The movie Chariots of Fire is based on a true story, in part about Scottish runner Eric Liddell — a Christian who’s looking to compete in the 1924 Olympics. But Liddell’s sister — also a Christian — puts pressure on him to return to China as a missionary.
And at one point, Eric tells his sister that he’s finally decided to go to China — but that he first has a lot of running to do.
“I believe that God made me for a purpose — for China,” Eric tells his sister. “He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
Eric’s passion for running has hit a noble height: He doesn’t run for his own glory or to feel proud of himself or for the personal thrill of winning. He runs because he recognizes God has gifted him with fleet legs and feet — and when he exercises that gift, he senses God cheering.
Cheering on his creation that he made for a specific reason and purpose.
In our passage in Nehemiah 10:28-29, we find the Israelites have reached a point in their spiritual lives where they want to make an oath to God to keep all the commands he’s given them in the Law of Moses. But their decision to obey is not due to a desire for reward or fear of punishment or even their growing wisdom, trust, or gratitude to the Lord. They’ve been down those roads with God already — and now they’re experiencing passion for him.
They want to obey God out of love for him.
Each of us faces the same question every hour of every day: Will I obey God? But there’s another important question: Why will I obey God? What is our motivation for doing what he wants us to do?
Make no mistake, it’s always better to obey God than disobey God — no matter what your motivation! But as we grow in our spiritual lives, we should be arriving at a place where obeying God means much more than hoping good things will come to us as a result of obedience … or merely to avoid pain or heartache … or not wanting to anger the Lord.
Hopefully, we’re on a road of learning that there’s real wisdom in obeying God — and more, that he’s even taken us through hard times and difficult circumstances to show us how trustworthy he is. Maybe we’re even at a point where we gratefully obey God because of how much he’s done for us.
Again, all great motivations. But the best place to be in our relationship with God is when we obey out of love.
It’s very much akin to a long marriage at its peak, with a husband and wife who have been and continue to be committed to each other. They’ve been through thick and thin together — and they discover they don’t love each other because each does nice things for the other … or that they’re compatible … or that they’re constantly full of pleasant feelings. No. Instead their love has deepened as a result of their commitment. And the intense feelings they experienced early in their relationship have blossomed and matured into delight for each other.
It’s the same in our relationship with God. Psalm 34:7 spells it out: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
And finally, in a deep and long marriage, there’s always sacrifice … laying down our lives for the other. Giving things up … even good, legitimate possessions and experiences and pursuits. Again, it’s the same way in our love relationship with God. There will be good things we will say “no” to — things we sacrifice. But when we’re deeply committed to the Lord, the result is more depth … indeed, more of God.
Which is exactly where we ought to be.