A Picture Worth a 1000 Words
The picture to the left speaks volumes. That’s Michael in the picture. He’s the grandson of some friends of ours from a previous appointment. Michael is helping his granddad prepare the palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday. In our tradition, we save those palm fronds, and when Ash Wednesday approaches, we strip, burn and crush the leaves into a powder that we mix with oil and water. We use the resulting paste for the putting on of ashes during our Ash Wednesday observance.
I’m reasonably sure Michael didn’t know the history or the idea of fasting or giving something up in representation of our sin during Lent; nor does he likely know the scripture the early church incorporated from Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and Believe!” for Ash Wednesday. Moreover, I’m quite sure he doesn’t remember us talking about how instead of giving up a token item like fast food or TV shows for Lent, we should seriously consider by what means we might be rid of the things that produce sin in our lives. Still, that picture of Michael enjoying the moment with his grandfather reminds me of something important that Psalm 100 verse 2 should teach us.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. (NIV)
Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. (KJV)
I find it interesting how different versions of the Bible intertwine the words worship and serve. When we look up the Hebrew words for worship or serve we get the word aw-bad. In this instance, aw-bad means to work. One of the key Bible dictionaries I often consult says no matter the sense or usage in various interpretations of this verse, the words worship and serve are to be rendered as “work”. This in turn reminds me how in a theological sense the Liturgy or order we follow in worship is referenced as “the work of the people”.
And here’s the point. Even though Michael didn’t really understand the why of what he’s doing in the picture, he’s still in the moment doing his best. Don’t miss the implication. With only the simple joy a child might derive, Michael is willing to serve without needing to understand why. I wonder if perhaps inwardly in his “child spirit” Michael is practicing an aspect of worship that many of us rarely experience; or quite honestly have forgotten how to experience. As I look at the picture, I’m reminded that we too might find ourselves doing “kingdom stuff” where in the moment we’re unable to know or understand the why behind the Holy Spirit’s urging. But just like in the picture of Michael, when we approach God’s work with a willing spirit, we end up finding joy in the moment.
When it comes to this notion of serving God, Paul talks about a sense of wisdom that accompanies the leading of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 16 he writes: “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”
Sometimes, when I manage to keep “me” out of the mix, I once again experience the sheer joy of being led by the Holy Spirit. And in so doing, I recapture the understanding that this is enough; that via The Spirit’s prompting, simply following God’s lead is enough. What about you?
In the life of following Christ, there is joy for the journey; joy in the simplicity of being present, joy from being in the moment, joy in knowing we are on the path set before us by Jesus himself!
But…. Sometimes there’s a problem. When the time comes for many of us to follow or be present, we’re prone to say something like “I never hear God speak”, or “He never speaks to me.” “He never asks me to do anything.” “That’s not meant for me.” Over the years I’ve learned that when I’m not willing to listen directly, God will often get my attention by speaking through someone or something else. Conversely, I’m sure the more I listen, the more He speaks. I just think we have to be willing. And we have to be in a place where we’re able. And sometimes…... perhaps most times, the children among us do a much better job that the adults.
Getting back to the picture, I’m not sure if God did or didn’t speak to Michael, that He whispered in his ear, “enjoy this moment with your grandfather”, or “do this for me”. That picture of Michael stirring the ashes is a blessing to me. It’s a great reminder of how when God calls or prompts or moves me, I need to step forward and know the joy.
Here’s the bottom line. I pray that one day someone in Michael’s family will show him that picture and talk to him about how the ashes he crushed, stirred and burned became a symbol many of us did and will take on to demonstrate our desire to give up the reality of sin in our lives as we prepared for the Easter event. And then, perhaps in the simplicity of the moment, we too will pray for and seek to find our joy for living through the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray for Michael then and for us today. I pray the Holy spirit will bring to each of us a new season of belonging to Christ in both the profound and not so profound moments of our lives; those moments where Jesus speaks, and those moments where we listen.