Tonight in our faith group, we talked about Malachi 3:13-18. The first half of this section deals with the hearts of those in Israel who were only obeying God on the surface, essentially for outward gain:
13“ Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the LORD, “ Yet you say, ‘ What have we spoken against You?’
14 You have said, ‘ It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts?
15 So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free.’”
In other words, "We kept the law, we served you, we even fasted and repented, and nothing! From now on God, we go with the pragmatic and successful, even if they are against you."
It is evident, is it not, that the hearts of those to whom the Lord ascribes His words were never really obedient in the first place? They were serving and keeping the commands of God and repenting, but only outwardly, and really only to seek the physical and financial rewards of God. In other words, their hearts weren't in their relationships with God.
Too often I have made this mistake in my own life, thinking that if only I did the right thing, I would be rewarded. Consider it a legacy (still ongoing) of my intense need to please people and be like by them. If you've ever suffered from this, you know exactly the pain and uncertainty of always trying to gauge the reactions of others for a sign: do they like me? Are they indicating they don't like me? If this drives you crazy, think about trying to gauge the reaction of a God you can't see!
But here is the odd thing: God has actually told us what pleases Him. The problem is we don't take Him at His word. The other problem is that we confuse temporal rewards with eternal rewards. As the Psalmist says, "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'"(Psalm 14:1), and so they (and too often we) march merrily off seeking the direct cause and effect of the physical world, because if there were a God, He'd sure be rewarding those who obeyed Him (which should have been me) and punishing those who didn't (which, in reality, probably was me, although I fail to see it).
In a real sense, we need to develop our spiritual sense through intensely seeking God through prayer, worship, His word, and other believers. Why? Not so that we can seek some mystical union with God, but so that we become so familiar with and enamoured of Him, that He becomes as real a personality to us through His son Jesus that the reason we obey is not to get a temporal reward, but to please Him and receive an eternal reward. In this, perhaps, the mystics have it right: only as God becomes truly real to me (because for me, I deal poorly in the abstract) will I believe that I am pleasing Him, and will seek to please Him, not in outward behaviour, fooling myself into thinking I am seeking Him, but inwardly in my heart, which will flow outwardly to my actions.