The luggage cart groaned beneath the weight of all my suitcases. I obviously loaded it with more than I should have. Nevertheless, I headed toward the long, steep, concrete ramp, attempting to steady the contents of the cart as I went. As I made my way down the ramp, the cart gradually began to pick up speed until I could no longer control it. Pigeons, tourists, and cab drivers scrambled in a desperate attempt to get out of my way as I sped recklessly downhill.
By the time the wild ride was over, I had several cuts and bruises on my left shin. In spite of my injuries, I refused all offers of help, and with as much dignity as I could muster, held my head high and limped painfully to a waiting cab.
Although I've never been foolish enough to overload another luggage cart, I do have a tendency to overload my life. As I pile on extra obligations, the "luggage cart" of my life begins to speed out of control.
When I look around, I realize I'm not the only one with this problem. In my life, and in the lives of many people I know, out-of-control lives are a direct result of yielding to the expectations and requirements of ourselves and others.
Christians often have even greater problems with stress. In addition to career, family, and community responsibilities, we also have commitments within the church. There is always one more committee to sign up for, another Sunday school class to be taught, and a volunteer needed to give a devotional at the next Bible study.
The church I attend today doesn't put a tremendous amount of pressure on me to "perform," but at times I put pressure on myself. Although I know I am saved by grace, I often act as if good works will bring me closer to God.
This predicament is nothing new. We're all familiar with the Pharisees. Their problem is summarized in Matthew 23:23: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the lawjustice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former."
Going even further back, into the book of Micah, we see the same mentality expressed again. Micah 6:6, 7 says, "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
God's people were trying to figure out a way to get close to Him. The question seems to be, "Can I buy my way into God's grace?" A modern day rendition might read as follows: "What shall I do to gain entrance into God's presence? How can I truly worship Him? Should I teach Sunday school, join the worship team, and increase my giving? Will I become holy if I sacrifice everything?"
God showed them a better way. He showed them that rather than doing what the law required, He wanted them to do what was good. In beautiful simplicity, Micah 6:8 lays out exactly what He requires: acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Man's way (sacrifices and offerings) focuses on things. God's way (justice, love and mercy) deals with attitudes of the heart, and focuses on proper relationships. Man's way says, "Do more." God's way says, "Be more."
As we learn to focus on what the Lord requires of us, and get away from the expectations of others, not only will we develop more intimate relationships, but the stress in our life will be reduced significantly as well.
Let's take a look at the three things God requires.
When we act justly, we live in proper social, political, and working relationships with others. Justice is no longer the norm in today's society. That's why I was so surprised when I experienced justice from an unlikely source: a chimney sweep.
I called the chimney sweep when the first cold front hit; the prior owners of our home had never had the chimney cleaned and I assumed it was very dirty.
"I have good news and bad news," the sweep announced.
Oh no! I thought. I'll bet there's something terribly wrong."
He continued, "The good news is that your chimney doesn't need to be cleaned. The bad news is I'm not going to make any money this morning!"
His truthfulness caught me off guard. It also made my day.
Acting justly cost the chimney sweep some money he could have easily made. But I believe God will bless him for his honesty; I told several of my friends in San Angelo who to call when they need their chimney cleaned!
When we love mercy, we exhibit the quality of unconditional love. We make the choice to let go of bitterness and forgive others, even when they don't deserve it. Rather than seeking revenge, we allow God to be our defense.
I met Steve and Julie, a young military couple, shortly after they moved to Hawaii from Nebraska. They had a zeal for God and an uncommon desire to serve Him. They also had a lot of problems. My husband and I found ourselves helping them through many difficult times.
Because of that, I was totally shocked when Julie called and let me have it.
"You just don't care about people," she lamented.
"You're a self-centered jerk!" she continued.
Her tirade lasted for more than an hour. I had somehow offended her, and in her mind what I did was unforgivable.
My initial response was anger. But then, I felt God softening my heart and saying to me, "Show mercy. Love Julie in spite of her hatred toward you." Showing mercy to Julie was one of the hardest things I've had to do. It required an outpouring of God's grace on my life on a daily basis.
Every Sunday morning when I saw Julie at church, God prompted me to go out of my way to greet her. I was very uncomfortable with it. Several times she got up and walked away from me. Other times she acted as if she didn't see or hear me. This continued for several months.
During this time, Steve and Julie's problems continued. Their van broke down and they didn't have the money to fix it. Again, God said, "Show mercy." My husband and I both knew God was prompting us to give anonymously the money needed to fix the van.
Steve and Julie eventually left our church out of frustration. About a year later, the phone rang. I was surprised to hear Julie's voice on the other end. Her words caught me by surprise.
"I just want you to know that I've come to admire you. I love you, Rebecca." I could honestly respond, "I love you too, Julie."
As we extend the hand of mercy to others, God's grace and mercy will in turn be poured out on us.
Walking Humbly With God
Walking humbly with God is learning to let go of pride. It's also making the decision to follow God's leading. Unless we are willing to humble ourselves, and let go of our own plans and desires, we will find it impossible to submit to God's authority. Humility is dying to self, even to the point of sacrificing our reputation.
Pride was at least a partial cause of my luggage cart's going out of control. At the time I was a single twenty-one-year old, traveling through Europe conducting teacher training seminars in churches. As a single woman, I was overly concerned about my appearance. I had so much luggage because I wanted to make sure I had the perfect outfit, including shoes, purses, and other accessories, for every conceivable situation.
Pride can have a direct result not just on temporal things such as our appearance, but on "spiritual" things as well. How often do we work in the church out of pride?
One summer when my children were young, the youth minister at my church, was looking for people to help with VBS. Although I had absolutely no desire to do it, I seriously considered helping. I expressed my frustration to my husband.
"Rebecca, how does teaching VBS fit with what God has called you to do?" he asked.
I realized it had nothing to do with what God was asking me to do. I considered helping with VBS not because I felt God was directing me to, but because I was concerned with what people in the church would think if I didn't help. After all, my two kids would be participating in VBS, and I assumed people would expect me to help.
Although Micah 6:8 is clear, concise, and brief, putting it into practice will deeply affect the way we relate to God and others. God is not looking for burnt offerings or sacrifices. He is looking for those who are willing to humble themselves as they extend mercy and justice to the world.
Copyright by Rebecca Livermore, a Christian speaker and writer from Denver, Colorado. Her passion is helping people grow spiritually. To read more of her articles, visit http://www.rebeccalivermore.com , www.helpforchristianwriters.blogspot.com or www.relevantdevotions.blogspot.com .
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Rebecca, I was impressed with the things that stood out as I read this. I think you have dealt with a serious problem some of us may have, that of doing what we think we should do rather than seeking God's will. Thomas
Excellent, beautifully written. "After all, my two kids would be participating in VBS, and I assumed people would expect me to help." That was the best point you made, I thought. We must stick to what God has called us to do, and cut out all that sidetracks.