“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
Relate: I think it is quite possible that 1 Samuel 15:23 was the verse my dad quoted to me more than any other when I was a teenager. The thing is, I loved God. I was passionate for him, active in witnessing to my friends, and involved in some sort of church/youth function at least 5 days a week. When my grades weren’t good enough I was grounded from going to church. Yes, my dad was a pastor but this was the only thing that worked. At school and in the community, I was a saint. At home, I was a devil. When I was out in public I said and did all the right things. In my own, Pentecostal “relationship not religion” way, I was very religious. But when I got home, it was like a switch was turned off and the darkness came in.
I think I was a lot like Saul. He wanted to be seen as religious and godly. When Samuel confronted him about his sin, first Saul said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” When the lie was proven he then said, “Please don’t leave. Worship with me because everybody is watching.” Yes, he was acknowledging his sin, but he wasn’t repenting. He was merely trying to keep up appearances of being religious.
React: There’s that well-meaning but misguided viral youtube video, “Why I hate religion but love Jesus.” Religion has received a bad rap over the past few decades, but even those of us who try our hardest to distance ourselves from being “religious” still tend to be very religious. We may not light candles, burn incense, or some such but we have our own way of being religious. This isn’t a bad thing. We are rebelling against a liturgy and tradition that are very rich in depth and meaning if we are willing to dig into it. There is a beauty to a Latin Mass, to a Greek Orthodox service, or to a high church service that in my self-righteousness I have called idolatry. There is also a beauty to a country church with folding chairs where the worship includes a guitar, a few tambourines, and a lot of dancing. How we offer up our sacrifices isn’t what is important. What is important is whether or not our religiousness is born in obedience, carried out with humility, and flowing out of love. Does my Sunday sacrifice find its fruit in Tuesday’s obedience? Or am I just a religious pastor on Sunday and a rebellious warlock the rest of the week?
Help me to live in obedience. While not ignoring or downplaying my religious sacrifices, let my lifestyle be to You my greatest offering. I want to give to You a heart that is fully surrendered, not just a reputation that claims to be Yours. I want to give You a love that is deep and rich and active, not just a life that is active only when others are looking. Let my obedience be more important than my reputation.