This past Wednesday is commonly referred to as Ash Wednesday, which begins the observation of Lent – a time of fasting and prayer leading up to the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Christians demonstrate solidarity with Christ by sacrificing something of import to them, but, in the modern day, these sacrifices have become trivial – giving up television, chocolate, video games, or other such conveniences. What do we do to be one with our God? Around the world, various faiths have different rites and ceremonies – some painful and dangerous – to show their commitment to their god or gods. What is God looking for in our devotion to Him and the way we demonstrate that devotion?
How Do We Show Devotion?
This is a question humankind has wrestled with since Creation. In Genesis 4, two brothers bring their sacrifices to the Lord. Cain and Abel bring offerings to the Lord, and God respects Abel’s sacrifice. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel’s sacrifice is the result of faith. He worships in God’s way where Cain does not. Also, Leviticus 10:1, Nadab and Abihu die because of their worship, and, in verse 3, Moses reminds the people what it means to sanctify and glorify the Lord. Finally, I Kings 18 records Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal and Asherah to invoke their gods against his. They go to extreme measures to show their devotion to Baal and Asherah in contrast to Elijah’s quiet prayer.
Micah 6:6-8 records God’s people asking the very question: “What can we do to please God?” They propose more and more extreme measures to invoke God’s presence, but Micah’s response is simple – to walk humbly before Him in love and justice. He calls on us to put Him before us. When God speaks I listen. When God’s word requires change, I change. When God’s words calls for obedience, I obey. As His spoken word has the power to create, His written word should have power to move our lives.
What Does God Require?
Contrast the prophets of Baal and Asherah in I Kings 18, leading up to verse 36. Their callings upon deity could not be more different. The idolatrous prophets seek to please their Gods with methods that seem impressive and holy to them where Elijah comes to God in God’s way. In I Kings 8:46-52, Solomon offers a prayer at the dedication of God’s temple, and He calls on God to hear the people’s prayers, to recognize their repentance, to honor their complete faith. Jesus puts it this way in Matthew 10:38:
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
This means we crucify our self – the man of pride and selfish will – to completely humble ourselves in submission to Him. There is nothing I can do to show myself worthy of God’s love and grace. I cannot earn the favor of Christ’s love. Romans 5:6 speaks of our weakness in comparison with the strength of God’s love. I cannot do anything that compares to what God has done for us. All I can do is walk in a manner worthy of the gospel as Paul writes in Philippians 1:27, standing fast in the spirit and for the gospel. I can conform my life to His by sacrificing self and submitting to His word.
We meet a soldier named Naaman in II Kings 5, a leper in need of God’s healing. He sends for Elisha to bring God’s power upon him, but when Elisha commands a simple washing in a dirty river, Naaman is upset. He expects something more, something greater, something more outwardly impressive. FInally, though, when he humbles himself to God’s command, he is healed. God is not looking for our great acts. God is not looking for worship impressive in our eyes. Instead, He simply calls on us to hear and obey, to repent and turn to Him, to devote ourselves to Him in every detail of our lives. We can be restored to Him from our captivity of sin if we only come to Him on His terms and in His way.
lesson by Tim Smelser