Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8
John has just completed his degree and the question that naturally arises is what next? Does he join an event company, a theatre, or an advertising or publicity organisation? Does he go on to post-grad studies? Or does he ditch it all for the sake of some other vision? Like his desire to develop the musical ideas that are crowding his soul…or pursuing a different passion to offer care to refugees from the horrors of North Korea? To pursue any one of those means letting the others go, even though he may have worked hard and successfully to achieve them. Whatever it is we know that it will be a serious expression of his appreciation of what the grace of God in Christ is calling on him to do – it will be consistent with who Jesus is developing him into, where faith requires he will go, and go single-mindedly. The determination of faith can sometimes look like stubbornness.
Mary’s Focus was to honour the Lord in whatever way gave expression to her faith-journey with Him. She was the one whose pleasure was to sit at Jesus’ feet lost in deep and heart-touching conversation.
It occurs to me that this flask of perfume with which she anoints Jesus was the same that would have been used to anoint Lazarus – or possibly being kept for the next funeral, to anoint the dead. But Mary wanted to give expression to the giveness of her life to Jesus. Isn’t it a lovely thing to see someone wanting to anoint the Lord instead of trying so hard to gain it for themselves (or for some teacher or worship-leader)?
The fragrance of such an act of devotion filled the house, changed the atmosphere – we could say it set the tone for the evening. Just as it does when, as God’s people, we lift up worship from devoted and loved hearts…when worship becomes a priority for us as we gather. Whether it be the context of every week worship (in whatever form), a great gathering of people lead by a skilled worship leader and worship band, or just an individual bending their head in private quietly loving and praising God for all HIs kindness in Christ.
Of course such an act of demonstrative love and devotion (as Mary’s) is to some an embarrassment. They see it as excessive and needlessly extravagant, as did Judas who sought to have Mary reproved for her “foolishness”. They often protest nearly as disingenuously as Judas, that it somehow distracts form the harder realities of faith, or should be expended in concern for the lost, the poor, the whales, the climate. Jesus replies that these come when they come and should become an offering of the incense of faithful and surrendered praise to God.
Singing in the Messiah the first time (felt like being perched on the edge of heaven) – matched by experience at the second Vineyard conference – tears rolling down my face, heart full of the Holy Spirit’s unerring touch.
There are purposes behind our worship that we may not have fully intended as we began that act of worship. Sometimes we may not even consciously aware of them. We may have been part of creating an environment in which people can release their tensions and uncertainties to open themselves to the whispering and loving, healing voice of God. Just as Mary’s act was interpreted by Jesus as having to do with His impending death, our own acts of worship may have an impact on the work of the Kingdom of God that surprises and blesses.
So let go of past inhibitors Paul knows that in the face of Christ, and in the pursuit of loving, worshipping and serving Him, much that we have claimed to value, loses it’s sheen and it’s trophy-like glory (which is our glory rather than God’s). What Paul is letting go is not horrible, polluting, disfiguring sin – instead what he declares to be rubbish to him now is the illusion of achievement and status. He is humbly glad to surrender all that commends him for the sake of reaching intimacy with Him to whom belongs all glory – from whom flows all good and all blessing, to whom belongs all honour. Paul wants to know Christ both in His glorious resurrected power and in His selfless, life-transforming sufferings. When we lose we suffer, even if it is to our long term or eternal benefit, so when we albeit willingly lose reputation, status, personal honour for the sake of a destiny of lasting, and unfading worth we still suffer for it.
And here’s the rub – it never finishes this sacrifice, this leaving behind the shiny, second best – this quest for a closer and more intimate relationship with the Lord who loves first is never over until we stand face-to-face with Him who gave Himself for us and constantly calls us to Himself. Whose home is our heart’s true home, even if we struggle to believe and accept that. And what it does cost? Nothing and everything. That is you can’t earn it or buy it, this relationship is a gift, this is destiny is grace – but it will ultimately cost everything you have and are – and that’s okay because your gain will exceed anything you could ever have imagined or hoped for.
What are you holding onto that inhibits your selfless giveness in worship?
Negative or positive?
How readily do you find yourself entering into a worship situation (whether at home or in the company of His people)?
What is your attitude to demonstrative and extravagant acts of worship? Have you ever thanked God for such a person – wondered what has happened for them int heir relationship with God?
Has the criticism or perceived criticism of others (especially gate-keepers) ever dampened your enthusiasm, or misdirected your acts of worship?
Give yourself time this week (daily if you can) to focus on the gracious work of God in Christ, saving and selecting you? …to remember and dwell on the character, attributes and acts of God?