I was given this short (129 page) book just before Christmas, and despite a busy family life, it was so engaging that I read it in 3 sittings.
The key point of Ruis’ book is that worship of the God of the Bible is intrinsically connected with justice. At our peril do we offer God worship with our mouths but don’t live His way - God sees straight through our fakery, which is abundantly clear from Jesus’ repeated warnings against hypocrisy. I don’t know about you but this makes me feel very exposed!
In my interpretation, justice is perfect in God’s fully realised Kingdom - put another way, wherever God’s will is perfectly carried out, nothing is out of place, nobody is mistreated, and everything is as it should be.
Ruis’ book drives that home very effectively, drawing on scripture to show how integrated the Christian worldview and worship are - there ought be no disconnect between singing worship songs and obeying the God those songs are directed to! A vast part of this is “remember the poor” per Galatians 2 (echoed throughout scripture). To this end, Ruis draws on many anecdotes about how pursuing worship and justice has led him into situations that are at times funny and heartbreaking - the real stories of real, valuable, made-in-the-image-of-God, one-of-a-kind human beings that are precious beyond belief and yet it’s so easy to overlook them. I found these very moving, and I really want to be more involved with, well, just doing the things that God loves with the kind of people who flocked to Jesus!
Here’s my heart, Lord, please fix it!
There are some short practical steps suggested, but the emphasis is clear - heart change is required. All sorts of government and commercial charity programs reach out to the poor, but the differentiator in the church of Jesus Christ should be authentic love - friendship even.
As somebody involved in “compassion ministries” (which, honestly, I don’t think I’m very good at) I can get caught up in the doing - but I know I need my heart changed. I need to cry out to God to change my heart so that I will genuinely love those I serve. I have little interest in performative religion, yet my deceptive sinful self wants to hide behind “good deeds”… Away with that! To the doctor I run - Jesus said that it’s “not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick” (recorded in the Bible in the 9th chapter of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life) and I need that scalpel reshaping me!
I have found, experientially, that God’s changing of us often comes through our obedience, not necessarily 100% prior - sometimes our hearts are warmed a little at first, and through prayer and service we find ourselves truly coming to care about another. So, I was definitely stirred by this book to pursue God more earnestly to enable me to worship Him in the way He wants, but also to obey right where I am, as best I can. I know I’m a rotten sinner and deficient in so many ways, but with Isaiah (6:8), I say “here I am, send me!”.
Jesus said “you’ll always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11), and as always there’s great depth to what He said. I think part of having the poor is that He somehow works through our stumbling efforts at loving the other to change us ourselves, to bring us into right relationship with others, and to expose our own prejudices, as well as blessing others.
Our churches need this kind of worship
So much of what we call “worship” in church is “us-focused”, on how we feel… It can become insular, sometimes not even spending much time really considering who God is, what He wants. Worship is waaaaay bigger than the songs we sing (as foundational as those are). We need to remember - “Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” - Romans 12:1. LIVING. SACRIFICES. It goes that deep! It’s a whole life thing. That chapter of Romans goes on to talk about having our minds renewed, which happens largely through reading and meditating and praying on the Bible, both individually and in community. I have therefore resolved to straighten my sagging knees and get more consistent with my Bible reading and prayer because my goodness, I cannot do this life without God’s power!
Our culture needs this kind of worship
I’ll be totally honest - and this exposes my own ideological prejudice - I was a bit concerned to read this book just based on the current cultural climate. There is so much “woke” material around at the moment… I realise that’s a reductive and perhaps pejorative term, but I’m aiming to be concise; suffice to say I was worried this book would be yet more browbeating, dividing people by race, income, sex or other characteristics and trying to artificially impose equality through totalising systems and calling THAT “justice”, but I am so glad to report that is not the case; David Ruis has a Biblical vision of justice.
Ruis says “friendship demands equality, which is not some communistic ideal or socialist philosophy, but the level ground in the realm of the Kingdom”, which is a beautiful articulation of the kind of equality in God’s Kingdom - all kinds of different people, all gathered as a loving family the foot of the cross! Not erasing difference, nor obsessing about it, but embracing the diversity of God’s creation, celebrating and redeeming culture, but primarily being focused upon the real treasure of the Universe - Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
In being reconciled to Christ, we are reconciled to one another, and THAT is what our world needs. Without it, we’re just building more futile and deluded towers of Babel…
Here is what our culture needs - people coming in humility to God, drinking in His words as recorded in the Bible, and being transformed by that “imperishable seed”, day by day, and obediently learning from Jesus, who says “learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Ruis emphasises humility with a wonderful quote from John Calvin’s Institutes, picking up the writer to the Hebrews’ urging for us to consider how Jesus “made Himself nothing” and served others.
Oh yeah, definitely. Like with any book, there were a couple of minor points that I wasn’t sure I agreed with, but I’m more than capable of being wrong about stuff (may God convict me wherever I am). It’s stirring stuff, exciting, and at several of points I had tears in my eyes - most critically, it reminded me of yet another reason I love Jesus Christ and try to follow Him - nothing else comes close to His love, and I want that love to work through me more than anything I can think of.