“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27
James has been called the most practical book in the Bible, and indeed, it is full of great specifics about how to properly live out this relationship we have with God. If worship is a lifestyle, then James is a how-to-guide for the type of lifestyle God desires for us. In this context, look at what he says “pure” religion is: “…to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”
Now, there are a couple of ways to look at this. The first is to take it at face value, and conclude that if you don’t take time out of your schedule and drive to an orphanage or the home of a woman who has lost her husband, you aren’t doing a very good job of living for God. There are multiple problems with this. The first is that on the surface, you’ve completely ignored widowers and any children in need who happen to have at least one biological parent still alive. Obviously, distinctions like that are just silly, and kind of miss the point. The second problem is that if you take a passage like this and set it up as a black-and-white rule for “good religion” (read: “doing a good job of taking your relationship with God seriously”), you’ve taken a solid step onto the slippery slope of legalism.
The thing about the Bible is that while there ARE definitive black-and-white commands (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”, anyone?), much of the rest of Scripture is given to us to guide us not into a specific tit-for-tat system of checklists, but a holistic way of living in harmony with the way God wired the universe to be.
In that context, look at the passage again. “…to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” Orphans and widows are alone. They have lost the ones who took care of them, gave them companionship, showed them love. They are afflicted, regardless of their external situation, by the inner ache of loneliness because those they were connected to have been taken away. This is not how God made the universe to be. This is not a situation that is in harmony with the intention of a God who is Himself a loving, relational Being. To have people who are alone is completely the OPPOSITE of God’s desire for His world and His people, and so it is given to us the joy and responsibility to do something about it. “True religion” (read: the kind of life that shows God we really love Him) is to find those who are alone, helpless and hurting, and to do something about it. Jesus said to Peter, “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), showing him that one of the truest tests of how much we love God is how much we love others, especially those who can’t do well at helping themselves (sheep are rather helpless, you know).
So, as you seek to live a “lifestyle of worship” this week, ask God to show you what you can do to serve others as a way of serving Him. Ask Him to show you what you can do to reach out to someone who is lonely, hurting, afraid or unable to help themselves. Then, when He does, do something about it.