Exhausted. That was one of two words you could use to sum up how I felt. Exhausted—and completely happy. It happened this way every year. Ten days of Christmas programs, feeding people, helping elderly women with their coats, and helping them on and off of buses. Singing, laughing, working. Food and dishes and more dishes and more food and…I’ve never seen so many mashed potatoes or so much beet salad in all my life!!! But, oh, how blessed I was to have the joy of blessing others.
Over the ten years that I lived in Moscow, I only spent one Christmas back in the States. Every other year, I stayed at the orphanage and participated in our unusual Christmas tradition. Ten days of busing in retired educators for a meal and a Christmas program. Nearly 3,000 people came every year, mostly women who were widowed and incredibly poor. We weren’t able to follow up with all of them between Christmases, but in some cases we could, and that just extended the blessing.
It was a feast for them: soup, potatoes, soda, beet or carrot salad, a piece of chicken, bread, bananas and mandarin oranges (both of which at some point ended up in purses, secreted away for the journey home), all finished off with tea and a light dessert. It was a time to talk, to fellowship, to sing, to laugh—a time to forget the dark loneliness and oppression of life.
Our goal, of course, was to bless them and to share Christ with them. But in reality we received as much of a blessing from what we were doing as they did. Blessing others is not a joy simply because we’re making someone happy. Blessing others brings joy because it is God’s plan. Blessing others is important to God, so it should be important to us.
In last week’s blog, I mentioned that the Old Testament specifically speaks of inviting the fatherless to certain feasts. This week, I want us to look a little closer at what God says about this.
In Deuteronomy, God laid out specific times when His people were to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite by including them in their feasts as well as in their harvesting and tithing. (Today’s passages are lengthy. To save space, I have provided links to each reference.)
- A time of tithing – Deuteronomy 14:22-29; 26:12,13
- The Feast of Weeks – Deuteronomy 16:9-12
- The Feast of Tabernacles – Deuteronomy 16:13-17
- In the course of Harvest – Deuteronomy 24:17-22
From reading these passages, we see that God clearly wanted His people to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite. In doing so, not only were they allowing them to participate in the solemn feasts and worship that God had ordained but they were also providing for them.
God didn’t just give them this command and leave them with what might have been a burden. He also promised His blessings upon His people for their obedience in this matter. Blessings which, unless we’ve studied them out, might get hidden in our apprehension of trying something new and possibly overwhelming. Here are just four areas of blessing:
- God will bless the work of their hands – Deuteronomy 14:28,29
- The feasts will be a time of rejoicing – Deuteronomy 16:11,14
- This practice provides a reminder of their redemption from bondage – Deuteronomy 24:17-22
- It gives them the confidence that they are in right standing before God and can seek His blessing upon themselves – Deuteronomy 26:12-15
Even as He promised to bless them for caring for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and the Levite, He had some promises in store for when they did not care for them. In a blog post from several years ago, I referred to them as the “bookend” promises because one comes at the beginning of God’s conversation about these people in the books of the law, and the other comes at the end. Both are important:
- If you afflict them, I will kill you with the sword – Exodus 22:22-24
- If you pervert their judgment (i.e. deal unjustly with them and their cause), I will curse you – Deuteronomy 27:19
Gulp. I enjoy stories about knights in shining armor, wielding their swords on the behalf of the weak, but something tells me that being on the pointed end of the sword wielded by God would not be enjoyable. We know, we all know, that when God says something, He means it. But does any place in Scripture play out the seriousness of keeping these feasts with the fatherless and their counterparts?
Consider Isaiah chapter 1. Here God specifically deals with Israel’s feasts, which He has come to hate. Hate is actually a soft word. They are an abomination to Him. His soul hates them. They trouble Him, and He is weary to bear them. When Israel spreads their hands in worship, He will hide His eyes. When they pray, He will not hear because their hands are full of blood. So what does he tell them to do about it? (Isaiah 1:16-18)
- Wash and make yourselves clean.
- Put away the evil of your doings.
- Cease to do evil.
- Learn to do well.
- Seek Judgment.
- Relieve the oppressed.
- Judge the Fatherless.
- Plead for the widow.
- Come and reason together with the Lord – though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Later in the book of Isaiah, God deals with their fasts. Here the Lord does not specifically mention the fatherless, however, He does mention the oppressed, which are a counterpart of the fatherless. He also mentions the hungry, the poor, and the naked. Since the fatherless are four times as likely to be poor they will most definitely fall into this category. Here’s what God says in Isaiah 58:5-7,
“Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?”
God is not pleased with their fasts anymore than He was pleased with their feasts because their focus is so far off. In their time of fasting, He wants their focus to be on others, specifically on those who are suffering.
But again, God does not throw that out there and leave it as a weighty burden. He promises blessings with it (Isaiah 58:8-14):
- Your light will break forth as the morning.
- Your health will spring forth speedily.
- Your righteousness will go before you.
- The glory of the Lord will come behind you.
- You will call, and the Lord will answer.
- You will cry out, and He will say “Here I am.”
- The Lord will guide you continually.
- He will satisfy your soul in drought.
- He will make your bones fat.
- You’ll be like a well-watered garden.
- The waste places will be rebuilt.
- You will delight in the Lord.
- You will ride upon high places.
That’s a lot of blessings compared to the sorrow of meeting the tip of God’s sword!
It might be easy to look at this, consider that it is written in the Old Testament and say that it does not apply to us today. But we would be remiss in doing so. God did not spend a lot of time on this in the New Testament. He didn’t need to, after all He’d laid ALL this ground work in the Old Testament. It only took one well-placed verse, James 1:27
James didn’t need to go into great detail. He was writing to Jews who had the background already laid out for them, and Jesus had set the example practically throughout His earthly ministry. James simply needed to remind his readers, “Hey, look back over history, look back over God’s establishment of the law and the carrying away into captivity. This is what God was looking for, this is what GOD deems to be pure religion (worship).”
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
In reality, James 1:27 is just a summary of Isaiah 1:16-18. We’re not talking about salvation here. We’re talking about pure religion, the purest form of carrying out our worship. It has two points:
- Visit the fatherless and the widow,
- Keep yourself unspotted from the world.
That’s it. But that is the importance of blessing the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and in our case those who are serving in ministry. It’s a command that is met with a sword if not kept and with great blessing when we obey it.
It isn’t Christmas (even if Hallmark does want us to celebrate Christmas in July). It isn’t Easter. But we are nearing the harvest, and it is always a time of tithing. So let me ask you this: What can you or your family or your church do to bless the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, and even those who have given up everything to go out and serve the Lord. How can you “feast” with them? The events I shared about at the beginning of this blog are unique. Most of us cannot put on such an elaborate affair, but we can do something. Which of these people sits in your pews, lives on your street, works at your job, or is supported by your church? That is your sphere of influence. These are the ones within your gates. How can you bless them?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, and I’d love to hear what you do as you carry out this last Growing Together challenge of blessing the fatherless. We don’t have to do this alone. Conversation is one of the best ways to grow in an area that is new and challenging to us. Please feel free to share via our blog, our Facebook group, email, or even by phone. We want to learn together.