Thursday, April 28, 2011
A Changed Obedience
I have wrestled and struggled with obedience most of my life. Well, perhaps not when I was one year old, but put that aside. Besides, everyone obeyed me during that first year or two.
Obey. How does that word make you feel? Obey! Does it stir warm feelings and fuzzy memories of days gone by? Not for me.
The command to “obedience” has provided me with lots of opportunities to navigate or negotiate with it. I could obey the command on the outside, while screaming with resentment on the inside. I could obey if I thought there was an immediate benefit secured by the act—I win. Or I could obey part-way—make it look as though I were carrying out the command when really I was obeying by a percentage less than 100%.
So when as a new Christian I read how important obedience is to God—it’s a pretty big deal with Him—I set to work on it. I had help. Loads of sermons and books focused me on obedience, and my Christian friends were walking along with me, determined to live a life of obedience. What an intense phrase that is.
Here’s what I’ve found: while I am a new creation and obedience to God is perfectly in keeping with who I have become, my flesh is anything but new. In continued rebellion against God, it presses me to keep on navigating obedience. In other words, the mind of the flesh suggests I obey God only when I can predetermine a desirable outcome. Obey if it will make my life work better. Obey if I’ll feel better. Obey if it’s more fun. Obey if people will see it—and honor me. But obey if I have no idea what the result will be?
Hmm. . . May I have another choice, please?
Here’s what I’m learning: obedience is best and most true when it is to God Himself, and not to an acceptable or good plan, or an outcome I can imagine. To be clear, I like it when I can expect or imagine a good outcome; pray, and I’ll feel better; read the Bible and I’ll gain knowledge and wisdom, etc. But offering obedience to God when I have no idea if the result will be what I like is quite the adventure.
What if I don’t like the result better than what I could have had by the flesh? (Ooh. That’s adventurous.)
So I’m talking and thinking through obedience like this: “Well, Holy Spirit, I am offering obedience. There are accomplishments and pleasures and outcomes that seem preferable and within my reach just now, but I believe obedience to you is the proper first course. And that may lead me away from those other avenues. I offer obedience—and turn from watching college baseball on Saturday in order to turn to my girls, simply to be with them because I believe you want me to. When ‘Get off the computer and go walk the dog’ bursts into my mind, I offer obedience to you in case it is you. If it is, I’m outta here. When my fleshly compunction is to fiddle with a dazzling electronic device I’ve just purchased, and I sense you leading to something else, I offer obedience to you. When my fleshly mind suggests I crack down on my kids and set some rules(!), I pause and offer myself to you, Holy Spirit—you may not be leading me to do it at all. I want to find out. I don’t know if I’ll actually like obeying you better than what could have been, but I offer obedience. I trust you for life, moment by moment.”
Does this make sense? There is nothing, nothing better than actually knowing God, and obedience to Him at least gives me that opportunity. I feel like a happy kid when I’m knowing and resting in Him. But while I have my highest delight in knowing Him, I may not actually like His leading away from what the flesh offered. I might, but I might not. So that can’t be the issue.
God, the Holy Spirit, actually lives in me! And in you. And not only do you and I want to know Him better, our life is found in the knowing. Believing Him and knowing Him delivers us from the dead life we had before God came to live in us, before He made us new and young at heart again.
A believing and offered obedience plays a big part in that life.