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The other day I was reading this interesting article about women in the early days of Islam and how they were an integral part to the history and expansion of the religion. I’m intrigued by this, because in many ways the story of Christianity is similar. So much discussion about early male leadership, when much of the practical success of the religion was because of women--especially women Jesus chose to include in His inner circle. As I was reading the article about Islam, I stopped in my tracks when I read this quotation from Rabia Al-Adawiyya, a Muslim ascetic, who lived in the 8th century:

“O Lord, should I worship you for fear of punishment, then burn me in hellfire. Should I worship you for reward, then keep me out of paradise. But I worship you only for you. So, do not withhold from me your Eternal Beauty,”

It makes me think of Psalm 84 where the psalmist declares, “My soul yearns, even faints for the house of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God.” And then later the author adds, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness. For better is one day in Your courts, Lord, than a thousand elsewhere.”

These statements make me wonder how much of my relationship with God is transactional. It can come in so many forms--trying to get something good in my life from God, hoping God will help one of my friends if I do certain things, or even that I will become a more Godly person if I do certain things. I never want to discount the importance of regular intercessory prayer or daily spiritual practices. Yet, it is so easy to lose sight of the purpose of my faith.

I am not a Christian so that I can live a good life, help people, or even to help other people become Christians. I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus is, to borrow Rabia’s words, the “Eternal Beauty” of God, which He has not withheld from me or anyone else. My faith, my religion, exists so that I may know God as His child and even His friend. Jesus is the one that makes that possible. Many religions teach that to enjoy God’s presence and friendship, I need to do so many prayers each day, read so much Scripture, delay gratification, dress a certain way, or even punish myself for my wrongdoings. Yet the beauty of my Christian faith is that Jesus did all the things required for me to be close to God. He clothes me with His beauty so that I can dwell in the courts of God all my life. 

It’s almost unbelievable. God doesn’t want my worship if I’m trying to get something or avoid something. He wants my worship, because He wants me. As I worship Him, I get to experience the surpassing eternal beauty that is the love of Christ. 

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