Hanging on my office wall is a cardboard, cut out heart. The 6″ x 6″ note is rather unceremoniously hung with a paper clip. Three simple words, “I Love U”, are generously accented with 25 hearts and six exclamation marks. I absolutely adore it.
Hanging not far away, there’s a beautiful, framed reproduction from Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. The acclaimed work of art is really pretty, but it gets little attention.
The cardboard heart is a note from our daughter, Breanna. She was only eight when she made it. We have other little tokens of love from Bree, some placed by the bed, others on my desk. The handwriting has improved, the conversations are more sophisticated, the presentation more polished, but the expression could never be better.
There are other gifts around the home, some handmade, some handpicked. One of our sons gave me a rock. He was excited to give it. I’m excited to keep it. The love of a child is pure and precious.
Children, of course, make mistakes; they aren’t perfect. Yet, their imperfect expressions of love hold far deeper meaning than perfect obedience without heartfelt commitment. That is just as true for us as children of God as it is for the children of human parents.
God desires our love far more than perfect obedience. Obedience, yes, but He’d rather have our love.
We expect obedience from our children for their safety and for their good. But, obedience is ultimately a demonstration – an expression – of their love for us.
When children are immature, obedience is taught as something that is simply required, regardless of the child’s level of understanding. Children could not understand, nor would we want them to deeply contemplate, the consequences of touching a hot stove or walking into the street. They obey because of who we are: the authority figure in their life.
As they mature, they have a greater capacity to choose. They discover that more options are available to them. They’re better at making excuses, they’re more skilled at skirting the edges of obedience, and they’re better able to hide non-compliance. Or so they think.
More importantly, they grow in the understanding of the consequences of their choices, both good and bad, as well as the reasoning behind it. What’s at stake is much deeper than strictly an act of obedience. Let me explain.
As the relationship grows, so does the meaning behind the behavior. Obedience is not simply a matter of compliance. It’s now a matter of respect and love. As the child grows, and as the relationship matures, obedience is much more of a demonstration of love.
God expects, even demands, our obedience, but putting on an act of Christian character or behavior without true devotion to Him is hypocrisy. The only acceptable ground for obedience to God is love for God. Jerry Bridges, in his book The Practice of Godliness, elaborates on this point: “Devotion to God … is the mainspring (chief cause) of godly character. And this devotion is the only motivation for Christian behavior that is pleasing to God.”
Jesus instructed us to come to Him as little children. He adds, “whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:13-21; also Matt 19:13-22; Luke 18:15-23). It’s no coincidence that this instruction comes just before the rich young man asked, “what good must I do to have eternal life?”. The young man wanted to earn his way, through good behavior, into God’s presence and blessing. Jesus, in essence, explained that sincere relationship came before acts of obedience had any meaning.
As the good Father that He is, God desires a heartfelt commitment more than heartless compliance. Give Him your full attention and your full devotion. Spend time with Him in prayer. Love Him for who He is and what He has done. As simple and childlike as you may think it is, give God the gift of your heart. He’ll help you with the rest.