How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying His commands.
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1 Samuel 18:5-19:24
A shadow fell across my laptop screen and I looked up to see my friend standing over my shoulder, holding his usual 4-shot mocha.
“Finishing your book?” he asked.
I nodded and smiled.
“Time for a break?”
I nodded again, so he eased himself into a chair across the table from me. We talked briefly about his job, my deadline, and why Starbucks insists on playing their music so loudly. And then my friend began talking about church … and why he doesn’t go.
I didn’t know that. He’d mentioned something about his church once, so far as I knew, he went regularly.
“I went every Sunday for awhile,” he said. “but I quit going after about three months. I just didn’t enjoy it anymore.”
On occasion, I hear things that leave me speechless. My mute state doesn’t last long, but in that span of confusion, while I’m trying to force illogical words into recognizable patterns, I can’t think of a single response.
During this pause, my friend continued. “I don’t need it. I can just worship God by myself.”
I regained my ability to speak. “Well, sure you can. I mean, God isn’t locked in a building. You can worship him anytime, anywhere. But why do you suppose he told us to not forsake gathering together? And what about the fact that Jesus–through whom all things were made, including the synagogue, the priests and the scrolls they held and read from–went to that synagogue regularly and sat through the teaching?”
My friend smiled and nodded, as thought he had no issue with what I said. Then he shrugged. “I just don’t enjoy it. And I don’t force myself to do things I don’t find enjoyable.”
I like this person. Since meeting him about a year ago (through a mutual friend), I’ve loved talking with him about the Bible. Though not typically a reader, he’ll stay up late reading his Bible. It’s been a blessing to hear his passionate outbursts about something he’d just read. But this new announcement startled me.
I felt as if we spoke different languages. To my way of thinking, if God says to do something, you do it. And if we’re followers of Christ, we imitate Christ. So that settles the matter, in my opinion. But my friend went by a different standard. To him, if it feels good–do it. Otherwise, stay home. How could we reach an understanding with such conflicting foundations?
I appealed to his desire for maturity. “We grow as we yield. The more we obey, the more God uses us. But if we only obey in the things we want to obey in, we remain spiritual infants. Our obedience can’t be based on our emotion–it has to be based on our willingness to love and serve God.”
I think I offended my friend with that. “I do lots of things I don’t want to do,” he insisted. He then went on to list all the things he does around his home to help his wife. They were good things, all of them. But it still didn’t answer the question of why he wouldn’t plug into a church.
“But if you obey in forty thngs and keep one thing back for yourself, one thing that you refuse to give over to God, that’s the very thing he wants from you,” I said. “And this isn’t even a hard thing. This is simply fellowshiping with his people and being strengthened for the coming week.”
He didn’t budge. So I appealed to his sense of responsibility. “You’ve been given a spiritual gift. God gave you something unique, something the body of Christ needs from you. It’s not yours to hoard. For the body to function properly, we need to use our gifts to bless one another.”
He still didn’t budge. I couldn’t get him to acknowledge a single thing I’d said. And after a half an hour of unproductive conversation, my friend wished me luck on the last chapter of my book and left.
When I turned back to my work, after watching him drive out of the Starbucks parking lot, I couldn’t write. My heart felt incredibly heavy, and as I sat there sorting out my thoughts, I realized the one question I could have asked that may have pierced my friend’s stubbornness; the one question that should be asked of each of us who claim to belong to Christ:
What won’t you do for your Savior?
What line will you refuse to cross? What command will you deem unreasonable? What suggestion will you ignore? What blessing will you withhold … from the One who withheld nothing for you? Is it possible to picture the broken body of Jesus hanging on that rough, bloody cross and see those eyes looking straight into your soul and determinedly hold your ground? “This, Lord. This is the thing you may not have from me.”
Oh, God. I’ll turn this around and point it straight to myself. Teach me, God. Teach me to hold every dream, every passion, every preference, every opinion with an open hand. Give me the desire to obey whatever You ask, to yield when You say yield, to stop and go at Your slightest whisper. Let there be nothing in all the world I would not do or give up for You.
Jesus, you proved your love with an extravagent sacrifice. Help me to do the same.