Being a young child, I oftentimes thought and acted like the world was all about me. My parents were there to meet my every need. I thought only of what I had to do whether it was homework, piano lessons, practice of some kind, and what would I get to do with my free time. I look at my two and half year old son and his biggest concern is the location of his favorite train, “Where Thomas goes?” he tells me. His world is in harmony when Mommy and Daddy are sitting in the same room, and he has all of his trains together.
Now that I am older, I think differently about life. I am still the child of my parents, but I don’t look to my parents to meet my every need. I wonder what my father was like as a child. I also wonder what would please his heart, not simply to appease him so I don’t get in trouble as I did when I was younger but because I love him and want to honor him.
Growing in relationship with our parents is metaphor of our relationship with our heavenly Father. Immature believers look to God only thinking about what God can give them and what they need from him. While there is a season for being young and childlike in our faith, every believer has the upward call of Christ Jesus to become mature in our faith.
Mature believers are called to a higher standard of relationship that cultivates a mutual loving. We don’t just receive love from God, but we are called to give love back to Him. Of course children love their parents, but their love lacks the understanding of difficult circumstances being weathered in the storms of life. Adults choose to love with an understanding that life is not always easy, circumstances don’t always go the way you want or expect, and through it all God is still seated on the throne, loving us unconditionally in the midst of everything.
This love coming from a mature understanding of God and His love for us is what the Lord desires from us. As our love for the Lord grows, we also deepen our understanding that it is only that we can love Him because He has first loved us. It is here where the prophet Malachi shows us the depth to which we have fallen and the height to which the Lord desires for us to climb in relationship with Him.
The words of the Malachi zing, “’I have loved you,’ says the Lord Almighty” in chapter 1 verse 2. Like a lover saddened by the blindness of the one he loves, the Lord cries out to the Beloved, “I have tenderly loved you, painstakingly cared about each detail of your lives, and yet what do I get in return but half hearted devotion, worship full of distraction, and idols encroaching on my time.” The Lord seeks not our activities and good deeds, but our hearts and our time fully surrendered to Him.
Here is the greatest indictment of all that we think half halfheartedness is good enough. Five minutes of prayer a week is not good enough! Ten minutes of Bible reading a week won’t cut it! Do you think those statements are unfair to quantify how each of us live out our devotional lives before the Lord? Indeed one cannot compare one person’s life to another’s life, but if we give something to the Lord that is not a sacrifice to us personally, then it isn’t really worship and devotion.
I am highly suspect that five minutes of prayer A WEEK is costly to anyone. In our attempt to make Christianity palatable for the busy world we live in, we have failed to understand that true worship comes with a price. King David who truly understood the heart of worship said, “I will not give to God that which costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24)
Unlike all that aspire to modern conveniences, worship is far from it. Like many other things in the kingdom of God, it is opposite from the way the world thinks. The world’s philosophy is all about what we can get in life and the Lord says to us that it is better to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35) We think of saving money for rainy days and retirement, but the Bible teaches us that we should not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy but to lay up treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19) Worship is no different. The world values quick and cheap, but worship is going to cost us.
We may find it difficult to swallow that the worship that God is asking of us is costly and will require us to sacrifice, even good things for what is best, but the worst part is that the prophet Malachi points out that the Lord despises our half-hearted attempts of worship. Our culture has told us that God is pleased with any little bit that we manage to squeeze out for Him, whatever is convenient for us and doesn’t require us to change the way we are living.
But this is where Malachi reminds us of the Lord’s condemnations. Rather than offering the best animals as sacrifices, the priests were offering the blind and blemished. The Lord says that this profanes His Holy Name. Knowingly breaking the law of Moses, the priests offered less than what was required. The standard had been set, and they settled for less than full obedience.
Though some may use the excuse that this was only for the priests, we know that in the new covenant we are all called a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood” who are called to proclaim the praises of our King. (1 Peter 2:9) The life of wholeheartedness is not for the few believers who are the most spiritual ones around us. Wholeheartedness is not an option in the Christian life, it is the Christian life. Every believer is called to have an intimate relationship with the Lord, to hear His voice, to spend time in His presence, to be led by His Spirit, and to walk in full obedience.
God is worthy of our worship, and He demands our complete obedience. Some people have called this a lack of full surrender, couching it in spiritual jargon to take the edge off. But the truth remains that purposefully giving God less than He is requiring of us is sin. God was angry with the Israelites because they had the good lamb or sheep in their flock, but they purposefully gave the lame and blemished to God as their “sacrifice.” This isn’t sacrifice. If we search our own lives, will we find ways that we have twisted what God has asked of us to make it more convenient or even to make it sound more spiritual.
The life of wholeheartedness is not determined by the big decisions, but the choices we make each and every day. For me, the demands of motherhood with young children present a constant challenge to time alone seeking His face. It is a choice every day to spend time reading the Word, sitting in His presence, and allowing my heart to be transformed as I behold His. While I would love to be able to testify that I never miss a day, it simply isn’t true. But the longer I keep pressing in, the easier it becomes to hear His voice, to tune out the distractions around me, and to see the fruit of life spent dependent upon Him.
The other day my morning got off track with crying children and a multitude of messes to clean up, and as can so easily happen I never got back around to the text that I was reading that morning in the Word. Rather than being full of the Spirit that day, I was operating completely on flesh and by noon I could tell. My patience with my two year old son was completely absent, my joy had been robbed by the host of unpleasant morning circumstances, and as I looked to the rest of my busy day I had no idea how I could climb out of the pit I found myself in spiritually.
Thankfully, the Lord reminded me that He is no taskmaster with a whip waiting to crush me, but a loving Father longing to spend time with me. So as I set about to begin dinner preparations for the guests coming, I turned on worship music and chose to enter into a time of prayerful meditation while I was cooking. As I glanced down from the dish that I was making, I saw my son dancing to the music and worshiping Jesus himself. What greater joy could one have than to see a child’s pure delight in worship! Not only do our choices affect our own heart, but we can draw others into His presence.
Worship is a constant choice to change our attitude and fix our eyes above. Moses spoke to the children of Israel before his death about the choices we have. Near the end of the charge, he said, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore, choose life that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
We choose how we spend our life, our time, our money, and every decision reflects our priorities and our devotion. Choosing obedience to live in wholehearted devotion brings the blessings of life not only to us but also to future generations. Choices affect destinies – yours, and also those around you.