For just a moment, stop to consider what people declare as "right" for your life and what "demands" they make of you. For example, if you are a teen growing up under the authority of a parent, you might have a list which goes something like: 1) Be home on time - obey the curfew; 2) Do your best in school - get grades you are capable of achieving; 3) Listen to your mother - respect her authority; and 4) Don't use drugs or alcohol - avoid all association with those who do. This is a short list, but you get the gist - there are "rules" to follow - "demands" being made of the teen growing up "under authority" which are rewarded with things such as a family, home, good food, safety, and protection. Each demand carries a certain element of reward. Each "right" thing declared for the teen's well-being is simply there for their protection. The same is true of God's declarations of what is "right" for our lives and what he "demands" in the way of obedience to his declared purpose for our lives.
The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: “See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God.” (Micah 6:8 CEV)
Understanding what God declares to be right and what he demands is paramount to living as we should in this day and age. There are a lot of voices declaring "what is right" for us - only one matters, though. There are more demands on us than at any other time in history - simply because we "advance" into new arenas and discoveries, leaving us wide open for the "demands" they make on us. Three things God declares to be "right" and which outline his pretty succinct "demands" for our lives:
1) See that justice is done. Wow! Now this one is a big order to fill, is it not! In today's world, how do we see that justice is done? In the Message translation of this passage, the wording is probably a little clearer: "Do what is fair and just to your neighbor." It is what we do "to" others and "with" others which is in focus here. In other words, we are to be in control of how it is we treat people. If we really stop to consider this one, God is asking us to continually allow our actions to be guided by truth, reason, and fairness. There is nothing which will ensure we treat others fairly than to continually seek truth in the relationship. No one can stand accused or put down when we consider our own sin FIRST, focusing more on how grace has impacted us, and then extending that grace to another.
2) Let mercy be your first concern. This is where treating others with justice leads us - to the "mercy seat" of God. We find the two go hand-in-hand, with justice and mercy being interwoven into all our actions. God commissions his kids to be ambassadors of mercy. Some of our actions "merit" certain responses. For example, if we hit the back of another person's car with ours because we could not control the speed of our vehicle to avoid a collision we have a responsibility to ensure their car is restored. Yet, there are times when our actions "merit" a response which is completely "outside" of how God responds to them. For example, when we sin, he extends grace. When we are doubtful, he gives us faith to see it through. When we are fearful, he comes alongside to comfort and bring us through. God's plan is for us to give what is not expected - to extend mercy. In the example above, the car might be sent to the body shop for the dents to be removed and a new bumper to be put on the car. In God's economy, the car is replaced, not just repaired! He doesn't give us back "damaged, but repaired" goods - he makes new again! Mercy has a way of making new!
3) Humbly obey your God. Okay, we knew obedience had to come into the mix somewhere along the way, right? God's plan involves us being rightly related to him, us being rightly related to others, and us having a right view of our place in his family. When we understand who we are in Christ Jesus, we reach out to others differently than when we are insecure about ourselves, or trying to make a mark in this world. When we see the "mark" is already made because God has declared us to be his child, we face the world differently. Obedience is more than adherence to a set of rules and regulations. It is an attitude of heart that puts another first. In asking us to be obedient, God is laying out how it is we see justice done in this world - how we allow mercy to be our first concern. You see, when we understand putting God first in our lives, it is easy for us to learn how to put another's needs in a place of priority in our lives (over our own). We focus externally more than internally. This is the commission of the first two - to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others - becoming agents of God's love to them.
So, if we could have a "theme" for our year, I think this would be a good start: See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God. Just sayin!