When a person applies for a job, they are often given a job description. It is kind of a check list of things that the employer expects the employee to do. I have a job description for my work as pastor that the church gave me when I came. Every once in a while I check to see if I am doing the things that I have been asked to do.
Does God have a check list of things that He expects us to do if we are following Him? Of course the Bible has many lists of things which we as His children are expected to do. It is good every once in a while to look over some of these check lists to see if we are doing what God wants us to do. An interesting one appears in Psalm 50 and I would like to read Psalm 50:7-15 and think about what God wants of us.
In verse 7 we read, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak…I am God, your God.” Most often, in the Psalms, it is the Psalmist speaking to God. It is unusual that God is speaking, so we need to listen because He is giving us a check list of things which he want of us.
When God established a relationship with Israel, he gave them a list of the sacrifices he required of them. There are numerous passages in Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus which describe those sacrifices. We read about the burnt offerings, sin offerings, thank offerings and so on. They were a central part of the religious environment of Israel. In Psalm 50, we read that God does not rebuke them for bringing these sacrifices. They had been quite faithful in doing so, and yet, there is a rebuke here. The problem was that their sacrifices had become a ritual. They brought them out of duty and for reasons that God never intended. They brought the sacrifices as if they were doing God a favor. They thought that if they brought them, God would be pleased because they saw God like we see each other. They thought that he would be happy to have more. But God points out how foolish this perspective is. God has never needed the sacrifices they brought. God didn’t need an animal from them, He owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” so what could they give him that he did not already have? Furthermore, God wasn’t dependent on created things for his food. A rhetorical question in verse 13 implies that God does not eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats. Craigie says, “God is not a hungry God who depends on what we bring Him.” They had forgotten that the covenant was about a relationship to God and not about a ritual by which they could make God happy.
Although we do not bring animal sacrifices to God, we are prey to the same kind of thinking. We think that if we give God our time or our money, that we will somehow be able to please God and move him to favor us. Does God need our money? Does God need our time? One writer asks, “Do men fancy that the Lord needs banners, and music, and incense, and fine linen?” All things that live are his. Sometimes we want to buy a gift for someone who has everything and we don’t know what to get them. How much more is this true of God? If we are trying to please God and move him to favor by our gifts and sacrifices, we have misunderstood what it is that God wants of us.
The word “sacrifice” which is found in verse 8 where it refers to animal sacrifices, is the same word as that found in verse 14, where we are told that the sacrifice God wants is a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving. This is not the only place in the Bible where we are called to a sacrifice of praise or thanksgiving. In the New Testament, in I Thessalonians 5:18, we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances.” This is what God wants of us.
Why does God want us to bring a sacrifice of praise? One writer says, “God did not need thanksgiving to bolster his own self-esteem, as if (in the words of C.S. Lewis) he were ‘like a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who had never met or heard of him.’ God wanted thanksgiving, for that in turn emerged from human lives full of joy…”
Why do we need to give thanks to God? It is because as we do, we recognize that everything we have comes from God. Have you ever sat down and made a list of everything that God has given you? Let’s start with life. What about a roof over your head and the meals you will eat today. What about friendships, meaningful work, a Saviour, eternal life and we could go on and on.
Not only does thanksgiving recognize the gifts we have, it acknowledges them. God is, as the Bible says in another place, the giver of every good and perfect gift. When we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, we acknowledge Him as the source. No matter what our situation, we can think about what God has given and thank Him.
Furthermore, in Psalm 50:23, we realize that when we rejoice at God’s gifts to us and thank Him, we honor God. There it says, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me…” There is nothing in the world more important than honoring God.
So simply put, God wants us to recognize all the good we have in him and let him know that we understand it is from Him, we appreciate it and thank Him for it. Such a sacrifice moves us away from ritual and a consumer attitude towards God and moves us towards love, respect and appreciation for God.
When Jacob was on his way to his uncle Laban’s place, he stopped for night and during the night he had a dream in which he met God. After the dream, he made a promise to God. He said in Genesis 28:20-22, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
The Bible also tells us the story of Hannah. She had been unable to have a child for many years and really wanted a baby. One day when she was at the temple, she prayed to God in her anguish and made a vow. She said in I Samuel 1:11, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
What are the promises or vows that you have made to God? Have you promised to live for God and follow in a relationship to Him? Perhaps there are other vows that you have made in the presence of God. What about the marriage vow that those of us who are married have made? Or have you ever promised God that if He got you out of trouble you would give a gift to Him? Have you ever made a pledge to donate a certain amount of money to a mission or to a needy person? Perhaps during a revival you made a promise to God about how you will live your life.
How frustrating when people promise to do something for us and then forget or fail to follow through and we are left standing alone because they did not show up or we are left having to cover for them because they did not do what they promised. Broken promises between people cause a rift in their relationship. We weep when marriage vows are broken and the relationship is destroyed. Young people go to Bible school or to camp and have a tremendous spiritual experience and in their heart are quite sincere in the promises they make to God, but a few weeks or months later, the promises are forgotten. We proclaim to the whole congregation, when we are baptized, that we are followers of Jesus. A few years later, it is hard to see evidence of that commitment. What has happened to the covenant we made?
Both Jacob and Hannah made promises in the presence of God and when God had answered their prayer, they kept the promises they had made. The Bible puts a high premium on keeping the promises we make. Psalm 50:14 says, “fulfill your vows to the Most High…” If we are in a relationship with God, a part of that relationship is keeping the promises we have made even if it costs us something to keep the promise. If we keep the promises we make to God we build relationship with Him and that is what God wants of us.
When Jesus was about to face the cross, it was very difficult for him. He cried and sweat drops of blood in great anguish as he faced death on the cross.
When Paul and Silas were in Philippi they found themselves in jail because they had been proclaiming Jesus. They did not know what their fate would be and experienced the bondage and uncertainty and unpleasantness of being in jail.
In James 5:13 trials become personal when we are asked, “Is any one in trouble?”
Life sometimes brings a day of trouble. It might be a medical crisis, an emotional breakdown or a relational struggle. Life is seldom a bowl of cherries every day. Sometimes the bowl of cherries has whipped cream on top and sometimes it is the pits.
What did Jesus and Paul and Silas do in their situation of distress? When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane wrestling with his upcoming crucifixion, it says in Luke 22:44, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly…” When Paul and Silas were in prison, Acts 16:25 tells us that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” James 5:13 invites us, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray.”
In a similar way, in this passage God invites us to “call upon me in the day of trouble.” That is what God wants of us. He does not want a formalized relationship in which we fulfill duties. He wants a relationship in which we know that we need Him and in which we know Him well enough that we will be free to ask Him for help when we are in trouble.
This verse is interesting because of the connection between our need, prayer, God’s deliverance and giving glory to God. This is why we are invited to go to God in our time of trouble. When we do, God does what His love moves Him to do, He helps us and meets out need. But this verse also contains a promise. When He meets our need, we recognize that we have been helped because of His grace and as a result the glory goes to Him. If we can help ourselves, then we don’t really need God and when we get ourselves out of trouble, we receive the glory. If we know that we can’t do it ourselves, then we have nowhere to turn, but to God and God helps us and it is obvious that help comes only because of what God has done. When that is the case the glory goes to Him. John Piper says, “Prayer is the antidote for the disease of self-confidence that opposes God’s goal of getting glory by working for those who wait for him.” That is the relationship God wants - one in which he helps us and we recognize what he has done and glorify Him for it.
If God wanted more sacrifices, we could create a list of things to do and check them off when we have done them. That is not what God wants, rather, He wants us to recognize all the good things He has done for us and thank Him. He wants us to be faithful and obedient and so demonstrate the love we have for Him. He wants us to depend on His love to help us when we have times of trouble because He wants to help us and so bring glory to His name.
I don’t know about you, but these are things which I gladly do because they allow me to recognize God’s goodness, relate to Him in love and gladly bring honor and glory to Him. Let’s make these things a regular part of our lifestyle.