Earlier this month our family had the opportunity to spend two days with a group of people who were among the warmest, friendliest and happiest we've ever encountered. We couldn't stop talking about it as we drove off. Now, we've certainly been with smaller groups of people that deserved a similar description, but this was a group of more than 1,300!
Why did this group radiate joy? I've pondered that question since leaving "Summit VI," a conference hosted by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (http://chrisitianallianceblog.org/?p=668) in Minneapolis. I think I may have found a clue in Isaiah 58. There God lays out for His people what the ESV Study Bible calls the "practical implications of biblical faith" (pg. 1346). He insists that the Israelites' relationship with Him is not to be heralded by empty fasting. Instead, their encounter with Him through fasting is to result in a life of service to those whom Jesus would call "the least of these."
The Lord says,
"Is this not the fast that I choose,
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"
What comes next in this passage is a truly remarkable list of God's promises for those whose relationship with Him is turned outward in service to others, interspersed with some additional calls to forsake sin and meet the needs of the vulnerable:
"Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, 'Here I am.'
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail." (8-11)
What a list! Healing, strength, defense against depression, answer to prayer, protection, never-ending guidance, and the list goes on...
I believe the people we interacted with at Summit VI are happy people because they have experienced God's glorious promises as they "pour themselves out" to meet the pressing needs of fatherless children. Their light is "breaking forth like the dawn" because they have experienced the care of the Father of the Fatherless as they care for orphans. These people, who live sacrificially, have discovered a great irony of our God--in giving, we gain.