What is God looking for in us? What gives an ordinary person favor with God?
There are a number of verses that give us fairly clear hints of what God is looking for. For example, from Micah 6:8, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" It sounds simple, far simpler actually, than most of what organized religion says.
The verse says it's about "doing justice," but "loving kindness." Very interesting. I say that because this reveals passion. Our passion is to love being kind. Another translation says, "love mercy."
That is our focus - to be passionate in being kind and merciful and, along the way, making sure that what we do is just. It seems to me that the God's emphasis here is on love, not being perfect or being just. And then, he says, "walk humbly with your God."
"Walking" is talking about daily interaction, or in other words, relationship.
Now let's put this "simplicity" and "relational" assumption to the test.
What made the historically important people of the Bible important to God? What gave them favor with God?
If God is looking for relationship with people, then his interactions with them will show that he searches out and rewards those who love and desire relationship with him.
If God is mostly interested in making sure people keep his rules, his laws, rituals and believe the right things, then his choice of people and his interaction with them will show this instead.
What did the significant people of biblical history do to "earn" their high standing and favor with God?
Adam and Eve were significant in their time because, well, they were the only people that there were! So in one since they don't qualify to show us what made them special to God.
But in another way they do tell us a lot, because they existed before there was sin and before things had started to go wrong. So what they did, how they interacted with God will tell us a lot about what they were created for.
What did God give them to do? Do we find hints of rituals that they had to do to make God feel good about himself? Did God give them a list of rules to follow?
As far as I know there was only one activity that is recorded between the first day of their creation and the day when they sinned. It appears in Genesis 3 that God and Adam and Eve had a habit of walking together in the cool of the day, perhaps in the evenings. After they sinned, Adam and Eve were ashamed and hid themselves, and didn't show up for their usual walk.
So going for walks with the Creator was part of their daily routine. How cool is that?
God did give them rules. Or rather, one single rule to follow: do not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This rule is obviously not a rule for the sake of having rules, but one to test their willingness to obey out of love. It was actually a test of relationship, a test of their love.
The essence of this request was: are you willing to trust me enough that you will refrain from seeking wisdom apart from what I choose to show you? Are you willing to live so closely connected to me that you don't want or need to be independent?
I think this one shows that relationship was the main point in what went on. Adam and Eve had favor with God based on how they related to him.
Old Abe was chosen by God to be the "father of all who believe" and the man from whom the people Israel would come. So very clearly, Abraham's life and his interaction with God has got to show us something about what God is looking for in all of us or else this statement of God would be meaningless.
So what did Abraham do that was so fundamental, so pattern setting, that God would look at him and say, "That is exactly what I've been looking for! Anyone who is going to please me will have to live the same way?"
Did he practice law? Was he a judge? Was he descended from priests or kings? Did God give him a list of commandments to follow and then step back to see how he performed? Did he tell Abe what to believe and then test him to see if he memorized it perfectly? Would that have given him favor with God?
What do we discover? First, God spoke to him. Abraham had at some time learned to know God and learned to discern the voice of God. God does speak. He has been doing it from the beginning as many people throughout history can verify.
Maybe God's voice thundered from heaven. Maybe, but I doubt it. God might have spoken that way a few times, but it's not his normal thing. Usually he speaks in ways you would miss if you hadn't trained your heart to recognize the quiet whisper of God on the inside.
Since God doesn't change, it's fairly safe to say that he still prefers to speak only when we quiet ourselves enough to listen, because he knows people. It takes desire and perseverance to learn to hear God's voice because the privilege is so high, so amazing. Do we value him enough to do what it takes to draw near?
As Abraham grew in his relationship to God he was given tests. These tests were over time increasingly difficult trust-tests. do you trust me enough to leave all that is familiar? Do you trust me with your safety among those who would take your life (or your wife)? Do you trust me when I tell you I will give you a son? (and then 25 years of waiting go by) Do you trust me when I tell you to sacrifice him on an altar, apparently making all the difficult years a waste, and shaking your belief in my goodness?
Trust is the essence of relationship and love. And so God called Abraham the father of faith, and of all people of faith in God, because Abraham had chosen to believe and trust Him regardless of appearances and circumstances.
In the book of James (2:23) it is stated in black and white: "And he was called the Friend of God." But if you go back to the original text this is quoting from, out of the book of Isaiah 41:8, it gets even more clear. The word "friend" here is actually the hebrew word "ahev", which means "lover."
Abraham had favor with God because he was a passionate lover of God. That and his trust in God was what made him the pattern for people of faith.
Why did Moses have favor with God?
Yes, he was raised as an egyptian prince. Yes, he had experience as an army general. But at the time in question he had been shepherding for 40 years, parked on the backside of the desert, apparently forgotten by the world, he had a shattered self-esteem and he described himself as a poor speaker.
At the time Moses was chosen, he hadn't done much other than throw away the privileges of his princely birth and learn that he wasn't so special as he thought he was.
But there are amazing things said about Moses. "So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." God Himself compared his relationship with Moses to that of his high priest Aaron: "If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD, make myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord."
Here the Lord is putting relationship above form and rules. He had chosen Aaron to be the high priest for the entire people, yet he could only approach Him according the rules, whereas the man who knew Him, Moses, could talk naturally with Him.
The same passage mentions that Moses was the most humble man on earth. Maybe this helps us discover what gives a man favor with God. Moses began his "path to greatness" with an attempt to work Israel's deliverance in his own strength - and failed miserably. In the course of 40 years with the sheep in the desert the solitude and the Spirit of God worked on his heart to break him and strip him of self-sufficiency. He no longer depended on his training and abilities.
The diamond still needed polishing, but for the first time he was qualified to lead because he had become a humble man who would listen to the Lord and do it together with God, and do it God's way, not his.
None of this has so much to do with performance or obedience to rules and rituals but rather obedience to the voice of the Lord that came from knowing him. That's what gave Moses favor with God.
We so often look at David as the great hero, the man who overcame Goliath with a gigantic faith, who wrote Psalm 23 and so many other Psalms, and who was obedient and righteous before God. We think of him as the greatest king of Israel, the king of her golden age, who greatly expanded her borders, and as the one who laid the plans and who had the vision for building the Temple. But why did God choose David, and what gave him favor with God?
The Lord, speaking through Samuel, answered this beyond any question: "the LORD has sought for himself a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over his people, because you (Saul) have not kept what the LORD commanded you." God sought a man who would be after his own heart. What does that mean? Apparently it has to do with obedience, because Saul was rejected for not keeping what was commanded him.
But when we look at David's life, we don't see a man who was especially successful at obedience. When you consider that David lied, was polygamous in direct disobedience to Moses command to future kings, committed adultery, conspired to murder, slaughtered innocents after battles, and proudly and stubbornly ignored his advisors' plea not to do a census that he clearly knew was wrong, resulting in the deaths of thousands, it would not seem that the Lord got it right.
That is, it wouldn't be an impressive display of the Lord's discernment of the human heart if obedience alone were the main thing he was looking for.
Then what did God find in David's heart that excited Him? First, He found a man who kept His commandments. David may not have always performed with perfect obedience, but when he was corrected and his attention drawn to his sin, he always repented immediately; this shows that he guarded and honored the command in his heart.
Second, he understood the emotions of God's heart. Better than any other, David understood the depth of the passions of God's heart for him. This is communicated over and over in his Psalms.
He knew beyond doubt - he knew in his heart and not in his head - that the Lord passionately loved him, and so he knew when he had sinned that he could run directly into His arms - and did not run away from Him like we so often do. Perhaps this, more than anything else is what God meant when He told Samuel that this David would be a man after His own heart.
David certainly got to know the heart of God like few others. He rejoiced in the love of the Almighty for him. He heard the voice of God speaking to him in the night as he meditated on his bed. David had an intimate relationship with his creator, a relationship which began out among the sheep in his youth, and didn't change even under the pressure of being hunted down as a criminal: "God, you are my God; early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water."
David was great in love, in repentance, in wanting to do right, in fearing the Lord. But he wasn't much of a model of perfect obedience. I'm kind of glad he wasn't, because it gives those of us hope whose track record of obedience doesn't keep pace with their heart's longing to obey.
Why did God chose David? Because of his heart which always strove to passionately love this God who so loved him so deeply, and because he truly believed when God said He loved him.
God is looking for people who love him, who are wholehearted in seeking him, and who apply this extravagant love that they get from him to the way they get along with others. Isn't this what Jesus meant when he said, "I'm giving you an new command: love one another as I have loved you!"