I’ve heard it said that you can cover up a lot of problems with a little success. A growing ministry can easily assume everything is okay and ignore issues that will become big problems in the future. But what happens when the proverbial wheels fall off? At some point, the cracks WILL show themselves… what then? I had a great reminder this morning to make sure I’m not focused on the less important at the expense of the MOST important. If my ministry to students ever becomes about anything other than knowing God, I’ve missed the point of His calling me to lead it – even if it looks successful. If our churches are more interested in people showing up than in people knowing God, then we’re failing at a critical level – even if lots of people are showing up. Like the priests in ancient Israel, if we’re in love with our procedures more than with the Person, we’re leading in the wrong direction.
“You refuse to know me… You will be destroyed, for you refuse to understand.” Hosea’s warnings to the people of Israel, and specifically the religious leaders of Israel, are still good for us to hear today. How often do we put ourselves in peril because we ignore what God is trying to bring to mind? How often do we “refuse to understand” what He is doing? One of the ways we do this looks a lot like the idolatry of the Israelites. We may not make little statues of gold and silver and wood – but I wonder how often our religious duty takes the place of God as the object of our worship. How often do we “go to church” out of a sense of obligation? How often do we “leave church” on Sunday disappointed at the sub-par entertainment value of the morning? Are we so enamored with the stand-up, sit-down routine that we miss the point: knowing God?
“I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.” Much of what was happening in Israel’s worship was simply “following the rules” – offer the appropriate sacrifice at the appropriate time. But that’s not what God wanted. He wanted a people who would know Him and be identified with Him and extend to others the kind of mercy He’d shown them.. That’s still what He wants today. He’s not concerned with perfect attendance records at all major church functions. He’ll be ok if you don’t make it to the annual Horseshoe Tournament/Quilting Bee/Pie Bazaar (or whatever other event you’re feeling guilted into attending)… He wants you to know Him.
The destruction that Hosea warned Israel about wasn’t coming because they didn’t follow the right rituals, it was coming because they’d fallen in love with their rituals at the expense of the God who’d rescued and loved them. “They have forgotten their Maker.” I pray that will not be true of the church today.
Comparing Israel to a wife who’d left her husband to be a whore, God looked forward to the day when once again “the people will follow the Lord” and when He would call to His people and “bring them home again.” Even when we are faithless, He looks forward to bringing us home; to bringing us into His presence where we can know Him most fully. Maybe it’s time to follow His instructions from Psalm 46 – “Be still and know that I am God.”