“And rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:13, ESV)
We have our religious rituals. Consider a few examples:
- Seasons of the Church Year
- Ashes on Ash Wednesday
- Making the sign of the cross in worship
- Bowing at the altar
- Pastors wearing robes
But how many of these religious rituals are actually commanded in the Scripture? None! These were all rituals developed over time for good reasons. But none of them are commanded in the Scriptures.
Sometimes we get caught up in these rituals. We insist that the organ must be played to the exclusion of other instruments. Or we insist we must kneel for confession. Or we must have the passing of the peace before communion. We think there is a right way and a wrong way to our religious observances.
The prophet Joel reminds us to rend our hearts and not our garments. In other words, the rituals themselves are not as important as the heart. You can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. It is not so much about “what” we do as it is about “why” we do what we do.
That does not mean what we do is unimportant. There are many spiritual practices, not recorded in the Scriptures, that can help us deepen our faith and dependence upon God. But our dependence is upon the Savior Jesus and not our religiosity. Keep the first thing first.
On a final note, we need to be careful of holding contempt towards others who may not practice the same religious rituals as us. It was the Pharisees, rebuked by Jesus, who held others in contempt for not practicing the Pharisaic rituals. One person may worship in a traditional way. Another person may worship in a contemporary way. One person may receive communion with an individual cup. Another person may receive communion with a common cup. Be careful about elevating right action above having a right heart. Be careful of insisting that our way is right to the exclusion of others.