Even though I’ve been a Christian for 30 years, have advanced degrees in theology, and have been a pastor for 16 years, there are times when a scripture catches me by surprise. Genesis chapter four was recently one of these passages. This passage deals with an important question: are we giving our hearts to God, or are we just going through the motions?
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:1:5
What surprised and confused me here was why God joyfully accepted Abel’s offering but rejected that of Cain (verses 4-5). Was God playing favorites? Does God favor cattle farmers over crop farmers (don’t laugh: some scholars have tried to make that very argument)? The difference between the offering of Abel and that of Cain lay in their respective hearts. Abel joyfully gave his wealth to the Lord. He was grateful for all God had done for Him, and gave the very best of his flock without question. Abel, however, was just going through the motions. He did not choose the best of his harvest but merely gave the minimum so that he could claim he had fulfilled his duty to God. He was not serving or worshiping God, he was merely checking off a box on his to-do list. Cain gave a physical offering to God, but he failed to give God his heart.
How often are we like Cain? Are we just going through the motions of following and serving God without actually giving our hearts over to Him? I’ll be honest: I have gone through seasons of my life like that. I’ve gone to church, served in various ministries, and put money in the offering plate. However, I was not fully living for God. I was just going through the motions without giving God my full heart. As we finish up the first month of this new year I encourage all of us to reflect on how we are living our lives. Are we truly loving and serving God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, or are we just going through the motions?