January 28, 2014

Just do my duty?

The first time someone told me that if you don’t feel like praying, don’t, I was dismayed. I figured that it was my duty to pray whether I felt like it or not. At that time, I didn’t understand how Christians can make an idol out of duty.

Today’s devotional tells of a retired soldier who was disciplined in all that he did and admired because of it. One day the author of the devotion approached him and gently asked if he might be governed more by a sense of duty than by dependence on God. The soldier saw it at once and agreed. He prayed that God would hold him together and direct his life, rather than duty.

This is not to be interpreted as “do whatever I feel like doing” but as “do what I do from the heart.” God does not want me in bondage to obligation and “rules.” Instead, He wants me to love Him, realizing the purpose of those rules. For one thing, He uses them to help me recognize sin and guide me in His ways.

I’ve been studying the relationship of law to gospel. Contrary to how many think, Jesus did not come to abolish the laws of God, but to fulfill them. He pointed out that love for God and others are the two greatest commandments, and that if we love Him, we will keep His “rules.” (John 14:15)

Of course, believing the Gospel and receiving Christ gives us Holy Spirit power. In Him, we can obey God from the heart. However, some of us easily slip into Christian life as a duty rather than a matter of the heart. I see the opposite of that this morning in the psalms . . .

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)

When asked something about Christian life, one Christian replied, “I hate rules,” but the writer of this psalm didn’t feel that way. He delighted in God’s laws and thought about them all the time. The writer of Psalm 119 takes 176 verses to say the same thing . . .  

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! (Psalm 119:1–3)  . . . You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. (119: 4–6) . . . I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (119:15–16) . . . Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (119:105) Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. (119:24)

This psalmist learned that the Law of God kept him from sin. Through the rules, God guided him. When he followed their directions, he was blessed and kept from shame.

God’s laws are both wise and eternal. The same psalmist says, “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens." (119:89) In an ascending litany of praise, he cries, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.” (119:97–100) “Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them.” (119:129)

What a difference between doing something out of love and doing something out of duty. The dutiful person might get the job done, but also might resent having to do it, or take pride in what has been accomplished. This is not the way of the psalmist nor the way of the Lord . . .

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

Instead of obeying God out of a sense of duty, God commands both obedience and joy in doing it. If the joy is not there, then I need to seek God’s face for a “heart adjustment” rather than go ahead without it.

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