I don’t know about you, but I hate sacrifice. I like comfort and convenience. Furthermore, I like getting my way. Therefore, I can only walk down the Christian path so far before I hit a wall. By the way, how far do I have to walk down this path anyway? How many sacrifices do I have to make? How much good do I have to do? Is my whole life supposed to be a denial of everything I want?
I’ve come to the conclusion that our attitude while doing good trumps all other considerations. Those who serve God must do so in spirit and truth. The spirit in which we help another or deny ourselves is everything. Done without the right attitude, self-sacrifice amounts to “wood, hay and stubble.” It has no value. You may as well as play a game or watch TV instead.
I take Paul’s counsel to the Corinthian church as instructive (2 Cor. 9). He says they should only give what they themselves have decided to give without any external pressure. Furthermore, the giving should be free from resentment because God values cheerfulness in giving i.e. the right spirit. Paul is, of course, talking about money here, but clearly this principle spreads out to other areas such as the giving of our time or attention to another.
The question then arises, “What if I can’t give with a good attitude, am I off the hook?” You sigh with wishful thinking. A voice may speak inside your head at this point telling you to just do the right thing. It’s a compelling voice because who can argue against doing what’s right? The problem is that we won’t obey it if we don’t want to, at least not for long. To carry on by mere exertions of the will, says Dallas Willard, is a condition to be dreaded and not something we can sustain over time.
We need grace and so we must quiet ourselves in an attitude of listening prayer. First of all, we do well to listen to the sound of this voice that bids us to “just do the right thing.” What is its tone? Is it harsh? Is it condemnatory? Or is it encouraging? Is it on our side? Is it the voice of a compassionate parent? Many voices vie for attention inside our heads. We need to exercise great care in deciding which ones to heed.
God gives us complete freedom to reject the harsh, intimidating voices. You don’t have to do anything under compulsion . . . anything! When it’s obeyed, that kind of voice only leads to bleak emptiness. Instead, the path we must take is that of seeking the Father’s voice, of opening our inner lives to the energizing power to do good that his Spirit gives. We must simply desire to be his child and to please him with our behaviour. In stillness before him, he will say he is for us and he will grant us the grace to do good. As we persevere in looking to him in love, we will feel the conviction rising from within, “Maybe I can do it after all.”