David Ruis and I go way back. From that very first conference where he snuck up behind me at the coffee kiosk and scared the liver out of me, I have enjoyed the multi-dimensional “swirl” (to use David’s favourite word) that comes with the Schlavenator.
I have always enjoyed David’s music, and for six years, Wendy & I were part of the urban church plant that David & Anita led in Winnipeg. They are the epitome of a “pastoral couple” to many people, and I consider David to be one of Canada’s finest biblical preachers.
So, clearly, I am biased. But for good reason. And when I found out that David had written a couple of books, I was eager to read them.
The Worship God Is Seeking is a natural starting point for David to write about, given the many songs he has written that are used by churches around the globe and across the denominational spectrum.
David starts strong with statements like:
“As we seek to cultivate the worship that God seeks, theology (knowledge of God and His ways) is essential. Our worship needs to be anchored to the unalterable and eternal truths of who He is and the impact of His advancing kingdom on the earth.”
While many people often approach worship like an escape from the difficulties of life, David reminds us: “the journey into worship is a life-long pursuit of discovering God in His Word and seeing Him constantly at work in our everyday lives and the world around us”.
A key question that David asks (more than once): “Is God even listening?” Worship must not be limited to singing songs; justice and mercy are intricately connected (cf. passages like Amos 5:21-24 or Isaiah 29:13).
There are many gems of wisdom throughout this book, ranging from the topics of what it means to worship in ‘Spirit and Truth’, to celebrating the redemption that Christ has freely given, and to recognizing that God is both King and Father.
As a worship leader and songwriter, David holds a high view of the Spirit-led dynamics when the church gathers for worship, and also grounds our understanding of worship in the everyday-ness of life. David concludes his writing with a chapter on the biblical connection between worship and justice, which is every bit as encouraging and challenging as the rest of the book.
The Worship God Is Seeking is not a ‘how-to’ planner for worship events. It is a great introduction to the heart attitude and expectations of those whose lives have been touched by the Spirit to draw them to the Father through the work of the Son.
The Justice God Is Seeking brings back a lot of memories. Many of the stories I was familiar with already, simply because we were part of David & Anita’s urban church plant in Winnipeg for six years.
Reading names like “Southside Johnny” brought an instant smile to my face, even though (as David candidly relates in the book) Southside was a crusty curmudgeon: loud, generally inebriated, smart & opinionated, and gleefully incontinent. And he was my friend.
And therein lies probably one of the most profound lessons that David writes about in The Justice God Is Seeking: biblical justice is based in relationship, which goes much deeper than charity. Charity is all well and good (and the Bible does commend “alms-giving” for the poor), but justice is much more hands-on, long-haul, and relational.
David also does not shy away from wrestling with the implications of justice and mercy from God’s point of view:
“In this just and merciful Kingdom, there is hope for the oppressor as well as the oppressed.”
David’s pastoral heart is on full display as he wrestles through the necessity for mercy and forgiveness to reign in our lives. For the abused and the abuser. For the victims and the perps. The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35) is a powerful passage that David unpacks carefully and passionately.
Throughout this book, David is also refreshingly honest and transparent about the very real difficulties in seeking to “let worship and justice kiss”:
“My first attempts at ‘mercy ministry’ were quite pathetic: my motivations were an eased conscience, and an awareness of how good I was — not justice for the people I was trying to serve. Mercy was not about touch, closeness and friendship; it was about works, to help my standing before God. I could do mercy and remain unchanged. But to love mercy… that’s a different thing altogether.” (Micah 6:8)
The many real-life stories that David weaves throughout this book are both challenging and encouraging. The pursuit of “doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God” is not an easy road, as glamorous and exciting as it might sound during a rousing conference session.
For years, many of us have said, “Lord, help us to love those who are hard to love”. David & Anita went out and did it. And through The Justice God Is Seeking, we are invited, challenged, and encouraged to do the same.