Tuesday, September 05, 2006

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

For those of us who work with persecuted Christians, sacrifice is a concept that we learn to highly value. We witness the tremendous suffering and hardships that our brothers and sisters endure (and even embrace) as they demonstrate courage and a readiness to sacrifice everything for the sake of Christ. And we rightfully seek to imitate them.

Having written and researched extensively on the theology of suffering, persecution and discipleship, sacrifice is a word that has come up frequently in my study and for good reason. Sacrificial service for God is called for if His purposes are to be fulfilled in this world. This is a biblical concept worth emphasizing and adopting in this day and age when spirituality has degenerated to individualistic self-satisfaction for so many.

This morning, however, God showed me something about sacrifice that I am not sure that I would have received had I not been in hospital for the past eleven days with a dangerously low white blood count, a fevered mind and a discouraged soul.

My tenth morning at Credit Valley Hospital dawned early today with a song running through my mind that I had not heard in quite some time. Its main refrain is taken from a scriptural passage that I had read not long ago in my morning devotions but which had not impacted me at the time. The passage is 1 Samuel 15:22 and the song is the Keith Green classic "To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice."

My mind was clear, I didn't have a fever (the first time that I had happened in 11 days) and I was surrounded with the sense that the Lord was trying to get something through to me. He did not hesitate to speak. He showed me that I had fallen into the snare of sacrificing for things that He was not asking me to do (at least not at this time). As I prepare to take on the CEO responsibilities here at The Voice of the Martyrs in January, I know that my primary job right now needs to be that of helping equip the wonderful staff that God has given us as we move through this time of transition and growth. My busyness in the past few weeks preparing for classes and consultation meetings had so preoccupied me that other responsibilities had been neglected. I had put off equipping team leaders, preparing for upcoming vital meetings and spending time encouraging my colleagues and getting to know and develop two of our newest staff members.

And so with one fell swoop, on August 16, all of the sacrifices went for nothing. I was hospitalized and both the classes and consultation meetings were cancelled. I felt lower than I had for years.

Until this morning, when God helped me to see that sacrifice that is not rooted and finds fruition in obedience to the voice of God is, as the prophet Samuel said to Saul, presumption and can fester into active rebelliousness. I had not fallen so far as rebellion, but I has been guilty of not listening to God as closely as I should have and presuming that the good things that I was busy with were the things that He wanted to me to do. At another time, they might have been (and they may very well be yet again in the near future). But as I examined my heart, I considered just how much I had prayed about these opportunities when they had first crossed my desk several months ago? Not enough, I had to confess. The reason? Simple. They are things that I am gifted in, things that our mission is all about, things that I delight in, things that God has used me in the past to glorify His name with. They were things that God might ordinarily want me to do. But obviously not this time and I hadn't taken the time to find that out until it was too late.

I still believe that God calls for sacrificial cross-bearers. But He calls for those who follow only Jesus and are not walking on their own, even well-intentioned, paths of discipleship.

The tricky part is that the points of diversion between the two paths are not always so easy to see. But I am committed to listening more to what God is saying BEFORE I commit myself to a specific task or accept an invitation. I have been guilty of not being so good at this in the past.

In the wee hours of this morning, as God ministered to me on my hospital bed, I confessed to Him my failure to listen to His voice in these matters. As I did so, in my mind, I saw a gate open and He told me that I was ready to go. What grace! What a Master I serve! I felt Him sweep away all of my responsibilities; in my mind I saw them rush away in a great, dark river and I knew that I was ready to begin again. By 3:00 this afternoon, I was on my way home from the hospital. Still weak and certainly not ready to take on the world again quite yet. But I am deeply moved by what God did in my life today and I wanted to share this with you.
To obey is better than sacrifice. This is where it begins; obedience, listening to God and acting accordingly. Nothing terribly profound, I know, but something that is so very easy for leaders, in particular, to forget. The "Saul" principles of equating sacrifice with obedience, of rushing ahead while neglecting God's voice is an ever-present risk for us.

Presuming to be doing God's will without really having listened to God's Word afresh can be well-intentioned and easy when one has had a record of success in the past. But it opens the door for disaster for the future.


Adele Konyndyk said...

Your experience certainly proves that with God there is no such thing as "wasted time." He's always teaching us more about His will for our lives--even when our own plans get interrupted by events that seem discouraging or "wrong."

It's wonderful to have you back, Glenn. May the Lord continue to bless you and may He also bless and guide all of us at VOMC during this exciting period of transition and growth. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, Glenn. You know, sometimes God's voice seems somewhat elusive, if not entirely muted. Hearing His voice; oh, to sit in His presence and soak in His instruction, allowing His Spirit to minister through us to those He's specifically delegated to our care. Sadly, I think God often finds our hearts somewhat elusive. I hear you "loud and clear." Hopefully, I learn to hear the voice of God as clearly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Glenn.