In our modern, materialistic, secular world, the phrase "practical worship" may sound like a contradiction. How can worship be practical? For that matter, should worship be practical? And, if so, who decides when worship is practical and when it isn't?
Jesus' earliest disciples had no less difficulty with these questions than we have. The issues of money and resources have always created tension for families. Waste cannot be tolerated when resources are limited and needs are so great. It just isn't practical. But Jesus himself had no problem with the idea of practical worship. Jesus did not define the word "practical" the same way his disciples did (and perhaps as we do). Webster's Collegiate Dictionary states that a thing is practical when it "has been proven effective in use." An attitude of worship through sacrificial giving honors God and is a practical investment of all that we have.
In the Venezuelan Andean town of Mucuchíes, Rufino Rangél and his family lived in a humble, well-kept home with about 500 square feet of living space. Their home was in a beautiful mountain village surrounded by potato, garlic, carrot, and lettuce fields. They usually began their day by praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They loved the "Virgin" because she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. They also prayed to her because they believed she had special favor with her Son and that Jesus would bless them if Mary asked him to do so.
Although the Rangéls were a very religious family, they had not yet understood that they could be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Some people had told them that they must work for their salvation. That is why they participated in certain religious activities at church and prayed to the Blessed Virgin and her Son every day. They also tried to do good works whenever they got the chance in the hope that their works would be rewarded someday. Although they didn't have a lot by some standards, the Rangéls tried to always give their best to God.
I. Give our very best (26:6-9)
Baptists have never planted a church in Mucuchíes. Probably because it is a small town of less than 10,000 people and because it is about one and a half hours from the capital city of Mérida. With all the lost around the world waiting to hear the Gospel, a town like Mucuchíes just isn't cost-effective. There are several other villages around Mucuchíes that are even smaller and more remote. Until now, it just hasn't seemed practical to take the Gospel to families like the Rangéls who live outside the larger cities.
The disciples asked Mary, "Why this waste?" In the same way, some people wonder why missionaries would go to work in places like Mucuchíes. There are other things that could be done with the money it will take to deliver the Gospel to remote towns like Mucuchíes. We could give it to the poor. Or we could build church buildings for existing churches. Or we could invest the money and earmark it for ministry in more spiritually productive places.
A. God's resources are unlimited
The disciples' indignation assumed that Mary had wasted a limited resource that could never be replaced. They saw this investment as a waste that could have been spent more practically. But the essence of Mary's worship was not the perfume, but her devotion. She ministered to Jesus personally, one-on-one, intimately. That is, Mary ministered to Jesus practically by giving her very best.
B. A "both/and" attitude toward giving
The disciples thought the perfume could have been used either to anoint Jesus for burial or to be given to the poor. To them it was either/or - not both/and. God's resources are not limited like ours are. We will never have to "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" when it comes to carrying out the ministries God has called us to do.
The Lord has called us to go forth as laborers unto the harvest. As Southern Baptists and other Great Commission Christians, many among us are making great sacrifices to do our part for world evangelization. But overall, we must admit that the Bride of Christ can, and must do more. In light of the Great Commission, we need to strike the balance between worship that is merely theoretical and worship that is practical. When we invest what God has given us in ways that honor him and his Word, there will be sufficient resources available both for ministries at home and for missions abroad, even in remote places like Mucuchíes.
C. Our worship must take us into God's presence
Mary instinctively understood what James later wrote, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people!" (James 4:8). Efforts at approaching God selfishly are both improper and impractical. Doing for God is not enough. It is possible to give to the poor with unclean hands, but most would argue that it is impossible to get close enough to Jesus to anoint him with perfume unless you have a purified heart.
II. Depend on God for everything (26:10-12)
Although the disciples called Mary's act of love a waste, Jesus said it was a beautiful thing. While Mary's sister Martha was busy in the kitchen, Mary was spending her time with Jesus. Our North American culture rewards productivity and efficiency. Like Martha, we tend toward hard work and self-sufficiency so that we will have more to give to our family and to God. It is hard for us to give everything we have in our hands without putting something back "for a rainy day." Jesus said Mary's act was beautiful because it demonstrated her willingness to abandon the precious things of the world for a more intimate relationship with Him.
When we give sacrificially into the work of God, we are showing that we are depending upon Him for everything. Knowing that God's resources are unlimited, we are unafraid to give our best and our all. Even though holding back from our financial obligations to God's work may sometimes seem a practical choice, in light of our ultimate dependence upon God, it is instead very impractical.
A. Whatever it takes
People in Mucuchíes are reluctant to place any faith at all in strangers they don't know well. That is why Southern Baptist missionaries have formed the Andean Agriculture Team to work with farmers and to gain their trust and friendship before they share the Gospel with them. This pre-evangelistic work is called climatization. It is not a bait-and-switch tactic. It is a practical way to overcome decades of prejudice against anything, or anyone new.Now, after much prayer and many climatization-type ministries, the work in Mucuchíes has begun to show promise. A Bible study in the Rangél home has now become part of a larger group on the verge of becoming a small church. Several months ago, Rufino and his wife María received Christ and are being discipled by Venezuelan missionaries. But the idea of climatization is not without its critics. Just like the disciples who told Mary she should have practiced better stewardship with her perfume, there are those who would say that climatization is a waste of precious resources.
We must be willing to do whatever it takes to win the lost. It will take patience. It will take sacrifice. It will take practical measures like climatization. It will take spiritual wisdom. It will take all that God has placed in our possession.
B. Wherever it takes (26:13)
Mary had anointed her Savior's body for burial before his death. What a wonderful privilege! Then too, Jesus was able to enjoy the fragrance of her perfume while he was still alive. This was worship in its most practical expression. To convey his approval and appreciation, Jesus promised Mary that her act of worship would never be forgotten. It would serve as an object lesson for the disciples and for us. He told her that her worship would be remembered wherever His Gospel is shared around the world.
We must be willing to go wherever it takes as well. We must take the Good News to the unreached masses in the cities and we must take it to the unreached villagers in the mountains.
Not long before his death on the cross, a woman who loved him and wanted to express that love in a practical way anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume. This is the essence of true worship. While good men looked on with indignation and complained about what they saw as a waste, Mary received the approval of the Lord. Through her simple act of uncommon, yet practical worship, Mary still instructs us today. Let us remember that Mary's act of worship was in preparation for his burial. May we be just as practical as we worship Jesus in memory of his resurrection and in anticipation of his return.
How much do you give to missions?
In an article titled "Reconsecration to a Wartime, Not a Peacetime, Lifestyle," Dr. Ralph D. Winter, former missionary to the Mayan Indians in Guatemala and Professor of Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary says, "The nearly two billion dollars American evangelicals give per year to mission agencies is one fourth of what they spend on weight-loss programs." Winter goes on to say that 90% of all Christians in America give less than two dollars per month to missions.
Source - Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, A Reader, Third Edition, 2000, p. 706.
Additional Sermon starter
Getting and giving (Mathew 16:26)
In a world of newer cars, larger houses, and bigger bank accounts, how much is enough? Families that focus on buying more and more to impress their neighbors will most likely only exhaust themselves. But families that adopt a biblical perspective about getting and giving will show their neighbors that God is truly the Source of every blessing.