Give Us Your Heart
Blessed is he… whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth… who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless.(Ps 146:5-9)
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress... (Jas 1:27)
The theme of the book of James, written by the half-brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, is an exhortation of what wholehearted faith in God is supposed to look like in our day-to-day lives. At the end of chapter 1, James speaks of three key realities that should exist in the life of any authentic Christian. One of the realities of wholehearted and genuine worship, says James, is visiting orphans and widows in their distress. ‘Caring for the orphan and widow’ is not simply about how we treat actual widows and orphans; it speaks to how we respond to all those who are victims, outcasts, oppressed, lost, or in need in the world around us.
Throughout Scripture, God talks about this over and over again; and He speaks of it with great zeal, so we know it is of the utmost importance to Him. In fact, it matters so much that Jesus actually identified Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned, and said that how we act toward people such as these is a matter of eternity in heaven or in hell. In other words, Jesus made it clear that how we treat those who are suffering and those we may deem “the least of these” reveals whether we know Jesus and love Him, or that we don’t really know Him at all.
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another… Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Jesus, Matt 25:31-40)
One of the most important things to understand about the commandments of God is that for every demand God makes of us, there is a corresponding truth and revelation of who He is that lies at the center of that command. For example, God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Thus, we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39; Mk 12:28-31; 1 Jn 4:11-12, 19). Therefore, when we obey His commands, that act of obedience is actually worship at its core. We are saying, “we agree with Your heart and we adore who You are” with our wills and through our loving obedience. That being said, why does God care so much about how we treat “these brothers [and sisters] of His, even the least of them”? Why does our behavior toward the lost, the broken, the foreigner, the underprivileged, and the sufferers of this world seem to matter so much to God?
If you think about some of the primary ways God has communicated Himself to humanity in His Word and throughout history, you will find concern and justice for the hurting and desperate of the earth at the very center of the revelation of God’s identity. When He calls us to care for the fatherless and the orphan, He is revealing Himself as the Father. We were all orphans, and now through the Spirit of God and the blood of Jesus, we are adopted into His Kingdom and called ‘sons and daughters.’ When He calls us to care for the widow, or for any woman who is the victim of exploitation or violence, He’s communicating His zealous heart as the Bridegroom. When He tells us to help those who are mistreated and vulnerable, He’s revealing Himself as a merciful Savior. When He exhorts us to extend compassionate prayer and service to the sick and the wounded, He’s speaking as the Great Physician and Healer. When He calls us to give and minister to the poor and destitute, He’s revealing Himself as the Provider who cares for the needs of and satisfies every living thing. When He speaks of justice for victims, the imprisoned, and the subjugated, He is revealing Himself as the Righteous Judge who avenges and makes wrong things right. In fact, when Jesus began His public ministry, one of the first things He did was go to a synagogue in Nazareth and open to Isaiah to announce who He was and describe His ministry on the earth:
And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(Lk 4:16-21)
Isaiah 61’s description of God is exactly what Jesus did while He was on the earth. He went about ministering to the sick and oppressed. Jesus invited the poor, women, outcasts, and sinners to dine with Him at His table and to follow Him, even though others thought this to be inappropriate and scandalous. If He showed favor at all, it was almost always and uniquely to those who were untouchable, downtrodden, or troubled in some way. Jesus was illuminating the heart of the Father, Bridegroom, Provider, Healer, Savior and Judge with every word He spoke and every exploit He did. And near the end of His ministry right before the Cross, He very clearly reminded us that when He returns to judge the nations, He will be specifically looking for those who called upon His name and thus, practically and sacrificially cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, the stranger, and the lost (Matt 25:31-46).
Each of us, if we are honest about who we are before God’s glory, are truly helpless and desperate in this world, and God has shown us nothing but compassion and mercy day after day after day. Not only this, but He loved us so much that He actually left the throne, took on flesh, and came to the earth to rescue us. Above all, a life lived in sacrificial love, especially for the most broken and lost in our society, reveals and glorifies God’s unending mercy and compassion. Jesus is compassion and mercy incarnate, and if we are called by His name, we must look like Him. The suffering, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the victims, the lost, the inadequately represented by government or law, the outcasts, the orphans, the widows, the hungry, the lost, and the strangers or foreigners – these are the ones that James says should see abundant proof of our “pure and undefiled religion.” These are the neighbors who should see evidence of the fervent and sacrificial love that Christians are supposed to be known by (Jn 13:35; 1 Jn 3:16-19; 1 Jn 4:7-8; Lk 10:25-37).
At the center of God’s personality is a burning heart of love and zeal for the humble, the contrite, the desperate, and the lost. If we claim to be the ambassadors and truth-bearers of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, then our hearts must be ablaze with these same desires for what the Church now labels “social justice,” but what God just calls “love.” Missions and outreach have somehow been relegated as separate ministries for the especially noble and radical ones on the periphery of the Church over the last century. But to Jesus, what we have categorized “outreach,” “missions,” or “social justice” is actually just nominal, everyday Christianity. If we belong to Him, He expects us to look like Him.
When I hear the words to this song, I hear a cry to return to our First Love (Rev 2:4-5). We must return over and over again to the extravagance of God’s love burning brightly at the center of His heart, that we might be transformed and carry that same burning heart to the lost and hurting in the world around us. The way our neighbors and the nations will know God’s glory is through our fierce and sacrificial love. But we must first sit before the flame of that Love in a real and daily way in order to carry it to those who need Him most. O God, let it be that those who know Your love would not be content any longer to merely sit in the pews on Sunday mornings and have our ears tickled. May we never again be able to be silent or still in light of who You are, Jesus. May we go forth like sparks in a dry and arid land and spread the wildfire of Your zealous love to our neighbors, to the hurting, to the lost, to the lonely, to the sick, to so many who are desperately in need, and across the whole earth to every tongue, tribe, and nation. Give us Your heart, o God, and may we never be the same. Give us Your heart, and may the whole earth be changed.