What does God want from us?

There are twelve books of the Bible in a category that we call the minor prophets. They're in the Old Testament, and they're incredibly deep and rich and life-giving and sad and poetic. Reading Habakkuk, for instance, you get this picture of a man anguishing over his nation and begging God for help, only to realize help may not come and that God is good nonetheless.

He ends the book with a song that basically goes like this: "Even though life isn't going like I thought it would, I'm going to praise God." And it's a gorgeous song. That's what the minor prophets are all about. These were books of the Bible written between 400-700 years before Christ was born.

Some of them are poems. Others are predictions of the future—predictions that have been proven—they came true. But all of these books are messages from God to the people of Israel, the people that he chose to represent him on earth, the people who had fallen away from him.

There are some cool things to think about in the minor prophets. For instance, one prophet was a complete redneck! He was a country boy. His name was Amos, he was from the Southern Kingdom of Israel, called Judah, and he was a farmer.

I'm not saying all farmers from the South are rednecks. But Amos was. He said in his writings that he didnʼt want to be considered a professional prophet, nor did he want to be associated with the kingʼs court—he was just proud to keep up his fig tree farm.

I can hear that in a country song—"I don't need to be a famous man, put me on a tractor with a beer in my hand" or something silly like that. That's a redneck. Amos was one of the minor prophets.

Another prophet, Hosea, was told by God to marry a sex worker. God wanted him to do this to become a picture of how Israel turned their backs to worship false gods. Israel was 'sleeping around' with other religions like Hosea's wife with other men in town.

How intense is that? There are several stories just like that in the minor prophets, stories of real people and their real experiences with an interesting and complicated and beautiful God. I'm telling you, the minor prophets are an oft-neglected goldmine of wonderful stories.

In this blog post, I want to focus on a prophet named Micah and the book that bears his name. Before I go any further, let me define the word “prophet.” A lot of people think that a prophet is a guy who can predict the future. This is not always true.

In Hebrew, the word prophet simply means “preacher” or "God's messenger." Whenever a prophet would tell the future, it was a word from God about what could happen if the people did not turn from their wickedness. If the people responded to the prophecy, the prediction would not come true. God would relent.

Micah lived around 700 years before Jesus, in the Southern Kingdom of Israel called Judah. In this time, Israel was divided into North and South Kingdoms. Both were controlled by Assyria, the dominant world power. In the North, Amos and Hosea (the redneck and the guy who married a hooker), were Godʼs messengers. Amos was from the South but preached up North.

In the South, Isaiah and Micah were God's messengers. Isaiah was the first to predict that Assyria would sweep away the Northern Kingdom, and they did. So those in the South knew that Assyria was coming for them too.

In this time, Godʼs people had fallen away and started worshiping fake gods. They thought that because they were “Godʼs chosen people” they could do whatever they wanted. They began to create these fertility cults, because they thought that God wanted them to have sex whenever and wherever, with whomever, and spread their chosen-people seed all around.

God never told them to do that. Hoseaʼs wife, the cheating sex worker, probably frequented these fertility clubs. The prophets knew that because Godʼs people were wicked they would be judged. And sadly, that judgment was on its way—men marching from the empire of Assyria to kill, capture, rape, and enslave.

Assyria conquered all of Israel, North and South, and made them slaves. Just to show you how awful the Assyrians were—they once took a city by shutting up the walls and gates and starving its citizens until the people began to eat their own babies out of desperation. And we thought Obama's drone strikes were barbaric!

Micah was preaching in a time when his friends and family members had all become slaves to Assyria. The Israelites once thought that, because they were Godʼs people, they could do whatever they wanted. But now they were beginning to see that God was not pleased with them.

They were living with the consequences of their sins. One of the major questions of the minor prophets, and a major question at the beginning of Micahʼs book, is, “Does God still love us?”—it's a theme explored throughout the minor prophets. Does God still love me, now that I'm in a rough spot in life?

Sometimes we get so far away from God that we begin to wonder the same thing. Does God still love me? How can I pray to him right now with all the things I've done wrong lately? Would God even want to hear from me right now? What's the point of even going to church if I've been so sinful lately?

It's in those times and amid these questions that the minor prophets can be so encouraging and life-giving. When we feel so weighted down and destroyed, books like Micah and Habakkuk are there to say, "Yeah, me too. Let's talk awhile."

In the minor prophets we read real and raw stories of real people with real problems. These are no fake fairy tales. I mean, there's a preacher who's going door-to-door looking for his cheating wife to bring her back home! like, how much more raw could you get?

It's in these books of the Bible that we learn that we are free to question God—as long as we watch our mouths. We learn that God demands holiness from us. We learn that even though God must judge sin, his grace guarantees us a future and a hope. That's what I want to show you from the book of Micah.

For those of you who donʼt know where the book of Micah is, start at the New Testament and travel left about 30 pages. Weʼll be in chapter 6. Let me give you a little background. Godʼs people are being beaten and enslaved by the Assyrians. Many are being murdered in the streets. They know that they are being punished by God and they are scared.

They know that God is not pleased with them because theyʼve turned to false religions. A small group of people have tried to rebel against Assyria and they were hunted and killed pretty brutally. News of their deaths, the last warriors of Israel, the last hope, is spreading through Assyria's prison camps.

Godʼs people have nowhere to go except right into Assyrian custody. They are asking Micah, Does God still love us? and in chapter 6, we see Godʼs answer to that question. Micah 6:1-5:

Listen to what the Lord says: "Stand up, plead your case… For the Lord has a charge against his people; he is lodging a complaint against Israel. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me.
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab counseled and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord."

God begins by saying, “I have an accusation against you.” God is judging the people for their sins. Then he asks, “What did I ever do to you? why would you do me this way?” And he reminds the people how he loved and rescued them.

He brought them out of slavery to Egypt. He blessed them with land and homes and food, he redeemed them of their sins, and he showed them how to be righteous. God has done these things for all of his people. And though he condemns sin (and he must condemn sin because he is holy) he has blessed his people in ways we canʼt even begin to count!

God says, “I have a complaint against you.” He says, “Iʼve done all these things and you left me.” He's saying "I didn't leave you, you left me." And Micah receives this message from God and goes out to speak it to his friends and neighbors. Sure, this is a message to Israel. But I think it's also here for us.

What do we do?—when weʼve left God, and weʼre wondering if he still loves us, and weʼre under the consequences of our sins—what do we do? What do we say? What do we bring to God to reconcile this relationship?

These are the questions that the people began to ask the prophet Micah. What does the Lord require of us? Letʼs read on. Micah 6:6-8:

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Weʼre always trying to come to God on our own terms. What do you want me to do, God? How can I make this right? Do you want me to start listening only to Christian radio? Do you want me to start going to Wednesday night prayer meeting? Do you want me to find some new friends?

Do you want me to get one of those Devotional Bibles with the lines on the sides I can journal in? Why don't I go to LifeWay and just buy a bunch of new books—I'll read all of the Francis Chan stuff they've got. Do you want me to get tickets to Passion? Would that make our relationship whole again?

That's what Israel's trying to do in the passage above. Shall I bow down? Shall I make an offering? How about I offer him a year-old calf? What if I kill my baby?—sounds extreme, but that's exactly what some of the false religions Israel had fled to were teaching in those days. Kill your baby, God will love you. Israel began to think that was the way to do religion.

I used to think I could buy God's favor. I thought if I could just volunteer more, sing louder in church, lead more Bible studies, or act better than my friends, God would be happy with me. I thought that my standing with God was based on my performance. The saddest thing is that most people believe this same thing.

Most people believe that theyʼre good enough to get into heaven on their own. They believe Godʼs happy with them because they donʼt smoke or drink or cuss, God's going to be pleased with them. Or they think because theyʼre patriotic, they watch Fox News, and their mom was a Baptist, that's somehow going to please God.

Micah says in verse 6 that you just can't buy your way 'in' with God. What can I bring to God to make him happy? If it's a sacrifice, is he happy with burnt offerings—calves, rams, or oil? Do I have to sacrifice more? What does the Lord require of us?

Verse 8 is the answer to their questioning: “He has shown you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

What does this mean? how do we do it? how can I act justly? how can I love mercy? and how do I walk humbly with God? how's God going to notice? what do I do? isn't this just performance-based religion, same as all the sacrifices above?

Let me assure you, itʼs not work when you understand it right. Doing justice, valuing mercy, living humbly—these are the fruits of a healthy relationship with God. When you're right with God, justice, kindness, and humility just pour out from you naturally.

So we know that God isnʼt happy with our silly sacrifices—our volunteer work, our charity. How do we start living a life that's pleasing to God? Letʼs dive deeper.

What does it mean to act justly? This means you choose the right way in all your dealings. You are fair. You treat others with respect. Can you do this on your own? If you think that you can act justly all by yourself, then you are a hypocrite!

God is just, God is fair in all of his dealings and itʼs only through God's work in you, through his grace and his love for you, that you can begin to act justly. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—these are outpourings of a heart in personal relationship with God.

Think about the early Christians who grew up in Jewish homes. Peter says in Acts 15 that he was always trying to live up to Godʼs standard but was never good enough, until he developed a personal relationship with God himself through Jesus Christ.

What does it mean, then, to love mercy? To love mercy is to be like Jesus, as Jesus is the picture of mercy. But we can't do this on our own. Micah himself says it in chapter 7, that the best of us humans is like a thorn hedge. Youʼve heard it said that all of our righteous is like a filthy rag, that all of us have sinned and fallen short of Godʼs glory.

How do we, then, act justly and love mercy? Weʼve got to be united with Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of both Godʼs justice and his mercy. If you believe that coming to church will make you a better person, if you believe you can buy your salvation like stupid little trinkets at the LifeWay store, you are literally dead wrong.

And this is exactly what I believed for so long. I didnʼt realize Romans 8:1, "There's no condemnation to he that is in Christ." When we understand these things, then and only then, will we begin to do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.

Micah is speaking to an exhausted and broken people. Heʼs speaking to a people who once thought they belonged to God but now they're not so sure. Heʼs speaking to a people who were asking the simple question, “Does God still love us?” God's answer: I loved you all this time. I was right here for you. Why did you walk away?

Maybe you're reading this and you're just like Israel. Maybe you messed up. Maybe you fooled around, you failed out, you checked out, you got wasted, you said something you didn't mean, you got caught in a lie. Maybe you're living in fear of being found out.

Maybe you got broken up with you and you donʼt feel so adequate anymore. You've lost confidence. Maybe youʼre punishing yourself. Maybe you're awful with your money. Does God still love you? Could God possibly still love you? God's right here for you.

Matthew 11 says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." In Christ, it's not about doing. It's not about performing. It's not about working off a debt. It's not about being perfect. It's about resting.

In Christ, that's how you please God. In Christ, that's how you do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. That's how you do what God requires. In relationship with Christ, he gives you the strength. God looks at you and sees the finished work of Christ.

You say, but, this is the book of Micah, Jesus Christ didn't come until 700 years later. Read Matthew 9:13. Jesus says, "Go and figure out what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." In this passage, Jesus is quoting from the writings of Hosea, the minor prophet who's wife was, you get it by now.

Jesus is quoting the same Hosea who lived and preached during Micah's time. In fact, Jesus quoted the minor prophets a ton and we see that same quote, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" all throughout Scripture. All through the minor prophets and all through the gospels in the New Testament.

Isaiah, speaking for God: "What are all your sacrifices to me?" Mark, speaking for Jesus: "Loving God is more important than all the sacrifices and offerings." Read the minor prophets, read the gospels, see that this is a core theme in each. It's not about your merits, it's about your motives.

Jesus quotes Micah's contemporary, Hosea, to say that God is not pleased with our pursuit of perfectionism, rather, God wants to see the kindness of a heart radically changed by the work he did in Christ. A heart bent toward acts of justice, kindness, and humility is a heart in tune with Christ himself.

This is a truth that the faithful knew before Christ came along. It's a truth that every prophet and great teacher—Christ included—had to remind the Jewish people of over and over. God is not interested in your religion or religiosity. He's interested in your intentions, your heart, in mercy.