I love casual. Blue jeans and a t-shirt. Sport pants and a t-shirt, tennis shoes, messy ponytail, as little makeup and jewelry as possible. When I was young we dressed up every single Sunday for church and I mean in a dress, with nylons and nice shoes and braids in our hair. For the evening Sunday services my parents allowed us to wear pants or even shorts in the summer but that always felt borderline scandalous.
Now, I show up to church straight from practice with the Girls Run 2 team wearing black sport pants and a Love Somalia or Minnesota Gophers t-shirt and florescent yellow Saucony running shoes.
This kind of casual seems like a good thing – we don’t need to dress up for God or for fellow believers. We shouldn’t feel burdened to impress anyone, we aren’t supposed to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear. Authenticity is more important and right than putting on a mask of outwardly having it all together.
But. This kind of casual spills over into the spiritual realm and I don’t think that is a good thing.
When that happens, God becomes a sort of buddy, a chum. Jesus becomes a peer. We barge into the presence of God, forgetting that he is holy and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) and that we are but dust.
We do have the freedom to do this, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus we are able to approach the throne of God with confidence, and once in a while it is absolutely appropriate to hurtle ourselves toward God, desperate for him. But other times, how much more appropriate to bow low, to tread lightly, to acknowledge our baseness and his mightiness, our unworthiness and his ultimate worth.
Who dares to claim President Obama is a buddy, even after meeting him? How much more so with the Creator?
Muslims would never dream of performing their ritual prayers without first washing and declaring the intention to pray. This is a clear physical symbol of the washing Christians believe they receive through Jesus and I appreciate the visual reminder of our need to be cleansed. The time they take to wash is time spent preparing the heart, contemplating God’s holiness.
Perhaps I should start taking a few minutes, seconds even, to acknowledge God’s holiness when I come to him in prayer? Maybe not through physical washing, but through gratitude for the forgiveness offered.
Another way I see Muslims’ respect for God is in the way they handle their scriptures. The Quran is never left on the floor, never placed beneath another book. It sits, often, in a stand on the highest shelf in the room. Sometimes it is wrapped in a cloth and when taken down and unwrapped, some Muslims kiss the Quran. No Muslim would dream of reading their Quran on the bathroom or of writing in it.
It is important to realize that comparing the Quran to the Bible is not accurate. The Quran is more accurately compared to Jesus, both believed to be the Word of God. One in written form, one in the form of human flesh. So to compare my treatment of the Bible to Muslims’ treatment of the Quran isn’t exact, but it is still striking and it also causes me to consider how I treat Jesus. Do I treasure him so reverently?
I don’t think our treatment of scriptures or ways of approaching God need to be the same. My dad writes all over his Bible and I have never questioned his absolute respect for God.
Years ago my dad left his Bible in the Louisville, Kentucky airport, at a table that is still burned into his memory. There was no address written inside, only a phone number. A wrong, outdated phone number. The Bible was clearly loved, treasured, valued. Notes scribbled on nearly every page, sermon notes, important dates, prayer requests and answers, insights from daily readings. The person who found the Bible instantly saw how important it was to the owner, figured out the correct phone number and address and Fed-exed it to my dad.
I once described the condition of his Bible to a Muslim friend and her reply was, “He must be a sheikh.” A religious teacher, because he loved God so much and spent so much time in his word.
So while our practices will differ, I think there is still value in growing in our respect, in knowing that though I can wear sport pants or shorts to church, I need to remember my low aspect before a high God. If physically washing or if wrapping the Bible in a cloth and kissing it when we pull it down to read it, helps us remember this, that is a beautiful thing.
Do you think American evangelicals have lost a sense of respect for God or his word? How do you remind yourself of God’s perfection?
*image via Flickr