Vital Signs: 5 Ways To Assess Your Spiritual Health (Part 3)

lazy-kangarooWell, 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)

Vital Signs: Five Ways To Assess Your Spiritual Health (Part 2)

In this series, we’re taking a look at five ways to see how you’re ‘really doing’ in your walk with God from Malachi 1.  You can see the first post here.

  • 2. Do you want to do Christianity your way?

“Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?’  You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong?”  (verses 7-8)

If you’re unfamiliar with the Old Testament, this may need a little explaining.  As part of their worship, Israel was supposed to offer animal sacrifices.  Through these sacrifices, God was teaching them some important truths: that he was perfect, they were flawed, and, that the appropriate penalty for not responding to God’s love was death.  Kindly, though, in the sacrificial system God allowed the animal to die in the worshipper’s place. (This also provided a vivid picture of what Jesus, the ‘lamb of God’, would one day do on the cross).

With that background in place, let’s get back to our main point.  The Israelites were supposed to offer some of their best animals for their sacrifices – ones without defects – because God is ‘a great King’ (verse 14).  However, they were bringing him their leftovers – diseased, blind, and lame animals they couldn’t otherwise sell.

This is where the application gets interesting for us.  We don’t offer sacrifices anymore because Jesus did that, once and for all, on the cross.  However, we’re supposed to give him our very best in all that we do (see Rom. 12:1-2Col. 3:23).

If I look at my life, I’ve got to be honest: so many times I give God my leftovers.  Waiting to pray until the end of the day, when I barely have any energy.  Staying up late the night before worship and finding myself zombie-like in the pew.  Giving my money grudgingly, wishing I could spend it on other things.  Letting my work dominate my life to the exclusion of other things – and people – he’s called me to.  And just generally living as though he were an addition to my life rather than the center.

How about you?  Where do you find yourself giving God the leftovers?  The good news is that God is gracious.  If you’ve put your trust in Jesus, through his life and death, Jesus put you first and now God accepts you as if you had never sinned.  (Let that sink in).  Helping us get over ourselves and put him in his rightful is nothing compared to that!

Why not take a moment right now and ask him for the help he’s ready to give?  ‘But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from [= give us power to overcome] all wickedness.’  (1 John 1:9)