To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money
I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return
To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sunday and Wednesday nights
Cause if you can’t come to Me every day
Then don’t bother coming at all.
“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day…” Matthew 7:21
It struck me recently reading the above verses in Matthew that I have never fully understood what they meant. I used to use it simply as a verse for telling people that there were those that claimed to be Christians who would not make the final cut. The other night after reading it, something struck me deeply. I tossed and turned for quite awhile in bed struggling with the thought and its implications for not only myself but for the whole of western Christianity as well.
The definition I use for religion is a simple one. It is the worship of God in His absence. When God is absent, we humans get into big trouble, fast. And usually it is directly related to some misconception that we have involving God. It is so easy to confuse His silence for His condoning of us and our actions, doctrines, beliefs and habits. In fact, many can go years without hearing from God, writing it off as a “wilderness” time and feeling that because He is not directly rebuking them or interfering, that He is fine with who they are or what it is that they are doing.
The rules all change when God is away from the office. Men feel they have a free hand to interpret the scriptures however they like. After all, God is not saying anything so it must be okay, right? Denominations rule the unwashed masses with the iron hand of flesh because God has never said he cared one way or another. And worst of all, we live and act as if God is just pleased as punch with whatever we give Him. He doesn’t expect much; after all, we are only human.
This is especially true in the area of ministry. We act as if a license to preach is a license to do whatever strikes us as being “godly”. We create good programs, centered on quasi-godly ideas. We cleverly market who we are and the “god” we have created in our minds as being the right one, for everyone, across the board. We build big churches and control people who we think God has given into our care. All because God is absent and not really saying anything one way or another about what we are doing. Look across the panorama of the American church system today and you will see a large percentage of those involved in that system doing what they feel is “right” in His name.
Because God is absent, we substitute in His place an image of God that we have created. We use scriptures to build this image, raping them to provide the most one-sided version possible, the version most conducive to what we ourselves have said about God in the past. For the grace crowd, that means ignoring or flat-out lying about large sections of scripture that plainly go against the ideas that they claim to be God’s plan. For the repentance crowd, it means forgetting His grace and love as you batter and beat everyone around you for not being “up to par” with your ideals. Either way, we scream from our ditch that those across the road in the other ditch are wrong.
This holds true whether you are Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Word of Faith or Episcopalian, COGIC, Methodist, African Methodist, whatever. One note sounds clear through all of the posturing and portraits that we paint: God is absent and we are all just guessing.
Read a hundred books; see a thousand preachers. Attend a million churches; sit in a dozen conferences, the song will remain the same. There are a lot of people intrigued by the idea of God but with no practical knowledge of the “god” that they are making all of these assumptions about.
It is interesting to note that Saul listened to the people when he made the decision to keep the best back as a sacrifice to God. They apparently were still going to offer them all to God as a sacrifice. Perhaps they felt it was better to offer it all in a big ceremony than just to simply destroy it where they found it as God had commanded. They were going to do what God said to do; they were just going to alter the way that it was done. After all, the ends justify the means. The sacrifices would be made as God had said, just in an improved way. Here we find the first parallel to the times that we live in.
More and more I hear from the Spirit that this is the age of Saul. First off, it says that on the way back, Saul built a monument for himself along the way. What are many of our ministries and churches if not exactly that? They are monuments to the preachers who built them or the congregations who inhabit them. They offer every convenience for people so that they will return. They put exactly the right light on the minister so that people look up to him, admire him even worship him. If God does not show up, does it matter at all? After all, isn’t God in the still, small voice as well? Isn’t the satisfaction you get from being around friends and family close to his heart? Aren’t the things that we are doing related to God and therefore isn’t He pleased with us?
Saul followed the desires of the common people in making his decision to alter the way he kept God’s command. The way they suggested seemed to be a good way to kill two birds with one stone, as it were. You could keep the command of God while keeping the people happy. Sounds good, right? Well, to everyone except for God, it seems. Because God responded, “to obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
When God says something, it is not open to interpretation. You cannot take it, perform only the core of what was required and call it good. To obey means to do what he says, how he says. There is no deviation allowed from what God commands, period. But Saul opted to appease the people while trying to obey God. There is another group guilty of this in the bible that not many are aware of, the Laodicean church from the book of Revelation.
When we think of the Laodiceans, we think of the luke-warm church. And that is obviously the case. But ever wonder how they got that way to begin with? You see, we can use archaeology to tell us all about the history of Laodicea but that tells us nothing of the church itself. What does speak volumes is the name itself. Laodicean is a compound word. Laos is found in Strong’s 2992: a people, people group, tribe, nation, all those who are of the same stock and language. This is where we get the word laity, the common people. The last part of the word is Dike, found in Strong’s 1349: custom, usage, self-evidently right or just. Taking those two together would be “what the common people consider to be right or just or the customs and opinions of the common people”. Sounds seeker-sensitive to me.
The Laodicean church probably began like all of the others. Somewhere along the way, however, something happened. They began to do things in line more with what the people felt than what God had said expressly. And as they did so, they created an atmosphere that was luke-warm, comfortable for the people attending. They became so comfortable in who they were that they succumbed to spiritual pride; they actually believed that they had no need of anything at all. They looked around at each other and noticed they were all the same and God was silent. They couldn’t be wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked! They had attained everything that they needed to, there was no need to repent, they had arrived.
But God said differently. You see, the person of God is not open for personal interpretation. Neither is service to God, for that matter. With him, the ends do not justify the means- only the will of God matters. In fact, God starts the letter to the Laodiceans by calling himself the “Amen, the faithful and true witness”. He is the “so be it”, faithful and true to perform what He says. He sees, as a witness, what God requires and no deviation from that is acceptable.
How the sound of the bleating of the sheep can be heard today in our country! How many of us perform what God requires, only in a slightly skewed way, based upon our own culture and ideals or worse, based upon what the crowds want around us? How many blow off what God said to do, justifying it with a million scriptures or the slight of hand of a master illusionist, showing all of what you have accomplished on the right while hiding where you have failed in your left? How many of us are doing a million things in His name and never asking His will in the first place regarding any of it?
How it is done is as important as what is being done. Who reading this letter will stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day with all that we have done in His name fresh on our lips, the smiles falling away as he calls us practitioners of lawlessness, who never considered asking what he wanted while we were busy performing everything we wanted him to ask of us?
Many shall say on that day.
Many. Not a few, not the exception, many will say to him on that day, “Lord, Lord”. And not be known. Because what matters to God is adherence to His will, not only doing His work. But we are all so busy with the “work of the Lord” that we feel we can ignore the Lord of that work.
Churches open 3 times a week, preachers preaching sermon after sermon to empty people in a godless environment. How can we sit in a place built to house the church as they meet God and where God is to meet His church, and never for a second wail at the fact that He is not even present there at our meetings? We can eye the girl ahead of us or think nasty thoughts of the person behind us that we don’t like. We can think about lunch or the ball game the entire time we are there. Because God is absent and none of it really matters, only that those around you see you acting pious and holy. And week after week, year after year, we never ask the simple question that should have been the very first one that we asked, “Where is God?”
America is in danger today because the church, which lives in her, is asleep at the wheel. We have made ministry a career and the absence of God an excuse for pushing our own agenda. In an age when God is absent, we have made spiritual excuses for this instead of stopping and looking long and hard at who we are and whom we serve. What is his will? Is what you are doing for him his will for you today?
Friend, you better hope that it is. Because God does not like those who do things in his name apart from his will. We are in danger as a country because we don’t pray; we just assume that we know. We are in danger because we sit back and jealously defend what we have said to be true for the last however many years; almost uncaring that God may be saying something different.
To obey is better than sacrifice. To be obedient is more important than what you do to serve Him. It did not matter that they were going to offer the best as a sacrifice; all that mattered was that they were lawless in their actions; rebellious to what God said to do. If rebellion is at the heart of your service to God, is it any wonder that He is absent from our services? Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft to God. And service to Him that is begun or worked out in rebellion is no service at all. It is a placebo, carefully designed to lull you into a state of complacency and eventually, apathy to His will.
To know His will in all things, beyond a guess, beyond reasoning and then to accomplish that revealed will is all that matters. Revival will come when we all make this step, to know Him and the fellowship of His sufferings. To make sure that the cup and His will are the same thing and then to drink it gladly, regardless of its contents.
Then and only then will we be able to find Him. When we stop programs that are needless and human-centered and find out His mind on the subject. When we pray rather than prance, petition rather than posture. When we would rather have nothing and know His will then have everything and be ignorant of it. When we can throw it all away just to find Him or rather, be found of Him. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds and we know what is that perfect and acceptable will of God in all things, then we will have revival.
What we have today is a Spirit of Saul running rampant in the church. This is one who calls himself a prophet, performing the duties of the office because he once prophesied. Someone who does a part of what God asks and balks that God should be displeased with Him. We have a church system that is busy doing the work of God apart from the will of the God they are supposedly working for in the first place. This is an entire generation that will be crying out “Lord, Lord, did we not…” on that day. Because they assumed they knew the will of God when God was silent. We say we are doing what is right but I hear the Spirit asking, “What is that bleating of the sheep that I hear?”
Because the ultimate proof of God’s being behind a work is God being felt in the work. And for the biggest of us, that presence is awfully small to be Jehovah.