Eight Things That Really Matter to God
Eight Things That Really Matter to God
My mother and father were great parents. They had strong values. My sister and I were left in no doubt about what mattered to them.
What mattered most to my father was honesty. I remember how my father used to say, ‘I expect to be believed.’ He regarded honesty as the highest possible value and sometimes went to absurd lengths to retain that standard.
On one occasion, when they were engaged, but not yet married, he and my mother got on the wrong bus. The bus conductor refused to accept any money as they had only travelled a few yards. My father was unhappy to have been unable to pay what he felt he owed. He sent the money for the fare to the bus company. They sent it back. This resulted in a long correspondence, which my mother found hard to understand (she joked that she almost broke off the engagement).
I remember, in my childhood, many similar incidents. My father may have been a little extreme, but my sister and I were in no doubt about what mattered to him: honesty. In our passages today, we see some of the things that really matter to God.
1. TrustPsalm 44:1-12
What do you place your trust in?
It is vital to put your trust in the right place. Your trust should not ultimately be in your own strength (‘It was not by their sword that they won… I do not trust in my bow’, vv.3,6). Rather, you are to trust the Lord: ‘It’s you, you who saved us’ (v.7, MSG).
The psalmist looks both backwards and forwards. As he looks back he says, ‘It was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them’ (v.3b). As he looks forwards he says, ‘You are my King and my God… Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes… you give us victory over our enemies’ (vv.4–5,7).
Lord, as I face the challenges of today and of the future, I thank you for the victories you have given us. I do not rely on my own strength for the future but instead put my trust in you.
2. CourageLuke 13:31-14:14
Do you find that you sometimes take decisions based on fear?
Nelson Mandela said, ‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’
It is not surprising, humanly speaking, that Jesus was crucified after three years of ministry. He was a man of great courage. When Jesus was told ‘run for your life! Herod’s on the hunt. He’s out to kill you!’ (13:31, MSG) he replied, ‘Go tell that fox…’ (v.32). Here, we see that Jesus had the courage to take on one of the most powerful (and evil) men of the day.
Nor was Jesus afraid of confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees. He did not avoid them. He often spent time in their company. It must have been tempting simply ‘to eat’ (14:1) with those who liked him and accepted him rather than with those who were suspicious and critical – those who watched his every move.
He also had the courage to heal the man ‘hugely swollen in his joints’ (v.2, MSG) on the Sabbath and then to confront the Pharisees about their views on this subject.
Is your heart moved by the people you come across?
Jesus not only had compassion for individuals (for example, healing the sick man, v.4), he also had compassion for the city (Jerusalem). In this passage, he uses maternal imagery to describe his love for God’s city: ‘How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings’ (13:34). (Interestingly, he quite naturally puts himself in the place of God, to whom both male and female imagery is applied in the Bible.)
Supremely, Jesus showed his compassion in going to his death on the cross for us.
The story is told of a fire in Yellowstone National Park, USA. When a forest ranger went to assess the damage, he discovered a bird that was lying dead, black and carbonised, at the bottom of a tree. It was a rather unnerving sight, so he pushed the bird over with a stick. Suddenly, three little chicks scurried out from under the wing of the dead mother. Because the mother had been willing to die out of compassion for her chicks, the chicks under her wing had lived. So too with Jesus, our mother hen – he died to protect us.
Do you worry about your status compared to others?
Jesus speaks about humility. He tells us to ‘take the lowest place’ (14:10). He says, ‘do not take the place of honour... For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’ (vv.8,11).
As The Message version puts it, ‘If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself’ (v.11, MSG).
Are you tempted to spend time with people of influence and wealth who will be able to pay you back?
Again and again the Scriptures come back to ‘the poor’. We see this in both the New Testament and the Old Testament readings for today. What matters to God is your attitude to the poor.
Jesus said, ‘When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed’ (vv.13–14). Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, a community for and with people with disabilities, has done this every day for over fifty years.
Jesus is encouraging us to seek out those who are poor in our own community. We are to spend our time serving those who ‘won’t be able to return the favour’ (v.14, MSG).
Moses said, ‘There should be no poor among you’ (Deuteronomy 15:4). He also said, ‘There will always be poor people in the land’ (v.11). Jesus said something similar: ‘The poor you will always have with you’ (Matthew 26:11). The fact that the poor will always be with us does not mean that we should not seek to eradicate poverty.
Lord Jesus, help me to be more like you – more courageous, more compassionate and more humble. Give me your heart for the poor, your eyes to see them and your heart to serve them.
6. GenerosityDeuteronomy 15:1-16:20
Do you ever find yourself being a little mean or penny-pinching?
The principle of generosity runs throughout the Bible. Don’t be ‘hard-hearted’ (15:7) when you see poverty and need. Don’t be ‘tight-fisted’ (v.7). Rather be ‘open-handed’ (v.8) – giving to all those who are in need. If people need to borrow from you, you should ‘freely lend’ (v.8) without interest. Always give generously without a grudging heart. We should ‘always be generous, open purse and hands’ (v.11, MSG).
Your giving is a response to God’s generosity to you: ‘Give to them as the Lord your God has blessed you’ (v.14).
Do you easily forget what God has done for you?
The people of God were called to ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt’ (v.15; 16:12). ‘Remember the time of your departure from Egypt’ (v.3). Part of the great festivals of Passover (vv.1–8), Weeks (vv.9–12) and Tabernacles (vv.13–17) was to do with remembrance (see v.3, ‘Remember...’).
One of the aspects of Holy Communion is that it is a constant reminder of the death and resurrection of Jesus – rescuing you from the slavery of sin and death, and setting you free to know God and to receive life in all its fullness – indeed, eternal life.
Do you care about justice?
Justice is of high value to God. Honesty matters to God (my father was right!). ‘Appoint judges... to judge the people fairly and honestly. Don’t twist the law. Don’t play favourites’ (vv.18–19a, MSG). Follow justice and justice alone’ (v.20).
The rule of law really matters. We see all around the world the terrible injustice and suffering that results in places where either there are no judges or the judges do not judge the people fairly. There are many parts of the world where the police and judges accept bribes. Hence the importance of this command, ‘Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous’ (v.19). Where the rule of law is not strong, the innocent can be arrested and imprisoned simply because someone has been dishonest and taken a bribe.
Lord, may my values be more like your values. May my thoughts and my ways become more like your thoughts and your ways. May what matters to me be what matters to you.
‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing!’
It must still be breaking Jesus’ heart to see the evil destruction in the Middle East and so many other parts of the world.
Verse of the Day
‘But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed' (Luke 14:13-14a).
Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom, (Abacus, 1995) p.748
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.