God has been impressing on me lately, over and over, of the great importance of obedience. For the past several months, my heart has been meditating on 1 Samuel 15:22, “…to obey is better than sacrifice…” Without studying it too closely, I’ve had that scripture floating around my mind every day. For weeks. It was taking up so many of my thoughts that I began teaching it to my children, explaining to the girls that while doing nice things for God, for our family, or for our friends is kind and considerate, it is not nearly as important as obedience. They began to accept this and work it out in their own lives, one common example being how they’re now saving surprises and special projects to do until after their daily chores are done. I tried to quiet the incessant repetition and pressure on my heart by telling God, “See? I’m faithfully teaching my children the things You say in Your word. It’s making a visible difference in their lives. Am I done now with what I was supposed to get out of that scripture?”
But I was not. I read a section of the Bible every morning to my daughters as part of our school time together, and in July we began to read the book of John. And with “to obey is better than sacrifice” still swirling in my mind, I very quickly discovered a verse I’d previously paid little attention to, but afterwards it would not leave me alone: Speaking to a man He’d miraculously healed, Jesus said, “See, you are well now. But stop sinning or something worse may happen to you!” (John 5:14). The poor man had been sick for 38 years. What on earth could happen to him that might be worse than that? But the condition of this man’s heart was important, certainly more so than the state of his body. Jesus made that clear when He left him with a warning against continuing to sin.
What did Jesus say to the woman who was going to be stoned for adultery? “So also I don’t judge you. Go now, and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Jesus just saved her life. Literally. As in, the law stated that she should be put to death by stoning. And Jesus stepped in, and her accusers left. But the condition of her heart was worth more than her earthly life (which would, of course, eventually end). So Jesus told her to stop sinning.
How many more stories can you relate of Jesus telling those He healed or forgave to “sin no more”?
Then my husband directed me to a sermon he’d listened to from a wonderful pastor here in town that hit the nail on the head concerning John 15 (where Jesus is talking about the vine and the branches). What’s coming from my heart? Am I bearing the fruits born out of obedience? (Go listen to it. Really.)
Then I was praying with my daughter V for a relative’s sickness, and she said, “Mommy, Jesus will heal her heart and then her body will be better.” Out of the mouths of babes, right? Everywhere I turned I was confronted with this examination of one’s heart, this need to put right our innermost being above anything else.
A heart of obedience is so incredibly important. I went back to 1 Samuel to reread some verses about Saul, hoping to get this troublesome and convicting topic off my heart and mind. Surely if I examined the context, I would finally be at rest. Here’s the story connecting obedience + sacrifice:
“Then he waited seven days, according to the time set by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. So Saul said, “Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.” And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might greet him.
And Samuel said, “What have you done?”
Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.”
And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” -1Samuel 13:8-14
Samuel had given Saul specific instructions to wait for him before offering any sacrifices – that was Samuel’s job, not Saul’s. But the situation was tense, a bunch of people went into hiding, and even those who stayed at Saul’s side trembled in fear. So Saul decided to go ahead and take care of it. He disobeyed the command of God. And he lost his throne because of it. I don’t remember ever thinking much about this part: “For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”
DAVID WAS NOT GOD’S FIRST CHOICE. We all know David, right? How much he loved God, how strong his faith was, how he was a direct ancestor of Jesus on both Joseph’s and Mary’s sides. But God first intended Saul’s kingdom to be established. All Saul had to do was to obey, to have a heart that desired God more than himself. SAUL’S HEART OF DISOBEDIENCE AFFECTED ALL OF HISTORY. He offered a sacrifice (a good thing) instead of obeying. And because of that, his reign was over.
But even David sinned, right? Everyone sins. This is true. But “The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart…” David was human, and he sinned. But he sought after God’s heart with everything within him. His heart was God’s. I don’t think Saul had a heart after God. I think God gave him every opportunity to choose to follow Him completely, but Saul refused, and this one instance of disobedience simply reflected his heart, which was not turned fully toward his Lord. 1 Samuel 10:9 even says that “God gave him (Saul) another heart…” God was willing and desirous for Saul to be king over Israel and for his lineage to remain so forever. But Saul had a choice. And really, I think there were warning signs before he outright disobeyed.After all, he hid from his appointment as king (1 Samuel 10:22) in spite of being chosen by God.
Somehow I’d always had the idea that God just kind of allowed Saul to become king to appease the people, but that He never really intended his line to remain forever (hence great King David). But no, God chose Saul. Saul refused to follow God, and God removed him. Then God “sought for Himself a man after His own heart” and found young David, a shepherd who truly loved God with all of his being, who sinned but was profoundly repentant and restored to his standing before God.
A man after God’s own heart is obedient, first and foremost. All our sacrifices are worthless if we are not obeying our Lord. If He has healed us like the invalid, or saved us like the adulteress, or set us apart for a special purpose like Saul, He still requires obedience. He doesn’t request it of us or have a sweet appreciation of it on the occasions or in the rare instances that we feel like obeying Him. He demands it. He requires it. He is a jealous God and will not share our hearts with anything else – even the sacrifices we offer to Him, if they are not first grounded in obedience.
The Bible says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) And again, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” (Philippians 2:12) Look, we’re not (as believers) supposed to be scared of God, but we are to have an appropriate fear of Him and what He can do (“able to destroy both soul and body in hell”). And if He requires obedience, we need to understand that if we refuse, we are risking His purpose for our lives on this earth, and we are risking our eternity.
And before anyone jumps on the rabbit trail of eternal security, may I just say that every argument for eternal security I’ve ever heard was really just an excuse not to live in complete obedience to God. Think about it. If you’re relying on eternal security instead of spending your days seeking after God and following Him, then your focus is wrong, and your argument is worthless. Because whether eternal security is true or not, God has made it abundantly clear that He requires obedience. And if we’re pressing in to Him, then He can grant us assurance of our salvation. We then have no need to point at the concept of eternal security as our comfort and confidence because He is our comfort and confidence.
So now what? Y’all, I’ve been convicted now for some time that there were areas in my life where I was not walking in obedience to God. After I did my brief little look at Saul’s heart vs. David’s heart, I had to get on my face before God and repent. I do not want my heart, which I know for a fact was HEALED from the infirmary of sin and SAVED from sin’s wages, which is death, to be hardened now toward God because of disobedience. Practically speaking though, how do I train my heart to yearn after God, to obey Him and follow Him only?
Isaiah says, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.Cease to do evil, learn to do good.” (1:16-17a)
Y’all, in all of this obedience I’m talking about here, I’m not even thinking of “big things” like becoming a missionary or starting a ministry or adopting a child, etc. I’m referring to basic obedience:”Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;” acknowledge the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life concerning your own pride, your selfishness, your unloving attitude toward others, your lies, the TRASH you read or watch on the television or listen to on the radio, your greed, your lusts, your fears, etc. Then truly, honestly, get down on your knees and face before God to repent of these things. “Put away the evil of your doings.” That tv show you consider a guilty pleasure? Turn it off for the last time. That unChristlike attitude toward your spouse? Stop it. Whatever it is that leads your heart away from seeking after God only, get rid of it. No matter the cost, because it’s not worth it. And may I say that if you look at the things you love, whether it’s a type of music, money, books or movies, your own comfort – whatever it may be – and you think to yourself that you can’t lay it down, then you need to really examine your heart and check whether you might have spent so much time silencing the Holy Spirit’s convictions that you’ve now hardened your heart altogether. Don’t deceive yourself. God is a jealous God (2 Cor. 11:2), and He demands all of us, not the least bit willing to share space in our lives with anything evil. “Cease to do evil,” He says. “Learn to do good.”
He desires us, you guys. All of us. Our whole hearts. And He is more than willing to heal us, to save us, to redeem us. But He requires obedience. And when I meditate on that, and I examine my own heart, a healthy fear of God and what He can do wells up inside of me – for myself, but also for all the multitudes of people who call themselves Christians. This is real life, everyone. Right now, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.
“Stop sinning, lest something worse come upon you.”
“Go now, and sin no more.”
“For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”
I want to train my heart, to curb my own affections, to seek God with everything in me so that I might be a woman after God’s own heart. What about you?