What Is Required?
by Adrian Williams
To this day I can still hear my father’s reminder to my siblings and me that we had three things that were required of us: Respect and obey our parents, love others, and do our best in school. This was often said when we were guilty of not fulfilling one or more of the aforementioned requirements. As I look back at it now, this was his way of saying, “You have one job, so let’s not overcomplicate this.”
At the age of eighteen, I left for the Navy, the first stop being basic training (aka bootcamp) at Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida. Once again, my fellow recruits and I were often admonished for not doing that one thing that was required of us—whatever we were told to do. While having all kinds of orders barked at us, we were told not to overcomplicate things. After completing bootcamp we were sent to technical schools to learn what would be required of us aboard our respective ships. Once we reported to our ships, we received one other “this is required of you” type of training: that of a firefighter.
Due to the nature of being out to sea, often hundreds of miles from the nearest shore—combined with the explosive combination of fuel and weapons—it was required of all sailors to be extensively trained as firefighters. That was all that had to be done, but what was learned by this method was that if you took care of the main things, those which were required of you, all the other things would fall into place. In the process, I recognized that oftentimes my decision-making was adversely impacted by me making things more complicated than necessary, whether it concerned decisions that had to do with relationships, responsibilities, or resources. In those moments I learned to ask myself, “What is required of me?”
You might be thinking that after all this time, I have it figured out in every aspect of my life. I wish that were the case. At times I find myself mulling over what path God might have me choose, thinking I must choose rightly or miss out on God’s best. In those moments I realize that God wants my heart in the right place, and my actions will follow.
Throughout history, God’s people have consistently gotten these two things mixed up. It’s in our human nature to want to control and manipulate things—even God’s approval. There is some comfort in creating rituals and rules; then we always know where we stand in comparison. Although God certainly established rules for our good, he never meant for those rules to replace a relationship with him. God wants us to trust him rather than a set of guidelines. With all the choices we face today, it can feel impossible to know which one is right for us. We can either overcommit because we want desperately to serve God or under commit because we have decision paralysis; sometimes we’ve decided to just give up trying.
The Israelites’ Dilemma
The Israelites seemed to have the same problem. For generations, they either became legalistic trying to please God with their religious sacrifices, or they gave up and grew hard hearts. In the time of the prophet Micah, around 700 BC, the people’s hearts were far from God. They had created a religion based on rituals and rules that no one could keep. Some even abandoned God and worshiped idols. And yet, God continually called them back to a relationship with him.
“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 olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6, 7, NIV).
Micah tried to tell the people that following God was so much simpler than they made it out to be:
“He has shown you, O mortal, 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” (Micah 6:8, NIV).
I can imagine then, not unlike now, some of those who believed they were more pious than others had a problem with that simplified version of faith, or maybe they wanted to add a few hundred or so more rules to it. But Micah clearly communicated God’s desire through that prophecy—just three things are required: justice, mercy, and humility.
When we think of justice, many of us think of a courtroom, with a judge, attorneys, witnesses, and a jury. One of my favorite images of this type of justice is Tom Cruise thundering away at Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!” Simply put, we usually think of justice as being a punishment for wrongdoing. Someone has committed a crime, and they receive the punishment they deserve. Justice is served.
The Hebrew word used for justice throughout the Old Testament, and in Micah 6:8, is mishpat, and it includes this type of punishment, or retributive justice. But it’s also more than that; it includes giving people their due or right. This is often referred to as restorative justice. In other words, we are to proactively seek out the vulnerable and help them.
Compassionate treatment of those in distress is an act of loving mercy. Rather than making use of our right to punish or harm a person, instead we forgive and show compassion. This is mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy that Micah used is hesed, which can be used to refer to God’s loving-kindness to us. It is interesting to note that God wants us to be drawn to mercy—having compassion for those in need. In our flesh it is often easier for our hearts to harden and our minds to judge. We may find ourselves thinking, These people are being both foolish and manipulative, or They are taking advantage of our care. Those are the times when we need to hear the heart of God saying, “As one of my people, I hope you love mercy, for that is what you have received from me.”
While walking humbly is mentioned last, I believe that to “walk humbly with God” is the basis for doing justice and loving mercy. Because of what God has done for us, we should be fully invested in healing the world around us through justice and mercy. Cultivating our walk with God serves as the foundation for all we do.
It’s interesting that although there is action involved, each of those requirements starts with a soft and loving heart. We won’t act justly if we harbor resentment or hate. We won’t show kindness and mercy if we seek to serve ourselves. And a prideful heart will always walk ahead of God.
Which of these three requirements for godly living do you struggle with the most: Showing justice, loving mercy, or walking humbly with God? The good news is that Jesus Christ has already purchased what is required of us and the Holy Spirit has accomplished that work within us. Now we just need to comply with the marching orders we’ve been given by our commanding officer.
Adrian Williams has been a member of Christ’s Church for three years. As a founding member of the John Maxwell Leadership Team, certified executive coach, facilitator, and speaker, discipleship is his passion.