For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.
For most of my life, I have felt that my relationship with God requires sacrifice. When I was a teenager, a young, stupid, selfishly ambitious teenager, something happened to me that I thought would ruin my life. The seeds planted by people whom God had put into my early life telling me to rely on Jesus grew during this time, and I decided to “give God a chance”. I made a deal with God: if he would deliver me from this particular drama, I would read his book. So I did. I opened up a King James Bible that was lying around my house to Matthew chapter one and I read a couple of chapters. Every night during this season I lived up to my part of the promise, and I was delivered from the drama.
Whether God really changed anything in my life that I was worried about at this time I couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is that His words, in the bible, were SCREAMING at me. Every night something would speak to something that happened that day…I’m not kidding here, it was weird. Through this time, significant change occurred. I felt that God had honored our deal. In return for not letting my life be ruined, I would give up (sacrifice) ½ hour or so, each night before I went to bed and read his word, and he would continue to bless my life.
We had this relationship for a pretty long time. I developed a habit that I would spend some time in His word everyday, almost always before I went to bed, and he watched over me and took care of me as I walked through this world. Mostly what I was learning was how much my nature conflicted with the person that God created me to be. I was really focused on the rules at this point, and God worked on my actions and my character and I improved on many levels as a person during this time. I sacrificed doing (some of) the things that I wanted to do in the hopes that I would get something in return.
Now before anyone make the mistake of thinking that I am some “holy” person because I was able to develop this habit as a teenager, I need to make a couple of things clear. Through the rest of high school and college, I probably didn’t set foot in a church more than a dozen times. I didn’t share what I was learning with anyone, I didn’t seek counsel on things I didn’t understand, my prayer life was non-existent unless you counted the deals I thought I was making, and unless you looked really, really closely you would not have recognized much of a change in me. I certainly did not abstain from the pleasures the world offered. If anything, I indulged more in things of this world because I felt I had a special relationship with God who was watching over me. While I had above average knowledge of the Word, spiritually I was very immature.
After years of this, working on the things I was doing wrong, trying to live up to the “thou shalt nots”, trying to eliminate sin from my life, etc. I found that I still didn’t really know what God wanted from me. Then I read a passage that by this time I had probably read through ten times before, and it finally hit home:
Proverbs 1:7 - The fear of the lord is the beginning of knowledge
Wait…what?? I had plenty of fear of the Lord, I knew that if I missed my bible time God would somehow punish me the next day. I even got so legalistic that if I missed a day, I would read twice as much the next day to avoid God’s wrath. But this passage says the fear I had was only the BEGINNING of knowledge. Beginning…I had been doing this for about 6 years at this point, and I thought I had it all pretty much figured out. Now, it was put on my heart that all the time I had spent, all the sacrifice I had made was just a first step.
Well, what’s the next step? For me it was to start over again. I committed to read through the bible, just like I had been doing, only now I wasn’t looking for all of the things that I shouldn’t be doing, I was looking for all the things that I should be doing. I’ll tell you, it was like I was reading a completely different book. All of the stories took on a different meaning, all of the Old Testament history led up to a message that was encouraging, not condemning. Over the next few years I was able to recognize the theme from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is that God loves me.
In the verse from the top, Hosea says “God desires mercy”. The Hebrew word used here (hesed) can mean mercy, but it is also used to mean “right conduct toward one’s fellow man” and “loyalty to the Lord”. It is also translated as “love”. In Matthew 7:12 Jesus quotes this same verse when he is giving the Pharisees a pretty good tongue lashing about how far away from God they are. So God desires love, not sacrifice.
Have you ever been in love? It is no coincidence that the feeling of being in love is the greatest feeling there is. God plants that in us (we are made in his image, right?) so we will seek it out. When you were in love, did anything you did for the object of your desire feel like a sacrifice? Most of us, looking backwards, will admit that they have done some pretty crazy things in the name of love. We do those crazy things, without hesitation, because we know we benefit from that love. Once you begin to understand that the benefits you get from knowing and trusting the One who is love, you see that the “sacrifices” you might make to follow God are not sacrifices at all.
If you are avoiding a relationship with God, because you are afraid you are going to have to give up (sacrifice) smoking, or drinking, or cussing, or sleeping around, or gambling, or dancing, or stealing, or hating, or anything else, you might be right, but deep down inside you know you should give those things up anyways, don’t you?. I had to give up some of the things on that list, but not all of them…The only reason God would ask you to give any of these things up (sacrifice) is if they are getting in the way of you coming to know and accept and enjoy his love. I know a lot of Christians now, and I’ve never heard one of them say “I wish I was still addicted to crack” or “I really felt more complete when I hated my neighbor” or “I sure miss the days of waking up next to someone who’s name I don’t remember” or “Ahhh, the good ol’ days when I might get caught embezzling from my company at any time!”
God’s love is real, and it is tangible, and it is amazing. God’s love is better than what you are afraid you might have to give up. Trading in something you like for something you love is not a sacrifice. Don’t spend any more time living in the fear of the God who loves you right now, just the way you are…get over yourself…move on to the good stuff!