How can you know when what you do is approved by God? Every time I read the Book of 2 Samuel and come to the story of David becoming king and wanting to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, I am puzzled again on this topic. It’s in chapter six of the book. David carried a group of able young men of Israel to Baalah to bring the Ark home. There were thirty thousand in all who went for the task. They set the Ark on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart and David and all the others were celebrating with all kinds of musical instruments before the Lord. It must have been a sight to behold as they were taking the Ark of God to where it belonged. They certainly had no doubt that what they were doing was approved by God. “When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.” Wouldn’t that seem like the right thing to do? You sure wouldn’t want the ark to fall off and be damaged. Probably if David had seen Uzzah reaching out he would have commended him for his saving the ark from falling at such a time. “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died here beside the ark of God.” David was frustrated, angry and afraid. It had seemed like the right thing to do. But God had given very strict instructions on how to move the ark of God from the time it was constructed and it involved Levites carrying the ark with poles through rings that had been placed in the sides of the ark. Surely someone in the crowd remembered that God had given such instruction but in their zeal to get the ark and bring it home, they overlooked the means God had given and what they thought was the approved and godly thing to do turned out to bring tragedy.
The ark was left there in the House of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months and God blessed him and his entire household. So David decided to bring the ark down to Jerusalem again, but this time he made certain to do it as God had instructed and it was brought with celebration, blessing from God and tremendous joy from the people of the Nation.
If this story shouts any lesson for us it is that the fact something seems good and right to us and something that God would surely like or be thrilled with, doesn’t always mean it is true. I have no doubt that Uzzah was a good man and had the very best of intentions when he reached out to keep the ark from falling from the cart. But the truth was, it shouldn’t have been on the cart to begin with. They should have stepped back long enough to see what God had said about moving the ark and followed his instructions. The best of intentions, by the nicest, kindest and most caring people doesn’t necessarily mean that a thing is approved by God. Even if we take a vote and everyone there votes for a thing and everyone means well by the vote it doesn’t demonstrate God’s approval.
Look at a New Testament passage in which Paul was writing to his young mentee Timothy and see if this gives us some insight. “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” The Holy Spirit led Paul to push his young friend to do his very best to be approved by God. This could literally be translated, “Make it your ambition in life to be approved by God.” Obviously, if God had Paul to make such a plea to Timothy it is possible for one to live in a way that does have God’s approval.
Look at some of the things in these two verses that Timothy was told were necessary if he was going to have God’s approval. First, he needed to keep reminding God’s people of some things. Do you ever get tired of telling those you love the same things they need to do over and over again? How often as parents have we said, “I just told you yesterday how to do that.” But when matters are vital and have to do with living for God we must not stop reminding people of the things that are right. Second, warn people against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. We seem to live in a time when a major part of life is carrying on a good quarrel. People can get into a quarrel about the least significant things imaginable and make it in their minds so important that everything in life seems to hang on it. Wouldn’t it be great if in every Christian family we could get across the lesson, STOP Quarreling about things that don’t matter anyway. You are just doing harm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in every church family you could have it a requirement of membership that you not quarrel about words or things that don’t really matter anyway. Realize that such quarrels are from the devil and are tearing apart the church.
Third, “Do your best to present YOURSELF to God as one approved.” What a major point! Too much time is spent in most of our minds on how we can get others approved by God. We certainly need to be sharing the good news of Jesus to help people come to the Lord, but if my efforts involve my judging the other person to push them in the direction I think will make the pleasing to God it is likely I’m really trying to make them pleasing to me rather than to God. I’ve learned that if I focus on correcting the things wrong in my life, I don’t have much time or energy left to focus on the things others are doing wrong.
Fourth, be a worker that doesn’t need to be ashamed. Do you know that God never gave anyone the spiritual gift of being a critic? Encouragers? Oh yes. One’s that build others up in the most holy faith? Yes! But he calls me to be a worker in his kingdom. Sitters, watchers, audiences all miss the point. The idea is for every person to be a worker for God so that they have nothing to be ashamed of in their life for the Lord.
Fifth, be one who correctly handles the word of truth. God’s word is “God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). How does a person handle the word correctly? Read it often. Take it personally. Apply it freely to your own life. Talk about what you see in the word with others. Be open to seeing things you have never noticed before and when you see you’ve been wrong, change immediately with no excuses. Read from different translations so you will notice things that you may have overlooked before. Make the word the authority not your interpretation of the word.
Being approved by God is to be a life ambition. Be sure to put it at the top of your bucket list.