Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me? When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? ~ Zechariah 7:5-6
In these verses, God is rebuking a people who seemed to follow the letter of their religious tradition, but they did it for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t fast because they were seeking God, but to appear holy. They didn’t feast as a way of giving thanks and glory to Him, but for their own benefit.
So let me ask you a question: Do you serve God for your benefit, or for His?
It’s a hard question, but a necessary one. I’m thinking about my own life, and how often my relationship with God is more about me than Him. It’s about what He’s going to do for me; about how often I’m looking to Him to meet my needs. It’s very easy to slip into self-focused Christianity, a brand of religion that resembles a self-help seminar. It’s a faith that encourages me to follow God because it promises me peace and contentment. There is very little challenge to my status quo in self-help Christianity. This type of religion is rampant in the church today. And, unfortunately, it’s rampant in my heart too much of the time.
It’s pitiful really, how self-centered we have become. A friend sent me an email advertisement the other day about a new book promising to show you “how to unleash the power of faith as your greatest professional advantage.” I wanted to weep.
But there is an antidote to our narcissism, and it’s in verses 9-10 of Zechariah 7:
Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.
Notice how it’s all outwardly focused? Justice, mercy, compassion. They are all shown to others. When we are looking to meet the needs of the fatherless, the oppressed, the immigrants and the poor we don’t have time to self-obsess. When we are looking for ways to bless our brother instead of take from him, we are loosed from our selfishness. My worship of God becomes less about myself and more about Him. I’m no longer looking for affirmation or fulfillment, because those things are natural outgrowths of doing His work. I no longer seek to have my own needs met because my mind and heart or so focused on meeting the needs of others.
Until we get to that point, all our church services, worship bands, sermons, books, cd’s and everything else are meaningless. If our worship ends when the song is over and we walk out of the building on Sunday, it has accomplished nothing. It’s nothing more than a self-centered emotional high meant to give me a good feeling. It only takes on meaning when it moves me to do His work: showing justice, mercy and compassion on others; caring for the orphans, aliens and poor.
Our Lord came, not to be served, but to serve. He calls us to walk in His steps. He came to “preach good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom to those in prison,” and He calls us to follow His lead.
He came to give His life for those who didn’t deserve it, and He calls us to join Him.
#1 by Erica on June 9, 2011 - 9:35 AM
We all need to hear this message! It is so easy to become self-focused in our faith rather than focusing on the actions God wants us to take. I fail many times over. Thank you for this reminder, Dave. It really is sickening to see the hedonistic brand of faith that appeals to so many but can be so far from real truth. Thank you for encouraging the true church to “rise from the ashes”!
#2 by Dave Kirby on June 9, 2011 - 10:34 AM
Thanks Erica. I like Christian hedonism as John Piper defines it: getting our greatest joy and happiness in giving God the most glory. Quite different from the self-serving, self-help Christianity we practice today (including me).
#3 by Erica on June 9, 2011 - 11:01 AM
I love John Piper’s definition! It is God-centered rather than the man-centered kind of hedonism we see (and all too often participate in).
#4 by Lorraine on June 10, 2011 - 8:02 PM
Amen! That’s it.