September 24, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”—James 1:27 (NIV)
Think about the strongest relationship in your life right now. Whether it be a close friend or roommate, spouse, child, parent, or co-worker, that relationship is probably characterized by trust and knowledge of one another. It also probably has become stronger over time with consistent communication and what you might even call habits or routines that integrate the other into your life.
You see, relationships naturally take effort and consistency. A routine that my family established while I was growing up that helped us grow closer together was praying before bed. My parents would gather in our room with us to pray and laugh and talk as we reflect on our day. Although there were some weeks where we got off track, this was always an expectation for the end of the day. You see, the best relationships are built on love in consistency and repetition.
Our Scripture today uses the word “religion” which is not actually used very often in Scripture. The Greek word is thrēskeia, and it’s used to describe the ceremonial and ritual aspects of religion. Over the years, religion has gotten a bad reputation because of the way it’s been viewed apart from relationship. Because of this, we often describe our faith as more of a relationship than a religion. We must not forget; however, that our faith is still a religion as well. There are beautiful rituals and practices found in Christianity that help us establish and strengthen our relationship with God. The two go hand in hand!
For example, we take communion to remember the sacrifice of Christ that makes it possible for us to live in daily communion with Him. We pray and read the Bible to grow in our knowledge of God, have conversation with Him, and hear from Him. We worship together in churches because it’s important to prioritize being part of a community of believers who are actively following God. Why is it important then to recognize the relationship between religion and relationship? Because it helps us really understand what James is writing in today’s verse.
When James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this,” He’s trying to explain that one of the most important, practical, and habitual parts of our faith is actively being supportive and loving towards those in vulnerable life situations. We must make it a habit in our faith to serve and extend help to those around us. This is why Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
There are countless ways to be an advocate and, more importantly, a friend to the vulnerable in this world. Taking the first step is the hardest part, but Christ is with us every step of the way. This week, consider how you might serve through various outreaches or ministries at church, but also take a look around you and see where a neighbor, friend, or even a stranger might be in need of generosity from you.
Pause: What misunderstandings or bad experiences with religion have caused you to forget the beauty of rituals and practices in your relationship with God? Why is it important to see religion and relationship as going hand in hand?
Practice: Today, extend generosity to someone. Buy a struggling family or parent a meal, sign up to volunteer with an outreach online, or pay your neighbor a visit with some cookies.
Pray: Father, thank You for looking after us when we don’t often even look after each other! I pray that today You would open my eyes to see someone who might need not only grace and love, but perhaps some of my generosity. I want to be willing to give up my time and resources because You have given me everything I have. I want to make it a habit and routine in my life to serve and get involved in the lives of those who no one seems to care for. Give me strength, courage, and faith! Amen.
Samy Rodriguez has been serving with the Calvary writing team since 2020 as a senior at Calvary Christian Academy. Before going to study communications, biblical studies, and intercultural studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, she interned with the Calvary Communications Team and was a student leader in HSM (High School Ministry). She is passionate about communicating God’s Word and looks forward to continuing to serve in ministry after college.