Analyzing Half-Hearted Obedience: Identifying the Cause

Chris —  August 28, 2012

Why is half-hearted obedience so common? Why do people come to church if they don’t plan to love Christ with all their heart, soul, and mind? If we can identify the cause, then we can repent where repentance is needed.

Our text for August 26, at the Red Brick Church was 2 Kings 13:14-19. (Listen here). With the impending death of the anointed prophet, Elisha, the otherwise evil Jehoash (2 Kings 13:11) grew desperate at the thought of facing his enemies without God’s blessing. He visited a dying Elisha who promised victory over Syria. Elisha then gave this instruction:

And [Elisha] said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” 2 Kings 13:18-19

There was nothing magic about striking the ground (as there is nothing “magic” about baptism or communion!). Elisha’s challenge to strike the ground with the arrows offered an opportunity for Joash to demonstrate passionate trust in the gracious blessing of the God of Israel. Instead, Joash took three feeble swipes.

God’s  judgment was severe; the die was cast for Joash.  What would have happened had Joash loved Christ with all his heart, soul, and mind? Joash never found out. As the poet said, “For all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these “it might have been.”

Why was it that Jehoash didn’t respond with energy to God’s Word spoken through the prophet?

It is not an irrelevant question. Pastors see Jehoash’s response all the time. People  meet with me to hear God’s Word on a particular matter. They nod in superficial assent, but when it gets down to obeying passionately they take a few half-hearted swipes.

Why did Jehoash go to Elisha if he wasn’t going to passionately obey? I spent a lot of time prayerfully thinking about this until it finally distilled into one central point. And if you remember that point, you’ll have the heart of the matter. But first let’s make some observations about why Jehoash did not respond to God’s Word with passionate obedience.

  • Pride – Kings don’t like being told what to do by anyone. And even though Joash had a degree of respect for Elisha, he wasn’t one to tremble at the Word (Isaiah 66:1-2).
  • The Word of God seemed arbitrary – Perhaps, if God had told Joash to do something difficult, he would have done more. But strike the ground? Come on. What does that have to do with victory?
  • A misunderstanding of grace – 2 Kings 13:23 stresses the graciousness of God. God did graciously establish a covenant relationship with Israel and He promised victory. But Joash misunderstood the covenant when he saw no need to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. We don’t earn grace. We do cooperate with it – – -with all our heart, soul, and mind (Deut 6:5).
  • A lack of faith – Would God really grant victory over the Syrians?

We could analyze this from many different directions, but here is the heart of the matter.

Jehoash didn’t want for God to use Him; He wanted to use God.

Said another way, Jehoash was looking for God to worship him.

Jehoash approached Elisha to hear God’s Word. But he wasn’t truly submissive to the Word of God. He wanted God to submit to his plans.

And this plays out all the time. People who want to use God are a dime a dozen:

  • They want to use God to be good parents.
  • Or to see their marriage healed.
  • Or even to avoid hell.

Enough about Jehoash. How does your story read? Hopefully none of these bullets describe your life:

  • Then the Lord said, “be baptized,” and the woman responded, “I will, someday, when I get around to it.”
  • Then the Lord said, “Observe communion,” and the man said, “I need to check if that is a long weekend or if there is a soccer tournament that day.”
  • The the Lord said, “Commit to a local church.” And the couple responded, “Yes, eventually, sure, at some point. When we find a church that perfectly meets all our conditions.”
  • Then the Lord said, “Go into all the world and make disciples and I’ll be with you (Matthew 28:18-20).” And one Sunday, a guy happened to remember to drop $20 in the offering plate because he thought of missions.
  • Then the Lord said, “Whenever you fast and pray . . . (Matthew 6:18)” And the people said, “I don’t know about the fasting thing. But I will pray if I get some free time in the car.”

To each one of these bullets we can add the conclusion, “And God was angry.”

How does your story read? Too proud? Not sure the Word of God makes sense? Do you think that grace means you can respond half-heartedly? Or do you tremble at his Word (Isaiah 66:1-2)?

In contrast to the story of Joash, Psalm 147:11:

but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.


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4 responses to Analyzing Half-Hearted Obedience: Identifying the Cause

  1. Cindie Winquist August 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Wholehearted. Steadfast. Faithful. Fully devoted. Humble.

    May those words someday describe my walk with the Lord. Pastor Chris, once again my heart is challenged by your writing. Thank you for reminding me of the truth of God’s Word.

  2. Thanks Cindie. Great to hear from you! Congratulations on the new baby!

  3. I know this is from 5 years ago, but it spoke to me today. I confess I’ve been struggling with addiction to pornography for many years. I know it’s hindering and hurting my life in oh so many ways, but I think it may be the symptom and not the sickness. I read your message above about being half-hearted and I think that is what lies at the center of my struggles, but I don’t know how to fix it. I feel dead inside, I pray without tears and even though I know deep down that I am half-hearted and I can’t summon what’s needed to right the ship. I feel doomed, forgotten and cut-off. I’ve asked for forgiveness, I’ve confessed everything I can think of over and over, but when push comes to shove, I fold. My whole life, even in school, if I’m really honest I never put forth my best effort and that carried over into adulthood and now I’m 47, married 22 years. What can I do to change my half of a heart? Do I just need to forget feeling anything and just gut it out? I hope to hear from you.

  4. Hi Chip–I pray you will know victory and you can. First question: do you have a really good church home?