Well, it’s been awhile since my last post on this topic, but the beginning of the semester happened. I want to finish what I’ve started, though, so here’s Part 3 of my ‘Vital Signs’ series where we’re taking a look at 5 ways to see whether you’re spiritually healthy from Malachi chapter 1. (Here are the links for Part 1 and Part 2).
3. You find doing things God’s way burdensome or boring.
As a quick re-orientation, in Malachi’s time Israel was not doing well. Geographically, they were a fraction of their former size. Politically, they were ruled by the Persians. Spiritually, they were even worse – not seeing God’s promises fulfilled in the way they were anticipating, they had grown discouraged and cynical. Although they (mainly) weren’t committing the big, obvious sins, they were just going through the motions, the prime example being bringing God leftover, do-it-yourself sacrifices that didn’t follow the guidelines he established (see especially verses 7-8, 13).
When God calls them out, though, they respond by saying, ‘It’s too hard to serve the Lord’ (13). Which brings us to the point of this particular post: one sign of spiritual dysfunction is half-hearted obedience where we sort of do what God wants, but don’t want to put much effort into it.
It’s not too hard to think of examples from our (and my) own lives. Since the passage starts in the context of worship, let’s start there. Going to church, but not paying attention as we sing or listen to the sermon. Or wishing we could be at home. Or, on a private level, doing the minimum with bible reading or prayer. We check the boxes we’re supposed to, but not much more.
Part of the idea here includes boredom, too. The Message’s version of verse 13 says, ‘I’m bored – this doesn’t do anything for me.’ Ouch. How many times have we gone to church, served others, or, just done life in general – with a ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude? When we find God boring, we’re vulnerable to seeking what only he can provide elsewhere, in things that are easier and seem more exciting, like TV, the internet, and even the people around us. Over time, we’re less and less able to put any real effort into our relationship with God, especially when it’s costly.
And so, now is as good a time as any to do a little self-diagnosis here. Are there areas in your life where you’ve given God half-hearted obedience? Areas where you’re saying (in word or deed) that loving God is just too hard or boring? Places or people you’re turning to as stand-ins for God?
The good news is that God only shows us things to help us. The way forward always starts with one small step. Admitting we’ve been selfish or lazy. Asking for forgiveness. Taking a tiny step of effort we haven’t in a while. Asking a friend to check in with us, come alongside you. In fact, I’ve been realizing I need to put more effort into prayer and that I’ve let that slip more than I should have.
But most of all, we need to see again that God loves us and will never give up on us. After all, that’s where he starts in Malachi 1, before he even brings up their issues. ‘I have always loved you’ (2). His heart for us that never ends gives us the courage to face ourselves honestly and do the hard work of change. And, over time, his love brings us to the place where, more and more, we ‘keep his commandments’ and find that they are ‘not burdensome’. (1 John 5:3)