WORD STUDY – DRAW NEAR
Isaiah 29:13, “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near [me] with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me…”
I once taught drama in a high school and I would always tell my acting students that a really true actor is one who is telling the truth about themselves by sharing a part of themselves that people don’t see. If they played the hero they would reach into themselves and bring out that part of themselves that was heroic. If they were the victim they would have to draw upon some deep hurt and heartbreak in their lives and bring it to the surface so that their tears would be real tears. If they were playing the villain, they would have to reach into their souls and bring out that dark area that lies deep within, they would have to admit to themselves that it is there and reflect it on the character they would be portraying. This is called method acting developed in the early 30’s. by the Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavski and best portrayed by Marlon Brando in a Street Car Named Desire. I would tell my students that actors who play the villains are often the sweetest people you will meet because they admitted to themselves that they had this dark area of their soul and by bringing it out in their acting, they were able to see how ugly it was and were able to truly repent. To be a good actor you have to know yourself, but if you do not know yourself, know who your are, people will not believe you, they will think you are a phony.
Christians tend to make the worst actors which may be why Christian movies in the past had some of the worst acting. Christians can act great when they are playing the hero but when they are called upon to express their vulnerabilities, their acting suddenly appears wooden and stiff. The great myth about acting is that a good actor is one who is able to really pretend and create a great lie by becoming the character they portray. Actually, the great actors are the ones who really believe they are the characters they portray, they are being totally honest. It is the poor actors who are the dishonest ones, never admitting to their vulnerabilities. In fact Isaiah 29:13 should be every would-be actor’s warning.
Note where God says, Forasmuch as this people draw near with their mouth. Therein lies root of poor acting, the actor is attempting to act with his mouth. The words he speaks are words coming from his mouth and not his heart. I hear it all the time in churches and on Christian TV, words coming from the mouth trying to express a drawing near. That word drawing near is an old Canaanite word negash which means to wield power. As it moved into the Hebrew language it took on the meaning of sexual intercourse. This is the idea of power taking on the form of heighten emotional expression. In a true intimacy there is a tremendous release and sharing of emotions between two individuals. God is saying that you are trying to create this exchange of high emotion with your mouth and not your heart. We see it on Christian TV and in churches with preachers and worship leaders who desperately try to express their intimacy with God but somehow we are not buying it, we are seeing a phony. Their voice may sound sincere, the expression on their face may be just right but like the poor actor, you just can’t shake the feeling that the old boy is a phony. You want to believe it is real, you want to believe that character on stage is who he is claiming to be but somehow you just can’t wrap yourself around it. But when one acts from his heart, preaches from his heart, sings from his heart, you sit back, comfortable, drawing into the worship or the message that suddenly becomes real and alive. In the 2012 movie Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis who played the character of Lincoln actually dressed like Lincoln when he was off the set. He would walk around town dressed as Lincoln, go to Restaurants dress and acting like Lincoln and he would talk like he believed Lincoln would talk and act like he believed Lincoln would act. When he played Lincoln in the movie he actually believed he was Lincoln and his audience believed it also.
There is a very interesting word used in this verse for removed their hearts far from me. Actually the word removed is not in the text, it is just the word rachaq which comes from a Semitic root for a choice wine. A choice wine took on the idea of removing far away or abandonment in the Hebrew language because choice wine was something that the average person rarely, if ever tasted. There is a beautiful poetic play on words here. God is saying that the people who try to be intimate with Him with their mouths and honor him with their lips can never taste him, taste the choicest wine with their hearts. God can only be tasted with one’s heart, not one’s mouth or lips.
I remember during tryouts for a play I was putting on when I was a high school teacher. I had a student tryout for a part that really fit him well, but his acting was horrendous. However, I knew he had just broke up with his girlfriend that he had dated for over a year and she hooked up with another guy. I asked this student if he would be willing to share his hurt and heartbreak with the audience. I did not mean to tell them, “Hey, I just broke up with my girl and I feel crappy.” But to be willing to think of all that hurt and heartbreak and reflect it into the character he was pretending to be on stage. He agreed and suddenly his acting became almost like that of a professional and everyone was moved by his performance, even his ex girl friend who came back and ruined a perfectly good actor.
The problem with that preacher or worship leader that appears insincere is not that they do not really have Jesus in their heart. It is just that they do not take the time, like an actor, to really know and understand the depths of their own hearts. The heart is vulnerable and weak. They are afraid to admit this and to examine their hearts and as a result they try to express their love for God with their mouth and lips rather than with their heart. They want to appear vulnerable while at the same time victorious and heroic. They do not want anyone to see their heart, that little boy in them that is still fearful, anxious and hurting. They are afraid to bring that darkness out because they and others will see how ugly it is so they shut up their hearts and speak or sing only from their mouth and lips. But you see if Jesus is truly in your heart then when that ugliness comes out Jesus is coming out right with it and showing the world how He deals with it and then it is Jesus and not the preacher or singer that gets the glory.
We really cannot know the depths of our hearts, yet Jesus does and far too often that preacher or worship leader is afraid that if he lets Jesus show off his heart, He may just show off those dark areas of his heart that he doesn’t want anyone to know about.
The bottom line is that everyone who seeks to testify, preach or lead in worship must become an actor, be vulnerable , be willing to let Jesus emerge from their hearts and show off whatever He wishes to show off. That takes courage and if you do not have enough courage you have no business giving a testimony no matter how powerful that testimony, no business preaching no matter how great a preacher you are and no business leading in worship no matter how gifted you are musically. The first rule of any artist is being willing to express and expose your heart and let others see your vulnerabilities. But then if you do not, how will they see Jesus do His finest work. Only then will you be able to taste the choicest wine, rachaq.
When I taught in Bible College to future pastors and teachers the best advice I feel I could ever give was: “You must live every sermon you preach.”