I direct an adult volunteer church choir. Some have mused that this is akin to herding cats. An adult volunteer choir is a special sort of group. It is made up of people who love to sing but usually, at least subconsciously, believe they really can’t sing all that well. After all, they’re not "professionals." So they assume they could never achieve a "professional" sort of sound. Consequently, the majority of rehearsal time is spent in trying to persuade them to get themselves out of the way so their voices can do what they intuitively know how to do — sing properly.
Often, after a long teeth-pulling session, the choir will sing a section of music as if they are the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And, shocked as I always am during those moments — wow! they actually did it! — I find myself saying something along the lines of, "Yes! Thank you! Why don’t you always sing like that?! Please, don’t make me pull it out of you! Do it because you can and because you take pride in yourself when you sound that way." And, slowly but surely, they begin to realize that you really don’t have to be a "professional" to sound like one. And we make baby steps.
But, as a teacher, I want them to catch a glimpse of what they can do... and then to see them do it because they want to. Not just because I want them to. And that’s one of the things I see at work in this chapter of Deuteronomy. Did you notice the subtlety in this instruction? "Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you." (vs 9-10)
God asks the people to give in proportion to what they have received. But... who determined the amount of blessings received in order to figure out the proportion to be allotted for the offering? The people did. I think that’s significant. Not only were they to bring God an offering, but they were to bring one based upon how many blessings from God they recognized. Wow, that’s a pretty subjective thing, isn’t it?
I know people who seem to always go around with a positive, "I’m blessed" kinda attitude, even when it looks like their life is in the toilet. And then, I know others who seem to always find something wrong with life, even though it looks to me like they have truckloads of blessings staring them in the face. Of course, God wants us to have an attitude of gratitude, because the fact is, no matter how bad we think things are, God is always blessing us. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul observed that "God loves a cheerful giver." Also in that verse, Paul suggested that we give to the Lord from our hearts, not because we have to, not with a begrudging spirit.
You see, that’s what God ultimately wants: the heart of a friend who willingly participates in a relationship with Him. He doesn’t want His people to give simply because He commands it. He could do that, you know. He could rattle off a long list of what He expects us to bring to Him — and in some cases in history, He has done just that. (Didn’t work out so well.) But His ultimate wish is that we would recognize the millions of ways — large and small — that He has blessed our lives and then respond to that with grateful and cheerful giving. That’s what He wants, and it’s something He can’t really command.
It works the same way with my choir. I can poke them, prod them, encourage them, beg them, and bribe them to sing better. I can rant and rave and demand that they do everything I say, that they try all the vocal exercises I introduce to them, even if it makes them feel foolish. But, at the end of the day, I can’t crawl into their throats and force them to do it. I can’t command them to do what I want them to do. If they are going to sing right and well, it will ultimately be because they want to.
Wanting things you can’t command requires a lot of patience, power, and humility. Hmmm. Sounds like God.