Back when I was a child, I was notorious for having a less than cheery attitude (I’d like to think I am getting better at this… but I guess that’s for you to decide.) My dad would always remind me about my bad attitude by pointing out every time I made a new word when asked to do (or stop doing) something.
Dad: “Ben, do the dishes.” Me: “Fiiiiiiiiiinuuuugggghhh”
Dad: “Ben, stop playing video games and go to bed.” Me: “Okayuuuuuggggghh”
Dad: “Ben, we can’t go and do that right now.” Me: “But you saiduuuugggghhhh.”
I think three examples is enough…
The point is, even though I technically obeyed what was asked, or accepting things as they were (not that I had a choice) I didn’t exactly have a pure reaction, did I?
Over the last couple weeks, we have emphasized who God is, who we are, and the responsibility that comes with this identity and relationship with God. We have learned that our worship (in whatever form) is obedience to God. We have also learned that our role as priests means that we are also to steward our lives and environments in such a way that others are invited and compelled to do the same.
But if we are living a life of obedience in the same way that I was when I was under my parents’ authority, should we be surprised if our obedience is less than joyfully contagious?
Here’s an adult example. Can we not all think at least a few laws in our society that we obey, not because we want to or see the benefits, but simply because citations are expensive and jail cells are uncomfortable? And when we point out the laws broken by others, are they not usually the ones that have some kind of negative effect on how we feel, while the laws we break (when nobody looks of course) are “not a big deal?”
As we have already covered a few weeks ago, our intentions (motivations) matter. So, if we obey so we don’t get in trouble, or if we obey to get a desired response (from God or others) then we may miss out on the fruit of our actions. When Jesus talks about the hypocrites in the Sermon on the Mount, he mentions those with off-centered intents as “receiving their reward in full.” What this means (and I believe it applies to worship/obedience) is that God can still use obedience with a bad attitude, and we may even be rewarded from an Earthly perspective (avoiding jail time for example) but we miss out on the spiritual fruit that comes from pure intent. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church (the church that definitely had issues with motivations and intent) includes this heart check when talking about obedience in generosity. He writes. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
So, if we seek to live a life of worship, and if we seek to invite others to do the same, it might be good to focus first on quality instead of quantity. Not quality in the sense of results (those are so often out of our control) but in the sense of whether our actions are out of love for God and others instead of compulsion or guilt. Not so that our offering is better, but that we receive the blessing that God desires for us as we give.
To close out this thought, let’s read David’s heart in Psalm 40 as he describes his heart (motivation) to worship God.
“I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart. I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly.” (Psalm 40:8-10)
So, let’s follow up our obedience with a hallelujah (God be praised) without the additional uuuggghhhhh.