Okay, it’s time to learn a little Hebrew. Mitzvah is a Hebrew word that is translated “commandment.” But unlike the word commandment, which may sound onerous to many of us, mitzvah has a positive connotation. Rather than being a dreary burden, doing a mitzvah is more like an opportunity, a chance to bless God and participate in his work by blessing someone else.
Let’s take a look at another Hebrew word: tzedakah. It’s a specific type of mitzvah. The word tzedakah is sometimes translated “charity,” but this is somewhat misleading since tzedakah is considered an obligation—something that justice requires—rather than something people do out of the kindness of their hearts. As with many other ethical matters, Jewish rabbis have had countless discussions regarding the importance of tzedakah, identifying eight degrees of giving. The lowest degree is to give grudgingly. The next degree is to give less than you should but cheerfully. The eighth and highest degree is to give in a way that enables others to support themselves.
Many Jewish people have tzedakah boxes in their houses, where they can set money aside to be given to those in need. The rabbis say it’s not just giving that’s important but how you contribute. Give away your time and money with a smile and an attitude of respect, and you will have done a mitzvah. Give it with disdain, and you will have lost your mitzvah.
As Christians, we are called by God to participate in his work by giving to those in need. It’s a way of spreading his peace, extending it to others. Perhaps you can remind yourself of this opportunity by obtaining your own tzedakah box, depositing money every week that you intend to give to those in need.
(Image courtesy of pjlibrary.org)
Ever try running when you’re overweight? No fun, is it? The same is true when you’re running the spiritual race Paul speaks of. Imagine trying to run the Boston Marathon in a fat suit while dragging everything you own along with you, and you will get a sense of what I’m talking about. The problem comes down to what the Quakers call “cumber”—the unnecessary accumulation of material goods that clutter our lives and distract us from the things of God.
I like the way Paul speaks about running straight to the goal and having “purpose in every step.” What a way to think about our lives! To be honest, I don’t often think that way. I’m guessing you don’t either. But I want to.
How can we get rid of things that encumber us, that keep us from focusing more of our time and energy on seeking first the Kingdom of God? We can begin by taking time to identify and deal with the things in our lives that make us feel spiritually flabby and overweight.
Even if you only have time for a tiny step today, take it. Do something small—clean out a drawer, give away some clothes; just begin the process. As you lighten your load, you may find it easier to run the spiritual race. Ask God today to help you aim straight at the goal, with purpose in every step.
(Image courtesy of nkzs at freeimages.com.)
“My smile hides a lot about me.”
“I have attempted suicide.”
“All I want is to be loved.”
Students at Grand Rapids Christian High School have posted these and other messages on something called the “Speak Wall.” Unlike social networking sites such as Facebook, this is a literal wall—a place where they can tack up an anonymous note telling the truth about themselves without anyone knowing who they are. Students can also post notes of encouragement in response to another’s gutsy self-disclosure. The story of the eight-hundred-foot wall recently made front-page news in the Grand Rapids Press.(1)
But what is so newsworthy about teenage angst? Perhaps the story hit the press because it occurred at a school with the reputation of catering to students who already have it made. The Speak Wall gives voice to the widespread brokenness of even the most privileged among us.
I wonder what would happen were we to construct a Speak Wall in our churches and workplaces. Would we find similar brokenness? I suspect we would. We might even add our own plaintive notes to the wall.
However you are feeling right now, know that you are not the only one who struggles. Join me in crying out to God, letting prayer become your personal Speak Wall. Pray honestly and with hope for yourself and for others. And then do your best to forge connections with other believers so you can say what’s on your heart—and listen to what’s on theirs.
(1) Tom Rademacher, “Students Share All on ‘Speak Wall,’” Grand Rapids Press, May 6, 2011.
(See The Grand Rapids Press story and more images at http://photos.mlive.com/grandrapidspress/2011/05/the_speak_wall.html).
Last spring a friend of mine was going through a tough time. So she asked some of her friends to pray, throwing in the request that perhaps we could also pray for a neighbor whose house and yard were an ever-present eyesore. One week later, when I asked how she was doing, she said that the gorgeous spring weather was lifting her mood. Then she added this comment:
I asked for prayers that our crazy neighbor would clean up her trashed house and yard. This, after almost thirty years of frustration. Well, the day after I asked for prayers, this very neighbor started to rake, trim, and plant new bushes in her yard. It was so unbelievable that my husband and I reasoned she was getting ready to sell. That’s when I remembered my prayer request. Wow!
Yesterday my friend’s nonbelieving husband remarked, “I don’t know what you did to Janine [not her real name], but now she’s outside painting her rusty railing!”
Chuckling, my friend told me her neighbor has been up at the crack of dawn every day working on her yard. “I laughed,” she said, “as I confessed to my husband that our group has been praying for Janine to clean up her act.”
Though my dear friend still struggles with various challenges, it seemed as though God was saying, “Hey, if I can work through your neighbor, I can do anything. Don’t give up.” I think she got the message.