The reason I think that I can answer this, is that there are a lot of people, much closer to God than I, that have asked this question and answered it for us.
God's prophet Samuel called David a man after God's own heart. This is what David had to say on the topic:
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;Hear Isaiah the prophet (speaking God's words) tear into God's people, particularly the last few lines:
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Quit your worship charades.Micah the prophet says:
I can't stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings--
meetings, meetings, meetings--I can't stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You've worn me out!
I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I'll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I'll not be listening...
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down--and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:God's words from Jeremiah:
"See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God."
I will keep you safe only if you change your ways. Be fair and honest with each other. Stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows.From Hosea:
I'm after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings.How can these words not speak volumes to us today?
I think the clearest words on this subject to me, however, are the words of Jesus. In the end, how will God separate His people from everyone else? Does Jesus talk about our morality? Does he talk about the religious laws we kept? Where we went to church? This is what he says:
God wants a broken heart more than rule-following? He wants us to help those who need help more than he wants religion? He wants us to be merciful? He wants us to give someone who is thirsty a drink of water?
"Then the King will say to those on his right, "Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me,"Then those "sheep' are going to say, "Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, "I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me--you did it to me.'
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
Is this what the rest of the world sees when they look at us? What is it that brings me to say things to my wife like, It's crazy when Bono of U2 seems to know God better than a lot of Christians I know. When I blogged about boycotting the other day, I wrote Why does it seem like celebrities are doing more than believers to stop human suffering? I was going to write something like "Why do Brad Pitt and Bono seem to be doing more for ending human suffering than Christians?" I couldn't write that after Krista directed me to Bono's address at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Am I saying that helping people is the only thing? Obviously not; I just want to point out that it might be more important to God than a lot of things we focus on. Sometimes it would do us well to remember that God is a God of love. No matter how much time we spend talking about Jesus, it's going to be pointless until we start acting like Him.
Addendum (10:35 am): Providence? Maybe I should have read Larry James' post from yesterday...I guess I left some of God's prophets out...