“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26–27, NASB).
Beginning Lent, I am reminded that the traditions, rituals, and liturgy of the Church are valuable only to the extent that they bring us closer to Jesus. The best way to know whether we are close to Jesus is to measure how much we are reflecting His love to the world.
I have found that there are, essentially, four kinds of Christians. One kind prays only for themselves and makes no pretext that they care about the needs of others. The second group will say they will pray for you, but they probably will not. The third group will pray for you. The fourth group will seek to be God’s answer to your prayers.
The passage above does not tell us that “pure and undefiled” religion is praying for widows and orphans, but rather actually visiting them. It is easy to pray for for those who are hurting. It is a lot harder to join them in their pain, to become the first pair of ears all week to listen to their sorrows. It is not easy to help them.
This should be the challenge of Lent. Prayer and fasting are wonderful things. They can bring us closer to Christ. However, if they have accomplished that goal, you will go beyond prayer and fasting to active spiritual service.
We see this throughout Scripture. In the first chapter of Isaiah, God says through the prophet, “‘What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?’ Says the LORD. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats’” (Isaiah 1:11). He calls their sacrifices—many of which were commanded in the Torah—”worthless” and “abominations.” Instead, what is the “fast” that He desires? “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16–17).
It is easy to pray for the downtrodden, and to hope that somebody else will minister to them. But, God is calling each of us to a mission field. It is not enough to pray for the orphans and widows. Each of us must reach out to them.
Placing it in a more contemporary environment, it is not enough for us to pray for the salvation of “those people” from the wrong side of the tracks. We are called to share the love and mercy of Jesus directly with them.
As I was reflecting on this week’s post, I heard the song, “Jesus is a Friend of Mine,” by Aaron Neville. His testimony is amazing: His lengthy music career was interrupted by struggles with drug addiction (including a few prison sentences) before he found deliverance through his faith in Christ. A few thoughts come to me as I listen to this song: remember that God has saved me from sin; remember that “those people” need to hear that same message of grace that saved me; and remember to reach out to them with the love of God. You can find that song at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rN05ClD3vA.
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.