A week or so ago as I was reading my Bible, I came across a verse that I've read many times before: a verse that I love, and one which others have loved also given that it has been used as the basis of many a hymn or chorus.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His Name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
(Psalm 29:2, NKJV.)
It's one of those verses that I have long loved without fully understanding. I suspect that it's one of those verses that I will always only imperfectly understand. With time, my understanding as to its meaning will grow and perhaps even change.
But as I read it on this occasion I was struck by the fact that holiness is being set apart and we as Christians are being called to be set apart as an act of worship unto our Lord.
It's not a popular concept. I think that today we are too ready to excuse everything we do as 'living under grace' and are not willing to die for self and perhaps give up those things that are best described as worldly pleasures. And if we have not perhaps gone so far as to actually engage in sinful pleasures, are we dabbling with things that we would be better not to dabble with? Dipping our toes into the shallow waters of sin but without calling it such? Excusing our actions because 'everyone does it'?
If holiness to be set apart, what does it mean? What does it look like?
To be set apart in our speech?
To be set apart in our actions?
To be set apart in our dress? In our behaviour? In the way we use our time? In the choices we make? The people we associate with and call 'friend'?
I could write a list of what we can and cannot do if we are to truly be set apart based on what fallible man says and thinks. But it shouldn't be about lists. It should be about the heart. Our hearts. Our attitudes. But that's scary. We want lists. Lists can be ticked off but to examine ourselves before God and to be willing to change those areas He says to change ... to be open and honest and broken ... it's scary.
And sometimes it's lonely. Sometimes what God asks me to give up in the pursuit of holiness - of being set apart - is not understood. My friends think I've 'lost it'. They can't understand why I have 'a problem' with a particular behaviour or action that they consider perfectly 'innocent'. And I have to be careful not to judge them or wonder why something that God has so clearly called me to give up He has not yet - may never - call them to give up. Perhaps it's in my attitude - or my dependence on something - or some thing else that I may never understand that He's called me to be set apart from that thing. Perhaps He has called others or may call others ... I don't know. But being called to holiness can be lonely. And hard. We can be so in love with the world that we balk at the thought of pulling away from its pleasures. If I'm honest, there are times I'd rather close my ears and not hear what is at times so loud and clear.
Yet as Christians it's what we are called to be. Holy. Set apart. It should be what we desire.
Just as Aaron and the priests following him were to have Holiness to the Lord emblazoned across their front, so should we (Exodus 28:36). Not literally, but our actions, our speech, our behaviour should be as clear to read as the words were on the turbans of the priests.
Humbly I admit that so often I fail. Some times all I seem to do is confess one failure after another. That time that I lost my temper ... when I stretched the truth ... when I was impatient or angry because it imposed on my time, my desires ... when I snapped at my husband or children ... when I was unkind or thoughtless and my words hurt someone else ... when my thoughts were ungracious ... or worse. Times when those words 'Holiness to the Lord' were illegible to the reader.
Yet, I press on because the goal still is to be holy. To be set apart. Because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy' (1 Peter 1:16, NKJV).