“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’
“By offering defiled food on my altar.
“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’
“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.
“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty. Mal 1:6-9
What does it mean to give our best to God? This passage paints a very emphatic picture of the importance of giving our first fruits, and how it is seriously wrong it is to offer less than our best to God.
My problem is that passages like these can be a guilt trap for me, a snare of legalism. I can start thinking that I need to be giving more to God. And it is true. We really do need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door. We need to work as if working for the Lord.
But we can’t get on the performance roller coaster, and feel up or down, or that we’re doing well or poorly, because of how we are giving to the Lord at that particular time.
So how can we be motivated to be excellent, and still find peace? How do we find contentment if we are constantly striving to do better?
Maybe one way is to simply accept our lot as servants.
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ Luke 17:10
There’s something beautiful and fulfilling about pouring ourselves out for the one we love. As the hymn says, “His service is our sweetest delight.”
Another way is to just focus on loving God. If I direct my thoughts and heart to loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, a wonderful feeling washes over me, and I cease my unrest.
But what I want to talk about most here is the peace that God supplies. To address this subject, I want to remind everyone that God’s heart for his people is one of “hesed:” which means “covenant loyalties.” In the Old Testament, we can see how the Lord stuck with His people over and over again, acting on their account, having patience with them, meting out consequences for their stubborn waywardness, but then bringing them back to Him once again.
So Malachi reflects one of God’s last prophetic expression of hesed. He is basically saying, “I’ve been committed to you, but have you been committed to me?” After a history of rescuing them, God has now brought his people out of Babylonian captivity, back to Jerusalem. They should be overflowing with thanks, ready to serve Him wholeheartedly. But instead, they bring Him diseased offerings.
Doesn’t this sound like all of us? God has done so very much for us. But we can’t seem to reciprocate in kind.
This quote by Douglas Coupland really resonates with me: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”
I relate to this quote because I also reach the point where I can’t do the things I want to do.
It’s such an irony. We must give our best to God, our first fruits. Yet we are like the Israelites, who continually sink back into blind selfishness and only give a pittance.
And then we need God to help us give.
I want to share a story from this past weekend. Ken and I went down to visit an old high school friend who was having a hard time and needed some encouragement. Many years ago, Ken baptized this friend, but after a short time, the friend left the Lord. We hoped to be able to rekindle some spark of this friend’s faith.
I wanted so much to be a light for this friend, to show Christ by my life. But instead I felt like a rusty sputtering machine, like all my gears weren’t working, and my spirituality just wasn’t flowing.
We had this awesome church in mind where we wanted to take our friend Sunday morning. But it didn’t work out for us to go there, and we had to settle for taking him some place else. And on Sunday morning, as I was feeling uneasy about the way things were going, I felt in the Spirit that it would be great for our friend to hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and I prayed that the sermon message would be on the Prodigal Son.
Lo and behold, the message WAS on the Prodigal Son! It gave Ken and I a great springboard to share with our friend, and talk to him about his faith.
You see, the point of all this is that when our offering to the Lord seems paltry, God steps in and makes up the rest. He makes it clear to us that He is bigger than our efforts, and we can trust His working.
The Malachi passage above would be feel hopeless to me, except for one little verse, “Now plead with the Lord to be gracious to us.” In our insufficiency, we can always petition for the sufficiency of His grace.
So in conclusion, we really DO need to strive to give God our best. The prophet Malachi makes it very clear. Every day we must renew the determination in our heart to be excellent. We must remind ourselves that He has been lovingly committed to us, and reciprocate.
But we must also remember that every day we will fall short.
And because God loves us dearly and fiercely, He’s not letting go of us when fall short. Instead, He expands His goodness to cover our lack.
We find peace in the realization that God fills in the gaps between our inadequacies.
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. II Cor 8:12