we need to take some time (precious time) to fast and pray and meditate on where the effort in our lives should be focused.
I think what God wants from us is our time, our effort, our energy. He wants us to take the time to dress better than any other moment during the week so that we can respectfully present ourselves in our best light to Him. That isn’t to say that someone walking into a church building in ripped jeans and dusty cowboy boots shouldn’t be welcome, but our own personal worship should be so reverent that we want to be at our best, inward and outward, for God.
He wants us to celebrate His holidays with effort and enthusiasm and praise. As the next few months will approach, we will hear nothing but how much of a hassle Christmas is, how much there is to do, how overwhelming it is. There’s such a negative light thrown on the effort of Christmas that it suddenly seems like it isn’t worth it, that people making the effort are wrong, are crazy, are wasting their time and energy. Leviticus 23 and Numbers 28-29 put in detail how God wanted the nation of Israel to celebrate the Sabbath and the different holidays, feasts, and celebrations. Each one required the sacrifice and effort of the people for days or weeks in order to give thanks and praise to God. Reading each of those chapters gives you a concept of a society where everything, including the work of the animals in the field, centered around their worship of God.
God loves ceremony and structure. Exodus 25-31 describe in detail how He wanted the tabernacle prepared, decorated, anointed. He spends chapter after chapter through these books instructing how worship was to be conducted, how special, how solemn the very act of entering God’s presence was to be. Today, we want the service over with by noon and to be the first in line at the local Golden Coral so that we can get the good bits on the salad bar. A good friend of ours is a preacher and he told us that he had a parishioner who would tap his watch at him whenever he moved passed the 12:10 spot. (And this was often, because this friend of ours would just be warming up by 12:10.)
I understand that the current defense against looking at Old Testament practices and customs is to say, “Jesus fulfilled the law so it doesn’t apply to us.” But we have to remember that the God of the Old Testament who had Moses put to death the man who was collecting firewood during the Sabbath is the same God of the New Testament whom we claim to worship today. He personally spoke to Moses how He wanted things done. And if he wanted an entire week of sacrifice and worship to Him (Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:33-44), then celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with as much effort and enthusiasm and sacrifice and ceremony should not be too much to ask. If he commanded that someone breaking the Sabbath should be put to death, then it isn’t too much to ask that we take one day a week and set it aside as “holy to the Lord,” (Exodus 31:15). If He commanded such rituals in how the priests should adorn themselves as an act of worship to Him, then it shouldn’t be too much to ask that we put an effort into how we dress when we purposefully walk into God’s house with the intent of worshiping Him.
I don’t think legalistic worship is pleasing to God. I think that Jesus’ objection to how the religious leaders of his time were zealously following the “law” and thereby losing sight of the love of our amazing God and the reverence and majesty for Him makes that clear. But I do believe that He loves the effort of more for Him, I think He wants us to make worship for Him special, remarkable, beautiful, ceremonial. If we can do that without becoming legalistic, if we keep the focus on how we’re worshiping the Alpha and Omega, our Savior, Messiah, Redeemer, and friend, then the effort ought to be nothing but pleasing to God.
Michael W. Smith – You Are Holy (Prince of Peace)
Our family realized how much we were wrapped around the world instead of wrapping our lives around God and worshiping God. We had compromised with the world in so many places in our lives, and we were suffering in our faith because of it. As soon as we made a commitment, as a couple and for our family, to make everything in our lives for the purpose of glorifying and edifying God, the changes in ourselves, in our marriage, in our family are amazing. We started living very frugally so that we can give back to God’s kingdom as much as possible. We rid our home of movies and books and entertainment that we wouldn’t be comfortable showing in church or reading in church. We fast, we pray continually, we talk constantly to God and about God. We volunteer our time, Gregg teaches and preaches, Kaylee and I do devotions every morning, the boys and I have a faith-based curriculum for preschool, I started this blog and I write Christian books. Every place in our life that wasn’t being used as a mode of worshiping God was removed or reevaluated or adjusted.
Our walk grows stronger every day, our faith grows, our blessings increase. And giving God the effort has become a pleasure. I look forward to each new day in the Lord, and have started seeking out new ways to serve Him. He is amazing and wonderful and awesome and mighty, and deserves everything we are capable of giving Him.
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This is really nice. I think there’s also something to be said for seeing God in all things, and having everything be a form of worship, so that it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or even where you are. I don’t mind the image of the preacher in jeans, there’s something very humble about it. Jesus and his disciples dressed very humbly. But to be honest I agree with you about dressing up and holidays and so on. If anything I see it both ways. I don’t like it when people say they don’t want to make a big deal out of their wedding. I love dressing up for special occasions, there’s something important about it in every culture and I love to see the different ways people do it.
I hate to see people travelling in flipflops. I think people should always travel in style. I think you could write a book about how everything about air travel symolizes the giving up of our culture.
The one thing I was left wanting here is some of the details which inspired you from the documentary about the Hasids.
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Jim. The inspiration from the Hasids mirrored that of the Old Testament. They are so very extravagant in their worship, and their entire life revolves around their worship and their faith. Every single thing they do is about their faith. I’m sorry I didn’t give enough information about that.