Thursday, August 23, 2012

We Know What HE Wants

A few days ago, in a post entitled “We Know What We Want”, we considered the fact that unspoken and unreasonable expectations in our relationships can result in problems of volcanic proportions.  These expectations work horizontally, between people.
  The next post, “HE Knows What We Want…and Need” also had something to say about expectations.  In that post, we see that God promises provision.  Because God promised it, we can expect that He will indeed provide.  However, it is also important to look at the conditions in which those promises apply.  These expectations are vertical, and run both ways.
What does God expect from us?  Does he leave us with a host of unspoken expectations?  Are His expectations unreasonable, as ours often are?
Let me make it clear that I am not talking about salvation.  That expectation is already clear. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” (Acts 16:31 NIV)  There is nothing that can be done to earn salvation.  I am talking about how God expects us, as believers in Jesus, to live.  I also acknowledge that there are many people who do not believe in Jesus as Savior who do many of the things we will talk about here … sometimes to a greater extent than believers do.  Perhaps we as believers, sometimes need a reminder.
If you were to ask a scribe or Pharisee in Jesus’ time what God expected of them, they would have had a long list of rules and regulations, many of them actually man-made, that one would have to follow in order for God to be pleased with them.  That same pharisaical spirit is alive and well today, … unfortunately.

Let’s look at the Old Testament book of Micah to see one thing God tells us He expects from us.  In this passage the writer asks a number of questions about what he should do in order to approach God.  Should he bring lots of sacrifices and burnt offerings, as was the custom of the day?  Would God be pleased with that?  Perhaps he should even make an offering of his own children in exchange for forgiveness.  Would that be enough?  The answer is given in Micah 6:8.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to live kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8  NASB)
God speaks of three things here – three expectations.
  • We are to do justice.  We must not stand idly by as we see unjust things happening around us when it is in our power to help.  This applies to the grade school kid who loves Jesus standing up for the victim of a bully.  It applies to the employee who sees a co-worker being unfairly blamed for something as another person covers up his own mistake.  It applies to corporate executive who sees his company making policy that will allow them to profit while harming those who use their product or service.  Above all, we must never be the one engaging in unjust practices ourselves.
  • We are to love kindness.  Another version says to love mercy.  This kindness and mercy needs to flow from us to our family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and even to our enemies.  God expects us to forgive those who wrong us, letting go of our supposed “right” to make the other person feel a bit of the pain they caused us.  We cannot love kindness, if we harbor that attitude.  We need to reach out in kindness to others when they are hurting instead of being so absorbed in our own life that we are not even aware of what is happening with those around us.
  • We are to walk humbly with our God.  I believe this involves realizing our position in relation to God.  We must acknowledge that we need Him.  We cannot do anything of eternal value in our own strength, no matter how good we think we are.  In fact, the instant we think we are so good, we stop being humble.
Jesus Himself also has something to say about what God expects of us.  Again, we see expectations concerning our relationship with God, as well as our relationships with each other.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes an Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy 6:5.
“ ’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’  This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:38-40 NASB)
  • The first commandment deals with our relationship with God Himself.  He desires that we love him with all our heart, soul and mind. He doesn’t want us to be satisfied with a Sunday morning Christianity that we put on at the door of the church and take off when we leave.  He doesn’t want His relationship with us to be relegated to quick, rote prayers over meals.  Nor does He want us to merely go through routine religious activities simply because we are “supposed” to do them.  God is not really interested in the things we do for Him.  He is interested in all of us – heart, soul and mind.
    • We love Him with all our heart when we love Him through all the joys and storms of life.  Father, in this time of joy, I love you.  In this time of trial and testing, I still love you.  In this time of pain, I still love you.  Why?  Because You loved me first.
    • We love Him with all our soul when we choose to love Him no matter what.  When I experience the loss of someone I love, I choose to still love You.  When my life is on a mountaintop, and people are admiring me for my accomplishments, I will not forget that it was You Who gave me the ability to succeed.  I still choose to love You and acknowledge that I need you.
    • We love him with all our mind when use our ability to think and reason for His glory.  I am so glad that God does not ask us to check our brains at the door in order to exercise faith.  He gave us our minds, and we can use them to their full extent to study and marvel at his awesome creation.  As we do, we love Him.
  • The second commandment zeroes in on our relationship with others.  We are to love others as we love ourselves.
    • This statement presumes that we do indeed love ourselves. You see, self-love is not self-absorption.  When we love ourselves the way God loves us, we really spend very little time thinking about ourselves at all.  We take care of ourselves, clothe ourselves, feed ourselves, and do what is necessary to nurture our mind, heart, soul, and body.  We do these things automatically. Why?  Because we love ourselves.
    • Even those who struggle with self-hatred, in my opinion, also love themselves.  What do I mean?  Simply this.  I believe that self-hatred is actually self-love that has become self-absorbed.  Each of us has something inside us that says we deserve to be treated well, or at least better than we are being treated.  Since all people are created in God’s image, that basic belief is actually correct.  Perhaps years of abuse and neglect has buried and warped that belief.  Perhaps this desire to be valued leads us to seek attention and validation at all costs, usually in the wrong places.  The resulting hurt gives rise to the self-hatred, but the desire to be loved is actually an unhealthy form of loving ourselves.  When we who have been deeply hurt by others come to Jesus, He takes us through a process of healing and restoration so that we can love ourselves in a healthy way that is not self-absorbed which then allows us to …
    • LOVE OTHERS as we love ourselves.  We are free to love others freely.  When that happens, the acts of service toward others become acts of love.  When that happens, the motive for extending arms of love to another shifts.  Such acts are no longer done to gain approval from people, or even from God.  They are done because we genuinely love the other person as we, in Christ, love ourselves.
According to Jesus, that is pretty much it. That is what God expects of us. Love Him with everything that is in us. Love others as He has enabled us to love ourselves.  There is absolutely nothing that could be put on a Do/Don’t list that is not covered by the two greatest commandments. 
The expectations in Micah are covered.  Do justice. Love kindness.  Both are covered under, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Walk humbly with God.  This is covered by the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul and mind.
So do we know what God expects of us?  Yes, we do.  He wants us to love Him with all that is in us.  He wants us to love others as we love ourselves.  In our own power, such complete love is impossible.  But does that mean that expectation is unrealistic?  Not at all.  As we draw closer and closer to God, He fills us up with so much more love than we can possibly pour out. 
We know what HE wants.  Let’s stick close to Him, and He will give us all the love and strength and kindness we need to love as HE loves.

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