By Michael E. Brooks
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols” (Acts 17:16 NKJV).
I am traveling in the Hindu-dominated countries of Nepal and India. It is the Dashain Holiday, the major festival of Hinduism (though there are several of great significance to them). Dashain is the Nepali name. The same holiday is commonly called “Durga Puja” in India. Durga is a popular Hindu goddess honored by all of that religion. Puja means worship or adoration.
As we walk through the city where we are staying we frequently pass temporary “temples” made of bamboo poles covered with cloth to resemble a pagoda or other style temple. In these structures, usually built by neighbors cooperating together, there are statues, paintings, and various implements of worship. Priests conduct rituals; singers and musicians perform. There is food served, and much fellowship and festivity throughout.
Whenever I come to South Asia I am aware of the many temples, shrines and idols to the millions of deities worshiped here. But during the festival season I come to a renewed appreciation of what it means to be “given over to idols”. Shops and offices change their schedules according to the days or times of special observation. New temporary structures are erected everywhere, crowding an already greatly overpopulated city. Multitudes throng the streets so that vehicles find it difficult to move, and taxis or other transportation are almost impossible to find.
Huge numbers of Indians and Nepalis travel to be with their families at this time. Everyone is dressed in their best clothing. Every indication is that their total concentration and interest is in the festival and the religious activities that comprise it. For this season at least they are “given over to [their] idols.”
Hindus are not the only people to be totally given over to religion or to some other interest.
There are sports fans whose lives revolve around their team’s schedule. There are businessmen who labor for success almost every waking moment. Some have similar devotion to a political party, or a special cause. For many their obsession is self — they spend all available time in exercise, beauty preparations, or perhaps in education or in the search for personal wealth.
How many Christians exhibit such zeal and passion for Christ and his church? We read about such fanaticism in the New Testament. “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Without question this kind of overriding interest in Jesus and the gospel is still alive today. Many Christians spend long hours in prayer, Bible reading, and sharing their love of Christ with others. Many are devoted to good works such as helping the needy, ministering to the sick, and teaching children. Others are evangelists and missionaries, traveling far in difficult circumstances to preach where Jesus is unknown.
But though there are many of whom these things may be said, it is also true that many who claim to believe in Jesus and serve him are indifferent and casual in their service. If they assemble to worship him for a few hours per week, or month, they consider that sufficient evidence of their faith. Little real effort is made to actually serve him by involvement in his work, or in meeting the needs of others.
It saddens me to see millions of people “given over” to a goddess who only exists in the form of an image or picture, while millions who believe in the true and living God offer him only a token of honor and love.
We can do better. If our faith is worth having, it is worth committing real zeal and real effort towards. May the world see a church “given over” to Christ.
By Michael E. Brooks