Have you heard this before? “Well, I don’t like going to church because there are so many hypocrites there.” I’ve always found that funny because if you allow hypocrites to keep you from worship, then the hypocrite is closer to God than you are! Kinda defeats the purpose, don’t you think?
Words are such powerful icons of who we really are. They reveal and conceal so much about us. This is why the scriptures declare that ” A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold In settings of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) And again, “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1)
Our Lord, in today’s Gospel lesson, points out the power of our words to mask our true selves. He says: “The Lord said, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)
Notice that simply declaring that Jesus is your Lord isn’t sufficient to prove your heart’s true allegiance. But then go further in seeing that even the claims of great “deeds” done “for” the Lord also fail to reveal your heart’s true love. So, what is it then?
“he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
You see, great words and even great religious deeds can mask a person’s self-centeredness if they are done with disregard to the Father’s will. You can’t hide a heart submitted in loving humility to God. That person who genuinely loves God doesn’t seek to say or do, he only seeks to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love his neighbor as himself. Sound familiar?
Our focus, our desire, our motivation should always be measured by our deepest desire to love God and know Him. It is in this intimacy with the Uncreated that we can best develop a heart quick to hear Him and a life always seeking His direction. It is that heart that most resembles Jesus. It is that resemblance that proves the person’s true devotion. Jesus knows these folks, because they remind Him of Him.
That kind of devotion can’t be manufactured. It has to be sought! And you learn to desire that kind of heart, that kind of devotion in humbly offering yourself to the wisdom preserved in the life of the Church.
First, pray. Everyday. Pray. Get yourself a prayerbook. Say an “Our Father” in the morning and before you sleep at night. Be consistent, and when you fail or forget, start over tomorrow. Pray.
Second, give. Everyday. Give. Learn to hold your life loosely in your hands. Realize that the very breath in your body is a gift, and develop a heart of gratitude that frees you from the illness of selfishness and stinginess. Give.
Finally, read. Yes, read. Everyday. Read. Read the scriptures, of course, but also read the lives of the saints. Allow the wisdom actually lived out in the lives of real people to teach you and show you possible paths for your own life. Read.
I only add one additional thought that will help you. I know it has helped me. Go to confession. Find a spiritual father you trust and learn the wisdom of accountability in developing that trusted relationship. How can you develop a closeness with God Whom you haven’t seen and not use the stepping stone of human relationships to learn how to be honest with another and with yourself?
Today, as we approach another opportunity to enter the Kingdom and dine with God in the Holy Eucharist, let us learn the power of words fitly spoken and honestly lived. Let us be Orthodox on Purpose.