Friday, March 30, 2007

Obedience For Dogs & Me

My daughter has a Nintendo DS. Yes, my wife and I actually chose to give it to her for Christmas. What evil thing does that say about us?! Hmm…

Anyway, she has this game where she gets and trains puppies, raising them from puppiness through adultness. To do it, she gives them behavioral commands like “Lie down!” and “Sit!” and “Roll over!” Sometimes the Nintendo dogs obey, and sometimes they don’t, which provokes my daughter to say it again—a little more strongly. It’s funny because not only does she speak with clarity and deep authority (well, at least it sounds pretty convincing for a girl her age), but our own dog, sitting next to her, carries out the commands. Well, some of the commands.

And I wondered, “If my daughter said those commands with an encouraging tone, a really upbeat inflection, would the dogs follow through and obey more readily or less?” And that got me thinking.

What if I thought of God’s commands to me as wonderful, life-securing and encouraging orders, instead of grumpy and foreboding demands? I mean, I know God is always correct and spot-on in His assessment of everything, so why does my fleshly mind attach a doom and gloom tone to His directions? Does the Spirit talk to me in the same manner as He would to, say, Pharaoh? Jezebel? Nebuchadnezzar? Or, how about the devil? Same?

If I was hanging out with Pharaoh one day and God showed up with something to say, would His commands to me sound the same as those to Pharaoh? Of course, I suppose we’d have to make certain exceptions for content. “Pharaoh, you brutal subjugator of my people, take out the trash...and then go to Sheol.” And, turning to me, “Ralph, you greatly favored, heaven-bound son of mine, take out the trash.” Would it all sound the same?

I don’t think so.

There are those who think obedience is the most important part of the Christian life—I’m not one of them. I think believing God is first. And while the obedience-is-king crowd might say, “Well, of course believing is first,” I don’t think they really mean it, especially because they often come across as stern and dour, obedience monitors among us. They major in it, and we’ve noticed.

I think the reason many of us fail to obey the New Testament oriented commands of God is because we think they come to us from a sort of high school principal—Do this, Ralph, and you won’t get into trouble. So, the only thing I believe at that moment is, “Well, I’d better do it, or I’ll get detention.” See what I mean? My belief is in avoiding the consequences of disobeying authority, not in the brilliance and well-intentioned motives of the trustworthy principal. Sounds like a dog’s life. To be certain, obedience is a vital, indispensable part of Christian life, but why we obey is, I believe, even more important.

So, today I’m doing what God says to do because it’s coming from my Father, who is perfect in love, perfect in knowledge and grace, and perfect in how He sees and treats me. I have a pretty good idea of what He did for me and to me through Christ, and I have a decent idea of what He thinks of me. It’s pretty fantastic.

He’s amazing, and He’s amazing toward me—I believe that, and I believe Him. Obedience comes from there.


  1. Daniel9:58 PM

    What prompts you to want to believe in the first place?

  2. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Boy, is this RIGHT ON!

    I know, because I lived the "Dogs life" most of my life, and thought that God was going to hit me with the "rolled up newspaper" at any given moment.

    Now, knowing that is not true and knowing how and what He thinks of me is such bliss, even as I "mess up" somehow I want to take His grace-filled dos and don'ts, if you can call them that.

    I know I'm always better off than I think......... especially in God's eyes.

    Thank you, Ralph And I'm praying that your trip is so wonderful for both you and your parents.

  3. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Amen! Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Anonymous11:55 AM

    Hi Ralph,

    This new e-mail from you hit home.Our pastor, week after week keeps hammering us with obedience, obedience, obey, obey obedience or hell. The first session with his lessons was good for me in that I need to fear God and respect God and not trample what his son did...but...the repeating and hammering is getting to be a bit much...even today Easter...I began to squirm not out of fear of going to hell for lack of diligence in obeying but the hammering tone from the pulpit. I kept asking myself if he (our pastor) would balance his lesson with the fact God our Father is singing over us. I clamored out of bed to go to service only to leave feeling burdened and somewhat dismayed and an ugly emotion had tagged me. I respect our pastor and the church where I attend has been helpful in regards to certain needs but...the good intentions of our pastor and the tonal emphasis on obedience or else takes the focus away from who creates in us the ability to listen (obey) and the process or guiding beauty of the Holy Spirit that helps us in our weakness.

    As I begin to experience God's love my life, the desire to listen to him starts to be there for me to walk in.

    In the past and even recent past I have tried to obey the urging of my pastor and have found myself face down in failure and despair. It is and is only when I turn to Christ and his life giving life and confess that in my flesh I can't be obedient and ask him or rely on him that I find myself "listening" and sense the guiding of his Spirit.

  5. Anonymous8:22 PM

    That's great! I like the way you wrote this – your intro was great. Don’t you just love it when you “get” such great illustrations?

    At the very least, this is a good reminder to probably ALL of us who get caught up in the “obey or die” mode. It’s so easy to fall into it, let alone live there.

    My favorite reminder is the Lord's words: “If you LOVE me, you’ll obey my commands.” I like to focus there, on investing in, developing & enjoying my relationship w/Him. I always find that the more I love Him, the more I want to obey Him. Keeps it simple that way.