To set the right "mood" for this article, let's take you back into the archives of the classic American sitcom, Steinfeld. The "Puffy Shirt" episode, in which Jerry declares, "But I don't wanna be a pirate!," captures the exact tone of this article, that sort of whiny, nasally, shrill voice that most people get when adamantly complaining against something they really don't want to do.
For help in jogging your memory, click on video to view the video clip. Notice the sound of his voice.
We have all said at one time or another in our lives (whether out loud or silently in our heads), "But I don't want to ______." And whatever fills in the blank is irrelevant. When our will is set against something, there is usually only one of two outcomes that occurs: 1) You get your way and don't engage in the activity demanded, or 2) You are overpowered to do the activity against your will. In either of these outcomes, it is rare that the activity is performed or avoided with a positive heart attitude. The will is essentially tied to attitude.
Lately I have been overwhelmed by the topic of obedience, especially as it pertains to living a fulfilling, abundant Christian life (one marked by purity and peace). It seems everywhere I turn in Scripture I am being reminded of this fundamental thread of obedience to God that is woven throughout all of history. I can't escape the reality that somehow, from God's perspective, obedience cannot be avoided if one desires to enjoy peace now and eternal rewards later.
From the very beginning, obedience was an expectation God placed on mankind. To disobey God would certainly bring about consequences, even if the full scope of those consequences weren't understood. God told Adam, "...you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen. 2:17) A "law" was given and the expectation was for Adam to obey. God was not obligated to explain His reasons or even what the fullness of the consequences would be if Adam chose to disobey. He spoke. Therefore, Adam was expected to obey. Simple, right?
Later in history, God's people were grumpy and wanted a king (instead of the Theocracy that God envisioned). God, being gracious (and sovereign) to His chosen ones, anointed a man named Saul to be king. During Saul's reign God commanded him to destroy the Amalekites, a people who had fought against God's people and who God chose to judge. God told Saul to "totally destroy" them, putting to death "men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." Saul, however, only partially obeyed. (this story can be found in 1 Samuel 15)
Saul conquered the Amalekites, but spared their king and kept the "best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs - everything that was good." His reasoning was that he was going to offer these as a sacrifice to God in thanks for the victory they won over the Amalekites. And this pleased God, right? Wrong! This grieved God because Saul "turned away from [Him] and did not carry out [God's] instructions."
God later spoke to Saul through the prophet Samuel, saying, "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam. 15:22)
When Jesus came on the scene of human history as the perfect Lamb of God, he had some thoughts on this issue of obedience. In one exchange with his disciples he said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15) What an interesting and perplexing statement, love and obedience intertwined, with obedience as the indicator of love. This is quite contrary to what our culture would have us believe about love. I mean, love is how you feel about someone, right? Obedience is only about obligatory duty. It can't be about loving affection, can it?
"Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13)
The greatest among faith, hope and love is love. And if you love God you will obey His commandments. (1 John 5:3) So, loving God boils down to responding to His Word in faith. When He speaks, we obey. But not with attitudes of obligatory duty, but as ones who truly love God, who understand that it is by His grace and mercy that we are even allowed the privilege to commune with Him. Love born of faith will create such a heart that longs to obey. And, thankfully for us, "his commands are not burdensome." (1 John 5:3)
If obedience to God is high on His priority scale (and it is!), then how can we improve in this area? First, it would be very important to know what God's expectations are for us, His children. In the same way it would be difficult for your children to obey if they didn't't know the expectations, it is tough for us to obey if we don't know God's instructions. Second, we must abandon our desire to "reason" with God. When God asks us to do something difficult (i.e. "flee sexual immorality") or irrational (i.e. "love your enemies") we must not argue or feel entitled to receive an explanation from God. Finally, we must acknowledge that obedience is primarily a heart issue, not a task issue. Let us remember God's admonishment to King Saul, "To obey is better than sacrifice." Obedience must be from the heart or it isn't really obedience (at least not from God's viewpoint).
Is it difficult to obey? Only if we choose to start from any other premise than God being the Creator and we being the created. "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " (Romans 9:20) God is never obligated to explain Himself or His commands to us. And yet, in His kindness, He does offer us insight and hope and purpose through what He has said to us in His Word. But even if explanations are absent, God is always good, even when it might appear otherwise. His judgments are righteous, His love is eternal, His mercy is tender and His faithfulness is unbreakable for those who put their trust in Him.
The old hymn "Trust and Obey" has become increasingly more precious to me as I grow older, for in its simple words the crux of the Christian faith is sung. "Trust and obey for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey." For the fulfilling, abundant life Jesus offers, engage the precious task of obedience. Obeying God is never a wasted venture.