Thursday, 6 April 2017

What does God want?

Thinking over the readings for the morning Office - the prayers and readings which are set out for each day - and was struck by the following verse from Psalm 40 (verse 7) which in my translation goes like this:

"In sacrifice and offerings, you take no pleasure,
you have given me ears to hear you.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, and so I said, "Behold, I come."

Lots of different things can drive our Christian walk. Family, tradition, duty, obligation, fear, self-preservation, doing what you are told to do, or what you have always done. All of these can be found in the Bible. Some of these things are good things, but when they become an end in themselves they can be fruitless or even damaging.

The writer of Psalm 40 was used to the yearly round of sacrifices at the Temple which God, in His Law, commanded should be offered at certain times and seasons (see Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy). As a committed, dutiful and devout Jew he would have made his offerings to God at the appointed times. But something changed in his life and he came to realize that God wanted more than this. He discovered that what really pleased God was not sacrifice and offerings but the loving attention of His people:

"In sacrifice and offerings, you take no pleasure,
you have given me ears to hear you."

God wants us to listen and be attentive to Him. He wants us. He wants a relationship with us. He wants to speak with us, engage with us, relate to us, love us. He wants us over and above all the sacrifices and religious stuff we do. That is not to say that those things are wrong, provided they are an expression of our love and not a substitute for it, which sadly, they are. In fact, the only 'requirement' that God really wants, the bottom line of the Christian faith is that we come to Him as we are:

"Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required,
and so I said, "Behold, I come."

Notice that there is no qualification to the 'I'. It is not a holy 'I' or a perfect 'I' or a worthy 'I' that God wants. He just wants us, just as we are. Which reminds me of that wonderful hymn by Charlotte Elliott:

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt;
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive;
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
has broken every barrier down;
now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
the breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
here for a season, then above:
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

The hymn beautifully captures how we are to come to God. And yet how many time, unthinking, have we sung it in Church? But look at it closely and note how we are to come, and HOW God wants us to come to Him:

Just as I am, without one plea....poor, wretched, blind etc.. Doesn't that throw the door open wide, not narrow it down to the perfect, the faultless, the sinless and the saintly?

I am reminded of the words of the One who brought this home to us so powerfully when He makes this promise:

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

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