Have you ever wondered what exactly God expects from you? That’s a very common question, especially when life is tough. You’re trying to live your life the best you know how, but then difficult and disappointing things happen to you, one after another. You feel as if life is ganging up on you, and then you begin to wonder if God is punishing you for something you did.

You’re not sure what you should do so that God will make your life better. Oh, sure, you know that you could go to church more or pray more or try again to give up those pesky cigarettes. You doubt, though, that doing those things would help. You’ve tried doing them before, and it didn’t seem to make much difference.

Hang on, there is good news. God has told us plainly what it will take to please Him. I’m so glad that God doesn’t want us to spend our lives trying to guess what He’s up to. In a minute I’m going to share that life-changing truth with you, but first, let me tell you a story about two very different young people.

In this story, Mike and Carol get married and have two children. They are good parents. Mike and Carol work very hard to provide the very best for their children. They send them to the finest schools, make sure they have the best medical care, and sacrificially provide for their every need.

Their oldest child is Pretty Patty. She has always been a good girl. Patty never got involved with drugs or any immoral behavior, and she stayed away from troublemakers. She worked hard in school and got good grades. Patty won a decent college scholarship, and four years later, she graduated with honors. In her spare time, Patty even volunteered to help at some local charities. She married a nice young man, and they were able to afford many of life’s luxuries.

Pretty Patty had just one flaw. She showed very little gratitude for what her parents had done for her. After she was old enough to leave home, she never called, wrote, or texted her parents–unless she needed something from them.

Mike and Carol’s second child is Bumbling Butch. He is a nice kid, but he never did very well in school. Butch wasn’t much of an athlete either, so he never did well in sports. His parents were constantly after him to clean his room, and he was often forgetful. Butch never made it to college, but he found a job and had to work hard just to pay his bills.

Unlike his sister Pretty Patty, though, Bumbling Butch was very grateful to his parents for all that they had done for him. Even after he moved out on his own, he talked to his parents often, and he looked for ways to do thoughtful things for them.

Now here is an easy question: Between Patty and Butch, which is the better child? I think we would all agree that the one who showed love and appreciation to his parents would be the better child. It would be so painful to sacrifice a lot for a child who never showed appreciation for it.

Jesus agrees. I know this because he told us very plainly what He values the most from us. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matthew 22:37–38). God tells us plainly here what pleases Him.

How can we love God? We must first understand that sin has ruined our ability to enjoy getting to know Him. Unless we have a relationship with Him, we are just acting like Pretty Patty. Despite the good things we do, until we put our faith in Christ, we remain spiritually dead and ungrateful (see Ephesians 2:1,5).

Jesus didn’t come to earth just to make us better people. We don’t clean up our lives and do better so He will love us. He came and died to give us the spiritual life we lacked. “When we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him… [so that] in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2: 5–6,13).

When we embrace the life that Jesus purchased for us, then we can begin to understand “… what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18–19).

What do we owe God? Our love and affection! That’s because Jesus endured the wrath of God that our sin deserves when He died on the Cross. He suffered so that we could forever escape our just punishment!

That doesn’t mean we won’t go through some hard times in this broken, sinful world. It does mean that when we go through them, we will have God’s love and companionship. God has promised His followers “‘… I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6).

God doesn’t need your money or your hard work. He wants your love! Obeying God’s rules won’t impress Him. When we love Him, though, we follow Him. We eventually come to realize that obeying Him is a joy and not a burden.

Jesus made it clear that He “… came that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Christians don’t have “rules, rules, and more rules.” Instead, they have an abundant life that is filled with love for the One who made them and who saved them!