Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false.
He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”
(Psalm 24:3-6)

 “Therefore since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for “our God is a consuming fire.”
(Hebrews 12:28-29)

On Saturday, our family had an amazing experience: We were given special permission to enter the Prayer Hall of the mosque across the street from us. Charly’s advisor had arranged for his undergraduate and graduate students to have a tour of the mosque in order to learn more about Islam from the imam there. And his advisor invited our whole family to participate as well! (See pictures)

First, we had to go through a strict cleansing process, which seemed like a lot of trouble, and we wondered if it really mattered which side of the body was cleansed first, and in what order. But, we respected the regulations of the mosque, and going through this cleansing gave us a whole new appreciation of Old Testament times and of God’s instructions to the Israelites, such as in Leviticus 15:31: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.”

We removed our shoes at the entrance, and as we stepped into the Prayer Hall, I imagined what it would have been like to enter the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem. Here was a sense of the Holy that I had not experienced before.

Since then, we have been reflecting on God’s holiness.
What does it mean to have clean hands and a pure heart?
What can we learn from our Muslim friends about being clean before coming into His presence?
What can we learn from them about fearing God?
What kind of “fear of God’ does He want us to have?
What about our posture in worship?
How can we truly humble ourselves before Him?
How can we treat Him and His Holy Book with more respect and reverence?

We have a lot we can learn.

I just finished reading Muslims, Christians, and Jesus by Carl Medearis. He shares in depth, with incredible stories, about spending time with Muslims, and he highlights what we can learn from our Muslim friends. One of my favorite quotes in the book is a simple prayer from a Sufi Muslim, Jalal al-Din Rumi as he participates in the ritual ablutions before prayer: “Lord, wash me. My hand has washed this part of me, but my hand cannot wash my spirit. I can wash this skin, but you must wash me.” (p. 137)

The act of washing the physical body before entering into His Holy place can thus be a reminder of our need for and our dependence upon inner cleansing from the Lord. We can clean our hands, but God must give us pure hearts.

I also recently read and appreciated an article by Gary L. Thomas on purity. “In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus challenges the then-prevailing sense of ritual purity by changing the focus from what we eat to our inner motivations…the new purity Jesus talked about is not achieved by closely adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s rather an internal river of life, cleansing our thoughts and actions from within. It’s a powerful force of Christlikeness that chisels us, day by day, into the very image of Christ Himself.

This new purity first marks our hearts when we are reborn, spiritually, through the process of salvation and regeneration. This is imputed purity—a gift from God to which we contribute nothing. But behavioral purity—the transformation of our character—develops even further with our cooperation.” Thomas then quotes Acts 3:19 to emphasize that our participation in behavioral purity through repentance is a liberating experience, one that brings “pure refreshment”: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (“Pure Refreshment” published in the March/April 2000 issue of Discipleship Journal)

One of CJ’s favorite songs to play on the guitar is “Give Us Clean Hands,” based on Psalm 24:3-6 (quoted at the beginning of this post). Charly and I both had this song in our hearts the whole time we were at the mosque. The song begins with the words: “We bow our hearts, we bend our knees. O Spirit, come make us humble.” And ends with the prayer: “O God let us be a generation that seeks, seeks your face, O God of Jacob.”

Lord, I pray that you would help us to repent and turn to you, as we bow our hearts and bend our knees. Wipe out our sins so that times of refreshing may come. We want to worship you with reverence and awe. We want to be a generation that seeks your face, O God of Jacob. We can only see you if our hearts are pure, and we need you to purify us. Help us to eagerly cooperate with you in our purification process. May our lives truly be surrendered and submitted to you alone. Amen.

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