What’s the last thing you asked God for? Did you get it? Did He answer your prayer? Or did it feel a little bit like He ignored your request? Maybe you asked for a job or a financial blessing. Maybe you asked for healing or for friendship. Maybe you even asked for victory over sin. Whatever the request, it seems like it fell on deaf ears. God didn’t even give you a sign that He heard you and was working on it! How rude.
It’s those kinds of experiences that can make anyone jealous of the Israelites and other people from Biblical times. It seems like God spoke to them so much more directly! Like in today’s chapter, when the Levites began their official duties as priests of the nation of Israel. What a big day. And God was right there with them. He described six (count em!) offerings that Aaron and his sons would make for themselves and for the people. For 15 verses (verses 8-22), Aaron does not take one break as he offers sacrifice after sacrifice. When he finally sits down, God shows His blessing and approval with fire. The Israelites “shouted for joy” (verse 24) and worshiped their God, who I’m sure felt very close to them in that moment.
The Treasures Within:
How To Achieve Joy
We all want to be joyful. We all want to be indifferent to the opinions of others. We want to be stress-free. We want to drink more water, make good money, and maintain a group of awesome friends. All the things we think we need, all the qualities we lack, we go in search of, thinking that once we achieve them, we will be happy. And so we chase happiness. We don’t know exactly what it is, but we know we want it. So we search, sure that we’ll come across it eventually. Meanwhile, the Israelites seem to have achieved this goal already. At the end of this chapter they are happy. They are cheering and smiling. They feel loved and safe. They have it all. How did they do that? How did they get there?
If we scour this chapter, we see that the Israelites made a sin offering, then a burnt offering, oh and then another burnt offering, three more offerings…and that’s it. But that can’t be all. The secret to joy cannot be killing animals. In reality, the secret to what the Israelites had comes a lot earlier in the chapter. In verse 6, Moses explains the offering bonanza and tells the people: “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” God specifically told the Israelites what to do. He told them how to serve and obey Him. He gave them commands. They did them. And then they were happy.
Does that sound familiar? Maybe it doesn’t. These days, we are very careful never to imply that if we follow God’s laws and commands perfectly, then God will love us and we’ll be happy and everything will be perfect. We try not to say it because it’s not true. But in our desperation to stop saying it, we start to say something just as dangerous: even if we don’t follow God’s laws and commands, we’ll still be happy and God will still be with us and bless us. This statement, like the first one, isn’t true.
There is only one thing that is unconditional: God’s love. No matter what we do, how many commands we break, or what we believe, God will never. Stop. Loving. Us. Hear that. It is the first truth. It is a beautiful truth. God’s love is truly unconditional, but His blessing and His favor and even His closeness are not. I cannot lie, yell at my family, indulge in sexual immorality, abuse my body, neglect time with God, or anything else that I know God has commanded me not to do and at the same time expect God to come close to me, to answer my prayers, and to bless me. I’m literally rejecting Him with my actions and beckoning Him closer with my words. That’s not how any relationship on this planet is supposed to work.
Yet we try. Technically, you and I and everyone can call themselves Christians while doing whatever the heck they want. But what we cannot do is be Christians while doing whatever the heck we want. We cannot be in God’s family. We cannot be close to Him. We cannot be saved. God loves us more than anyone has ever loved another person, and that’s just it! He loves us, therefore He can’t watch us destroy ourselves. He can’t smile and pretend everything is okay while we are falling deeper and deeper into the poisonous sin trap, the trap that will end our lives. So He requires us to obey Him. He commands us to do what He says. That is the condition. That is how we obtain joy. When we do what He says. Because He and only He knows exactly what true happiness is and He and only He knows how to give it.
God’s Message To Us:
“This love is all or nothing.” I have a sin problem. Everyone does, but I’ll talk about me. I am a glutton. I overeat like there’s no tomorrow. I abuse my body and ignore my conscience because food is just so awesome and just one more bite would bring me so much more “joy” than putting down the fork. It’s not till hours later, lying on my side, grimacing from heartburn and wishing for all the world that I could take it back, that I remember that that “joy” is not real. I was wrong about what would make me happy. So I turn over onto my knees and I pray and I ask God to help me stop and to give me real joy. I go to bed.
I get up in the morning, and…I skip my morning devotion. I curse at the crazy driver on the road. I snap at my mother. I justify all my selfish behaviors. And a million more sinful things. Then I overeat, again. And I look up at God and wonder why He didn’t help me. Why He didn’t hear my prayer. Why He didn’t answer me. But how could He? How could He pull me away from one sin when I’m clinging with all my strength to thirty-seven others? God doesn’t want that. If I knew any better, I’d know I don’t even want that. But I don’t know better, or I refuse to know better, and the cycle continues.
God has a solution to my problem, to your problem. But it comes with just one condition: believe Him. Believe that He is actually God. Believe that He actually does have all wisdom and knows what’s best. Believe that He actually does have all power and can help us obey all His commands. Believe that He actually does love us and will save us and never leave our sides. It sounds so simple, to just believe. Technically it is. But since the beginning of time, we have been complicating this simple solution, this simple formula to happiness and joy. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to believe. But what do you believe?
What do you think?