Feeling smug is never a good thing. Pride always ends badly. My eyes roll whenever I hear that kind of thing, but I still fall for it every time. Even as I type, I’m emerging from my latest lapse. According to my NHS Covid-19 app, I only need to self-isolate until 23:59 tonight.
The neighbours had better watch out at midnight!
My point is that I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for having steered clear of the dreaded lurgy. I’m naturally a conformist who loves rules and sticks to them religiously. I’d worn my mask and kept my distance. I’d never quite understood why the social distancing rule was only two metres when five would so obviously have been better! People were tumbling like nine-pins all around me, but I’d remained fit and well – until ten days ago, that is. Symptom-free and super confident, I took yet another lateral flow test. It was just a routine matter, another example of keeping the rules. But that morning, something changed. Not only then but every morning since, those two red bars have mocked me from that horrid little device. I used to love the letter T; it stood for tasty . . . tender . . . tranquil . . . trifle . . . and tenofthose! I can assure you I’ve now changed my attitude towards that terrible character!
But before I go off the deep end completely, let me stop and reflect. What have I learned from the last ten days when food has been lovingly slid under the door of my cell, and Pippa (my wife) and I have shared our daily devotions on WhatsApp? Quite a lot, actually.
For a start, I’ve learned a bit more about patience. It neither reflects well on the Lord Jesus, nor makes Pippa’s life any easier if I throw a wobbly every time I test positive. I’ve been wonderfully reassured that my standing before my Heavenly Father has not been diminished by the fact that I’m not allowed outside just now.
Above all, I’ve been reminded I’m not the hero in this particular drama.
I came to this realisation recently as I read Jesus’ Freedom Manifesto in Luke 4. Just to remind you, the Lord Jesus has come back to his home town, Nazareth. On the Sabbath day, he attends the synagogue – as usual. As he stands up to read the Scriptures, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is handed to him. Unfurling it, he turns to the passage we’ve come to know as Isaiah 61, where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
The Jewish rabbis interpret this passage in distinctly Messianic terms – and the people know it. So we can only imagine their profound shock as the Lord Jesus boldly applies it all to himself. He is the Messiah who has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
As I read, what struck me with unusual force was the way I align myself with Jesus, the Spirit-anointed Saviour whose job it is to rescue people. Forgive the ridiculous delusions of grandeur, but I was powerfully reminded that this is not the case. My place is among those who are rescued – the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed.
At first, this realisation came as a bit of a let-down. I mean, deep down, which of us doesn’t yearn for the starring role? On further reflection, however, I discovered that rather than being disappointing, this realisation was truly liberating. God’s unfolding drama of grace doesn’t depend so much on my performance as on the Lord Jesus’.
Since then, I’ve discovered that Luke 4 isn’t the only place where my role needs reversing. I do it all the time as I read the Bible. I often follow the stories of Moses, David, and Paul, and instinctively insert myself into the role of the hero. Hmm . . . what’s wrong with this picture?!
So, where does the Lord Jesus leave me in Luke 4? With two distinct roles, both of which I am qualified to perform really well – as a worshipper and as a witness.
In relation to the Lord Jesus, I’m a worshipper. I owe today’s wealth and well-being . . . and tomorrow’s new-found freedom entirely to him, and to the Father who sent him. I fulfil a number of roles in this life – husband . . . father . . . grandad . . . cheer-leader to the elders of our church. And the way I exercise these roles will change over time. But here’s one role that will never change – not even in eternity. I am and will always be a worshipper.
Through the gospel, I’m adopted into God’s family . . . I enjoy forgiveness of sins . . . I’m gloriously free from guilt and the curse of God’s Law . . . I have received the gift of the Spirit . . . I have a new heart and new desires . . . I look forward to a home in God’s new creation. And I owe it all to the One through whom I have redemption. As the old hymnwriter puts it,
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me his praise should sing!
So, in relation to the Lord Jesus, I’m a worshipper.
In relation to the world around me, however – my family . . . my friends . . . my neighbours, I’m a witness. Who better to reach the blind than someone whose sight has been restored? Who better to reach a captive than someone who has discovered the joy of being set free?
I suspect the two roles are intimately connected. Shouldn’t worship always lead to witness? When I experience something I really enjoy, isn’t the icing on the cake to tell someone about it? My enjoyment is never quite complete until I’ve been able to share it with someone else. That’s why the Psalms are full of exhortations to proclaim among the nations what the LORD has done.
The best witnesses are worshippers.
When I’m full of joy in God, it doesn’t take much to see why I’ll attract people to the Lord Jesus. When godly joy is replaced by the relentless burden of ministry, or the frustrations of outrageous fortune, the attraction soon disappears. So, as a recovering Covid junkie, let me encourage you. The church families we serve don’t need us to be their hero – the Lord Jesus fills that role perfectly. But they are well served when they see in us Spirit-inspired worshippers and Spirit-empowered witnesses.