I am scared to let my son go to Vacation Bible School. I am afraid that he will ask Jesus into his heart. I attended VBS many times as a child, though technically I asked Jesus into my heart at church camp in the third grade. I went on mission trips in which we hosted VBS’s for small churches; I was a puppeteer, even a speaker a time or two. We always gave the children an opportunity to ask Jesus into their hearts. I don’t know that we used that formulaic language, I feel like I rejected that sort of thing pretty early on, and yet, honestly, it’s a pretty good image of how I most often live my life as a believer. It’s also pretty close to what we were offering those children we would never see again and what I fear most for my son, that he would ask Jesus into his heart and then keep him there.
58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. NIV
More than just going through the motions, disjuncture has occurred between the people’s desire to know God and the way they live life. They ignored God’s commands in regard to justice even while maintaining the rituals of repentance. Theirs is a desire to know God without being reshaped by God. They wonder why they are not heard even as they practice things which silence their praise.
I think the people of Israel were earnest in their desire to know God just as I am, and like the people, I seek God out day after day (or at least the days I would like.) Having sought after God, I act in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God: selfishly withholding from others emotionally and otherwise; allowing anger to shape my words toward those close to me; clinging to what I seem to believe I have provided for myself. It’s as though I reach out to God with my emotions, even with my spirit, but not with my will. God has been allowed to enter into my heart, but not the rest of me. I got Jesus into my heart and then I cloistered him there. I invited him in and then held him captive in that place.
I have fixed up the place nicely. I provided a comfortable home filled with my best intentions, added stained glass windows to make the view from inside a bit prettier; covered the walls with images of my proudest moments of obedience; and built a ceiling with my prayers. So I come by to visit when I please, I sit and chat with Jesus regularly. We talk about spiritual formation; we talk about devotion and hungering for transformation. And when it is finally time to go, to leave this brittle prison, I wonder that no transformation takes place, I ponder my indifference to the whole experience, and I promise myself I’ll come back tomorrow and listen again as I reach down to lock the door behind me.
May you be loosed in me Jesus Christ; the prison of my heart surely cannot contain you. Indeed, you stand at the door of my heart and knock, may I open the door and let you out into the rest of me.