“For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt...Yet the Lord testified against Israel and against Judah, by all of His prophets, every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways, and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by My servants the prophets.” Nevertheless they would not hear, but stiffened their necks, like the necks of their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He had made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He had testified against them...And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them from His sight.” 2 Kings 17: 7, 13-15, 20
The whole topic of free will has an interesting twist when you are dealing with the fact that your will affects those you love the most. From the perspective of a mother and wife I find that many of the things I do on a daily basis are things I chose to do, but not always things I would love spending my day doing. The reasoning behind my daily choices is not that I have children that command I serve them or laws my husband has dictated above me to serve our family in a specific way, but rather my actions are the byproducts of the love I have for my husband and my children. It is the love I have for them above my own love of self that causes me to make sacrifices in my life for them and put them first most of the time in my life.
I think service is a natural characteristic of expressing love toward another person. Conversely, if we tend to not to love someone, we inclined in the other direction. The lack of love holds us back from doing anything above and beyond what is required in dealing with a specific person. Love is really the catalyst of service and sacrifice of oneself. The more we love someone, the more we are willing to give the best of ourselves in service to that other person, to make concerted efforts to right the wrongs in that relationship before any long-standing division takes place, and to strive toward pleasing that person without thought of personal gain.
What about our service and subsequent love directed towards God then? If we find ourselves in a place where we are doing things to serve God out of the guilt we feel when we see His commands which then makes us realize our life does not measure up to what He says, do not really love Him? Service without love is empty and shallow and when the going gets tough in those areas of service then human nature and its bent on self-preservation kicks in and leans us towards the easier and more self-satisfying choices we have before us.
On the other hand, when we find that we are seeking to hear God's Spirit speak into our lives and then obediently follow the paths set before us, even if the path takes us in a direction that may not include our most favored activities and people, then we are living out a deep and true love for the Lord. A love towards the Lord that acts in this manner also hurts when division comes and when the relationship is put out of order. This sort of love makes sure to ask of God, “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening. What can I do for you?” and then is willing to do that which is requested.
Our loving Father loves us more than we could ever imagine. But, relationships are not built on the willing and loving service of only one of the two people in that relationship. God has always been good to keep consistent in providing love from His side of the relationship toward each of us – and as you can see in the verses from 2 Kings 17 He has been doing this for a long time. God desires for each of us to be loving towards Him also and He knows of our sinful nature and that is why He make is t point to call back those He loves when they start to wander away from the perfect loving relationship He wants to maintain with each person He has created.
But, it all comes back to our own free will and the choice we have to either soften our hearts and be open to loving God all the more in our lives OR hardening our hearts and choosing instead to serve ourselves and our own desires. The people of Israel decided to serve themselves and found that God gave them the desires of their hearts – separation from Him. Each of us have the same choice that all mankind has had since sin first separated man from God in the garden of Eden – putting God first or putting ourselves first.
What will each of us choose today? The way you have oriented your heart, either toward God or towards the world, will ultimately dictate who you will serve in the end.