“But Samuel replied, ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.'” (1 Samuel 15:22)

This verse has been on repeat in my head for the past week or so. It’s taken from a passage where Samuel tells Saul that God has now rejected Saul as king. How heartbreaking and tragic for Saul. It seems as though he had it all at one point. What gets better than being a king and having God’s favor?

It’s easy for me to shake my head at Saul because as a reader, it’s pretty clear. God tells Saul to completely destroy the enemy, the Amalekites, and totally destroy everything that belongs to them (v. 3). But Saul is unwilling. He doesn’t go all the way. He keeps some things — “the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs” (v. 9). Later he and his men sacrifice these animals to the Lord, but God is not pleased. Saul tries to patch things up with a ritual or routine. Maybe he thought that God would somehow be swayed by his reasoning.

Somewhere in Saul’s heart, he became proud and used his own judgment to determine what was best. I do this a lot, too. I obey God when things are comfortable or when everything seems to line up. But when it costs me, when it doesn’t make sense, or when it may hurt my pride, I tend to look away, secretly hoping that God would forget because I’ve done the “other stuff” like go to church and pray for my friends. To obey God isn’t a part-time thing. It’s full-time. I can’t obey God a little, I’ve got to go all the way, even when my reasoning may seem “fit” or “right.”

I think that’s the tricky part. Sometimes I think I’m obeying God when I’m serving others or using my time and energy to accomplish some task, but it may not be what God is asking me to do. Sacrifice can look like obedience on the outside, but only God knows my heart. It’s a constant going back and forth to make sure that I’m connected to him and living out in obedience, that ultimately my heart is in the right place and that my desire would be to please him, not fill my life with religious activity or comfort.