Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, “Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)
How easy it is for our Christian walk to get muddied by the perceptions and norms of the world. Daily, we rub shoulders with those who do not have the knowledge of Christ. Daily, we are required to participate in a world which puts human achievement and human performance front and centre. We are continuously reminded to ‘carve out your own destiny,’ that we ‘make our own future,’ or that we can ‘be anything you set your mind to.’ The fundamental problem with all of these encouraging and challenge catch phrases – which do have a certain measure of face value – is that they exlude or ignore the one thing that gives life. We leave out Christ and the cross.
Living out the reality that Christ is ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’ can sometimes feel rather like walking a tightrope, a plunge to disaster waiting on either side. There is an overwhelming temptation to look down, to focus on the rope, on our feet, or on the abyss we’re trying to avoid. The problem is that this the focus that brings disaster. As I’m sure any tightrope walker will testify, the only way to negotiate the wire safely is to focus on the destination. Don’t look back. Don’t look sideways. Don’t look down. Fix the focus on the other side and keep going, one small step at a time.
I think it’s accurate to say that all of us have a desire to please God. It’s an attitude that is inherent in us from the point of salvation – the same attitude that we find in a child who wants to please a parent. This is good, and Jesus Himself said we should come as little children, with the simple attitude of trust and love, and desire to please. The problem comes in with our perception of ‘pleasing,’ that same perception prevalent in the world, the one we’ve subconsciously been molded into our entire lives. It’s a perception that has at its centre the assumption that we have to ‘do,’ to somehow justify ourselves or validate our position by our achievement.
This is a subtle, insidious perception that creeps in and colours our relationship with our God. It’s exactly the same attitude that renders so many unsaved people unable to comprehend or receive the Gospel – the ‘backwards’ truth that salvation is ‘believe and receive’ and not possible through our works. While the world may wear it ‘out there’ for everyone to see very clearly, in a believer it’s more subtle, a kind of ‘carry over’ from our unsaved existence that we have to confront, deal with and defeat – often over and over again. It manifests in the daily struggle Paul describes between the will of God and the will of self in every believer.
It often seems, no matter how hard we try, that the ways of the world somehow seep in and dilute our faith, our love for and our walk with Christ. It can sometimes seem like plugging the holes is an endless excercise, as if the world and the unsaved we encounter every day are all instruments of erosion, scratching away at our armour until they open a chink we may not even see.
Ironically, awareness of the danger and the desire to avoid it is often the worst enemy. We’re so conscious of our weaknesses, our points of easy compromise and our failings in certain areas that we focus entirely on them. We forget that our Christian walk is built, centred and empowered only in and on the work of the cross. We forget that Jesus Himself was the living example, the Son of Man, for our lives. The line between heart obedience and work obedience becomes smudge, and the full salvation purchase of the cross isn’t applied.
Today’s verse draw the clear distinction between our sacrifices and offerings – the striving and working to please God – and the sacrifice God desires. We should never let worldly perceptions confuse us. Our ‘works’ are ritual and method with a focus on self-validation and self-justification, whether we realise it or not. God’s perception is simple and very different: His will not ours. That is the obedience that Christ manifested in Gethsemane and on the cross. That is the obedience that crucified the flesh and birthed the new man – the man who overcomes.
The tightrope won’t change as long as we’re in the world. The issues that confront us, the choices that challenge us, the old habits that wear us down – these will all be there, every day, until at last we are with Christ for eternity. The word ‘delight’ has a particularly revealing meaning, aside from the obvious ‘take pleasure in.’ It speaks of bending or inclining towards, being drawn by something, or filling our focus with something. If we delight to do the will of God, we essentially delight to live like Christ.
Jesus is the destination at the end of the tightrope. His light guides our steps, His truth stabilizes our journey, and His Way is one of secure faith. We need to keep hold of one simple fact – while the world may exist on either side, when we are on that rope it’s a long way down. In Christ, we’re lifted above it. The rope is suspended above the world, not dragging in the muck. It’s a challenging walk, even seriously scary at times, taking steps in faith. But Jesus not only said that all things are possible with God, He also showed us, step by step, that this is a singular and extraordinary truth.
In Jesus, we are destined to walk above the ‘miry clay,’ to walk on a narrow path. Each step brings us closer to Jesus, and releases more of Him in us. We are changed not by our own endeavour but by simply stepping out, fixing our eyes on Him, on the full measure of grace, empowerment and strength provided by His journey, and making that the only thing we see.
How comforting it is to know that we walk in His footsteps. We place our feet where He has already passed. We may be ‘walking blind’ but He has been there before us. Our Guide knows the way, knows the dangers, knows the pitfalls – and knows exactly what we need, and when and how we need it. That assurance gives us courage born of the only thing that matters. Christ and the cross, this is the example of obedience. A heart that desires to please God, that constantly seeks His will, not ours, that leans towards honouring Him always as living sacrifices – yielded not working, surrendered not striving.
As I write this, a passage comes to mind – well-known and often quoted, but perhaps not always used in context. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 is often waved as a spiritual warfare banner, but we lose the essential meaning of its application to our own struggle with the flesh. One phrase stands out: bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. This is our ‘work,’ our obedience – seeking His will and doing it. We protect ourselves from the inside out. We win our battles at the place of Christ in us. We overcome self and the world in Him – living in Him and in His obedience, not ours.
Putting Christ and the cross as our focus, making that our destination, delighting in the knowledge that our walk with Him brings us into His glory, that is all we need to walk the wire of life, and to ignore both our own weaknesses and the infiltration of the world. We are called to the walk – to Christ, in Christ, by Christ, through Christ – and He will ensure that we reach the destination. It’s simply not up to us. And that is grace.
Lord Jesus, thank You for the assurance that, whatever the world may throw at us, wherever we may find ourselves, You have provided for us a way that is higher. Your way, Lord, is above the way of the world. Help us to take hold of the truth that You know the way intimately, know what it requires, and have already purchased the provision for every single need through Your stripes, Your suffering and Your precious blood. Help us, daily, to fix our eyes only on You, the Author and Finisher of our faith.