Scripture Reading: Amos 5:1-27, Micah 6:8, Philippians 4:8-9
I am a first-born, Type-double-A achiever, fluent in the languages of performance and gold stars. Grace, on the other hand, consistently boggles my mind.
I can think back to one such moment several years ago. My husband was on staff at a small church. I did everything I could to partner with him in the ministry that became the functional nucleus of our existence. Ministry is time-consuming and, at times, gut-wrenching. And while my husband seemed to feel a tinge of external pressure, I faced a daily temptation to spontaneously combust. That’s what happens when you try to earn something that has already been freely given; things become volatile in a hurry.
I was serving my guts out for all the wrong reasons, trying to earn God’s favor through church attendance and program planning. I was living for the gold stars that I hoped existed on a cosmic sticker chart in heaven. It’s not that anything I was doing was “wrong” or “bad.” It was just an outflow of a heart tied up in self-inflicted knots. The carrot that was always in front of me was the false gospel of good deeds, not the true gospel of Jesus Christ. That experience taught me that false gospels are terrible taskmasters—cruel, demanding, and ultimately hollow.
God’s people find themselves whipped by such a taskmaster in Amos 5. Instead of seeking the Lord, their hearts chase wildly after everything else. Amos promises destruction in return for their rebellion. God’s people find themselves fallen, forsaken, and on fire (vv. 2,6). And then comes the wailing, mourning, and lamenting (v. 16).
As dramatic as this sounds, it feels like the same old same old. God’s people turn to idols and He raises up a prophet to yank them back from the brink of judgment. But this time things are different. There is no golden calf, no Asherah poles, no altar set up to honor a pagan god. Instead, God is enraged by their offerings of “good things,” given for all the wrong reasons (Amos 5:21-23).
God’s people were following the rules. They gathered like He commanded them to (Exodus 12:16). They faithfully brought their offerings, just like their righteous forefathers had (Genesis 8:20, 22:3; Leviticus 1:3). They even held spirited worship services. What gives?
I think back to that season of ministry and know there are no gold stars in heaven. There is only grace. And grace can never, ever be earned. So Amos might as well have been preaching to us because our hearts are not unlike those of the Israelites: our motives are misshapen, our goal is our own glory, and our worship is all wrong.
Yet, even as God breathes out judgment upon His people through Amos, He also offers redemption. He calls out to us even now, saying, “Seek me and live!… Seek the Lord and live” (vv. 4,6).
Worship and sacrifice are meant to be an exclamation of God’s goodness toward us, not a means to try to grab more from Him. If we find our hearts tied up in knots, worrying that we haven’t earned the gift He freely offers, then we must look for the thread of salvation woven into every tapestry of God’s judgment.
If you are tired and worn out and empty from striving and performing, look once again to Jesus. It’s His love and devotion—not ours—that turn our hearts back toward Him.
Seek Him and live.