I noticed something curious with my kids recently. We may have just finished talking about the fact that Jesus wants us to be generous towards others. Then, almost immediately afterwards, they are squabbling because one refuses to share a packet of sweets with the other. What I find even more amusing is the response I receive when I remind them about our recent conversation about generosity. I get a look from the one refusing to share that says: “You weren’t serious about that whole thing about being generous like Jesus, were you? Or Jesus doesn’t really expect me to share these sweets with others, does He?” I smile at their astonishment that we actually have to do the things Jesus says if we claim to be His followers.
In truth, we grown-ups aren’t much different. We sit in our churches on a Sunday, listen to a sermon on social justice, integrity, or sacrifice, and nod in agreement. Then, when an opportunity presents itself during the week for us to practice what we heard, we act like my kids. Some of us give elaborate excuses to explain why we behave contrary to the will of the Lord and Master we claim has our allegiance. Nowadays, I rarely hear sermons on the cost of following Jesus, even though Jesus was upfront about the price we’d pay if we follow Him [Luke 14:25-33]. Could it be that the theology that following Jesus is easy is seeping into our expectation of Christianity? There’s much preaching about what God can do for us, but very little is said about the truth that many of God’s promises to us are conditional rewards for our adherence to His word.
The Bible makes it clear that while God loves us unconditionally, His blessings – which make for our flourishing in every aspect of life, aren’t unconditional. The only way to receive continued blessings from God that lead to our flourishing is by doing what He says. So, if we desire what God wants for us, we must humble ourselves to learn His ways, obey His statutes and principles and follow His instructions. Sometimes, we can treat God’s blessings as intangible – of no value in everyday life. Yet, right from the first page of the Bible, God’s blessing results in fruitfulness and flourishing in this world. Human beings often attempt to obtain what only God can give, such as; indescribable peace, rest, and satisfaction with life. Yet, even the wealthiest, most powerful or most famous amongst us perennially fall short of attaining these with their seemingly inexhaustible resources. Many of us don’t learn from their mistakes, so tragically, we carry on repeating them.
If we accept that we can’t obtain the things only God can give any other way, then we will position ourselves appropriately to receive from Him. I once heard a preacher say: “I don’t want what God cannot give me.” The “cannot” in that statement refers to God’s judgement, not His ability. If we lay hold of the foundational truth that God is good, we’ll come to the unwavering conviction that everything He does, including His desires for us, is always good [Romans 8:28]. Sadly, we often don’t trust God to define and decide “good” for us. So consciously or ignorantly, we opt for what seems right in our eyes [Proverbs 14:12]. So, we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve by deciding to choose for ourselves what is good and what isn’t [Genesis 3:6-7]. Every time we do that, we distance ourselves from the blessings God intends for us.
God gave Abraham a roadmap to perpetuate blessings from one generation to the next when God said: “For I have chosen (Abraham) so that he will teach his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised” [Genesis 18:19 NIV]. So, doing what is right and just in God’s sight is how we receive and maintain His blessings. Deuteronomy 28 elaborates that principle as Moses details the implications of obedience and rebellion to God’s people. Consequently, what we decide to do with God’s word is a choice between life and death, blessings and curses [Deuteronomy 30:11-20].
Israel’s first king, Saul, fell foul of doing what was right and just and consequently lost his throne [1 Samuel 13:8-14 and 1 Samuel 15]. In rebuking him, Samuel the prophet told him that: “obedience was better than sacrifice” [1 Samuel 15:22]. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul shows us God’s heart. He wants to bless us; He wants to see us flourishing – being fruitful and multiplying. That’s how we delight His heart and bring Him glory. God is more interested in our obedience than our acts of worship. If we’re unwilling to do what He says, our offerings, sacrifices, prayers, and fasts will not bring us His blessings. Herein lies the question we must all answer: Do you value God’s blessings enough to obey Him at all times, especially when it’s most inconvenient?
Scripture guarantees that a life of loving obedience to God will not go unrewarded. Doing what God says adds nothing to Him. It’s purely for our good and directly impacts how we experience life. Even God, revealing himself to us through Scripture and our experience, is for our good. My prayer is as we mature as followers of Jesus, we will act less like children, asking if God really meant what He said. Instead, when an opportunity presents itself, we’ll excitedly obey God, with the understanding that in doing so, we are opening ourselves up to His blessings.