Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TTF Piece 4: Radical Obedience

            I would have to say that of all the pieces, I think that this one is the most important.  (If any one of them can be considered more important than the others.)  And I’m not saying this like God necessarily needs our obedience or else He’ll be at a helpless loss.  But because obedience says the most about our relationship with God.  Obedience tells us if we are able to hear His messages and if we know His Word, if we trust Him enough and are willing enough to do what He says, and if we love Him and have really made Him God of our lives.  Let’s take a moment to explore some of what the Bible says about obedience:



            Jeremiah 7:23:  “but I gave them this command:  Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.  Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.”

            Luke 11:28:  “[Jesus] replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”

            John 15:10:  “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

            Acts 5:32:  “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  (Emphasis is mine.)

            1 John 5:3:  “This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .” 

            Okay, wait!  I want to look at something here.  In the last section, we read Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I think that we have a tendency to believe that no matter what we do, God will work it out for good.  We can make our own choices, live our own lives, and go our own way … and somehow He will work it out for good.  Because it is written that God works everything out for good.  Right? 
            Not exactly.  Let’s take a slightly closer look.  It is written that in all things God works for the good of “those who love him.”  Those who love Him!  And what does it mean to love Him?  Does it mean warm, fuzzy feelings?  Gratitude?  Serving in church?
            No!  According to 1 John 5:3, to love Him is to obey Him.  They are inseparable.  Love and obedience. 
            So meshing these two verses together:  In all things God works for the good of those who obey Him.  We have a responsibility to obey, if we want all things to work together for good.  We cannot ignore our responsibility, doing whatever we want, and think that God will bless us.  That’s a sobering thought!  And I think it challenges the way many of us live our lives.  (Yes, I do still think that God can work something good out of everything, but getting His best requires obedience.) 

 
            Let’s also look at John 14:23:  “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.’“  Now, before we misinterpret Jesus’ view of obedience, let me point out that He is not saying that He will love you only if you obey or that all He wants out of you is your obedience.  God did not make man because He needed servants to do a job that He couldn’t do for Himself.  He made man because He wanted a family - an eternal family of those who want to be with Him.
            Ephesians 1:5:  “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will . . .” 

            [Off the topic a little, predestination is a very messy topic to debate and many have given great arguments for or against the idea.  Well, here is my stab at it, what I believe.  I do not think that this means that He predestined only certain people to be saved, that He overrode man’s free-will to force some to choose Him.  I think it means one of two things:
            1.  That He predestined mankind in general to come to Him.  That was the “destiny” that He created humans for and that He desires for us, but we still have the right to choose it or not.  Or …
            2.  That He predestined that particular generation of people to be the first generation to find saving faith in Jesus because they were around during the time of Jesus.  And I get this idea from older versions of 2 Thess 2:13-14, which is a similar greeting to this Ephesians passage.  And that older version says something like “God chose you as His first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  They were the first generation to have Jesus’s sacrificial death and the Holy Spirit.  So they weren’t predestined to be believers, but they were predestined to be the first believers to experience the work of the Holy Spirit through Jesus’ death and resurrection.     
            The whole “predestination vs. free will” debate is much more complicated than what I’m getting into here.  (And I get into it much more in my “predestination” posts at https://myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com and https://lovehealme.blogspot.com.  Just click on the predestination label.)  But I wanted to address it a little because I don’t like leaving the phrase “predestined us to be adopted” un-explained. 
            Too many Christians think it means that God chooses to save some people and to damn the rest to hell.  And that is a distressing thought that completely alters our view of God and His love and grace.  I DO NOT believe that God predestines people to hell or to heaven, against their wills.  I believe that He offers salvation to all people as a free gift, but we have to choose to accept His gift or not.]

 
            Anyway, as seen in that verse, as well as many others, God created us because He wants mankind’s friendship for all of eternity.  He wants a family of people who want to be with Him, who choose Him.  He did not create us simply to do His bidding. 
            And yet, being obedient is THE indicator of the quality of our relationship with Him, if we really love Him or not.  To love Him is to obey Him.  To obey Him means that we put His desires and instructions over our own desire and our own ideas of what we think His instructions should be.  It means that we trust Him enough to do what He asks.  And to trust Him means to know Him enough to believe in His goodness and wisdom.  And to know Him well - to know Him as He really is - involves spending enough quality time with Him, in His Word and in prayer. 
            The more time we spend getting to know Him and drawing near to Him, the more we trust Him, the more we love Him, and then the more we will want to obey Him.  And the more we obey Him, the more His Will gets done and the more people we reach for His eternal family. 
            Obedience says the most about the quality of our relationship with Him - how much we know Him, how much we listen to Him, how much we trust Him, and how much we love Him.            

 
            And here’s a huge secret:  We can obey without “feeling like it.”  I have to say that I am quite concerned about a common “value” in our society: the value of “feelings” and “following your heart.”  What I mean is that we hold up our feelings and our hearts as the ultimate guides. 
            As long as you are following your heart, you can’t go wrong!  Right?
            Wrong!  Unfortunately, we are creating a society of self-serving, self-focused people who are following their every heart’s desire, their every whim.  We are becoming entitled, “because-I-deserve-it,” “I-want-my-way” people.  Just look at our commercials and count how many times you hear that “you deserve it,” no matter what you do or don’t do.
            We have become convinced that we are #1 and that our feelings matter above all else, that we have to “feel like it” before we do it and that we have to do whatever we feel like.  After all, if we don’t follow our hearts, we’re not being true to ourselves.  And we have to be true to ourselves above anything else, right? 
            And we hold this up as a valid reason for everything we do or don’t do.  “It’s just not me!”  “I didn’t feel like it!”  “It’s not how I’m wired, I guess.”  “I had to follow my heart.”  “I had to look out for my own happiness first.”
            It’s all about us and what we want and what we think will make us happy.  And nothing should get in our way.   
            And in the wake of this teaching are broken marriages, broken homes, absent mothers and fathers, children having babies, sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol problems, erratic spending, etc. 
            Where is the self-control, the responsible behavior, the integrity, the modesty and decency, the concern for what’s wise and godly? 
            While “our feelings” and “our happiness” may seem like justifiable excuses in our society (a selfish society that is completely bent on absolving man of any personal responsibility or accountability), I don’t think God sees it the same way.  The Bible is full of times when God basically says, “If you obey Me, it will go well with you … If you follow My commands ...” 

 
            It’s not “If you feel like…” or “If you want to...” or “If it makes you happy…” 
            It’s “If you obey . . .” 

 
            And what we don’t really seem to understand is that we can obey without feeling like it.  Whether or not we obey is not dependent on our feelings; it is dependent on our wills.  We choose to obey or disobey out of our wills.  And whether or not we felt like doing it, God will bless our obedience.  And as we obey, our feelings will eventually get in line.   
            I think more of us would experience the vibrant, fulfilling life in Him if we were more diligent about listening to Him (through His Word, through prayer, and through the Holy Spirit) and obeying Him.  And if we were willing, I think that a lot of us would be asked by God to do big things, brave things, and great things for His glory.  But I know that all of us would be asked to do the best we can in the daily “smaller” things for His glory! 

 
            I think the world judges Christianity most by how the majority of us do the “smaller” things (raising our families, treating our spouses and others, living by our convictions, how we speak, etc.) than by how those few influential Christians in the public-eye preach and behave.  And when the majority of us don’t look any different than the world, they have no reason to desire what we have to offer. 

            Our God searches for people who are fully committed to Him, to doing His Will and to following Him wholeheartedly.   

            2 Chronicles 16:9:  “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

            But how many people will He find? 

 
 
            It may be difficult or scary to obey.  But God will give us the strength to do it.  We just have to be willing to obey and active about doing it.  And trust me… doing the right thing - as God calls us to - is not always the popular or comfortable thing to do.  Many times, it costs us something.  Our pride.  Our time.  Our money.  Our “image.”  Our “friends.”  But God has much greater things in mind when He calls us to do something.  Even if it temporarily stings.

            When I was taking a college class at the community college, I found myself in one of those situations where the “right” thing to do was the most uncomfortable thing to do.  I was in an English class, and it just so happened that one of my younger classmates was also in my church’s youth group, where I was a leader. 
            Now, the teacher had asked people to take parts in a play to be read aloud.  None of us had read the piece ahead of time, but I raised my hand and was given a part.  As the play started, I looked ahead to my character’s lines . . . and I was horrified.  I had been given a very sexual, immoral character.  I felt a knot tighten up in my stomach.  I would be saying these things in front of someone who I was trying to “live Christ” in front of.  I was a leader in the youth group.  My mom was the youth “pastor.”  People watched my life.  How would this affect my witness?  Sure, it might have been “just a play,” but I really saw it as an issue of integrity. 
            Now, I am no Mother Teresa, but (as an illustration, and forgive me for saying it) what if she once took the role of a vulgar, drug-using prostitute for a Hollywood movie?  A gratuitous role with no redeeming value?  Just cursing and drugs and sex?  Would we think any less of her?  Would our minds hold that image as we watched her serve God later?  Would her integrity and witness shine as brightly if we had seen her playing out a morally-depraved character?  All I could think about as I considered my character’s lines was how this youth-group friend would hear my voice saying these immoral things, and yet later at youth group they would hear me speaking about Jesus and God with that same mouth. 
            It was a moral dilemma.  But what could I do?  The play had already started.  My mind raced for an answer.  And I finally settled on one. 
            One that I really didn’t want to do. 
            But as discreetly as possible, I crept up to the teacher and told her that I couldn’t do the part.
            “What?” she asked me, incredulously.
            “Um, I can’t read this part for . . . moral reasons.  I don’t like what she’s saying,” I sheepishly whispered, as the play went on around us.  And she stared at me with raised eyebrows that said, You’ve got to be kidding me?  Now that’s one that I’ve never heard before.  
            Well, as soon as my part came up, she had no choice but to read the lines for me.  And I shrunk down as far as possible in my seat, as everyone looked at me like, What just happened here?  I never got a chance to explain to anyone why I did what I did, so who knows what they all thought of me.  But at least I didn’t have to live with knowing that my fellow youth-grouper (or God Himself) heard me saying things that were totally contrary to my faith and walk with God.  I don’t care if it was “just a play.”  This was about choosing what would please God more.                  
            We don’t need to know what the results will be or what the next step will be or how God will use our obedience.  We just have to choose the thing that glorifies God, to obey the next step as He gives it, and then see what God does. 
            But His kingdom will not grow and His Will (the daily things that He wants us to do) does not get done apart from our obedience.  (I believe that God works in conjunction with mankind’s obedience and prayer.  That it’s how He has chosen to get His Will and His plans done, in a general sense.)     
 

            But you know what’s more?  I believe that, yes, it’s hard to be faithfully obedient in the big, brave, and great tasks that He gives us, but I think it’s even harder to be faithfully obedient in the small, monotonous, everyday tasks that He gives us.  (I am thinking here of the roles of “parent” and “employee at a boring job.”)  These things don’t make a big splash in our world, or draw a lot of attention, or make us feel as accomplished or appreciated as the big things.  And they have to be done all day, every day.  (Ugh!)  
            The Bible is full of many “little things” that God calls us to do daily.  Things that relate to how we live, what kind of person we are, what we think and say and do.  And we are wrong to look at these as guidelines - as “good advice to take if you want to” - instead of as things that God expects us to be obedient in, no matter how insignificant they seem. 
            We tend to gloss over the “little things” if they are not what we want to hear or if they don’t seem to work for us.  But this opens up a whole host of problems that create unintended chaos and complications in our lives, as well as distance from the Lord.  We need to be obedient in even the “small” instructions, the daily things that add up to the person we are.

            Several years back, I had bought some praying mantis egg cases to put in my garden.  But as an educational project, we wanted to watch them hatch.  And we wanted to keep one in a cage and raise it all summer.  In order to do this, we kept the egg cases in the kitchen in a bowl until they hatched.  For weeks they did nothing.  They just sat there, like dried-up walnuts.  I was beginning to wonder if we had a couple of duds. 
            Well, one day, I woke up to find this note from my husband on the kitchen counter:  “There are baby mantises EVERYWHERE!” 
            I looked around the kitchen, but I didn’t notice anything at first.  But as I looked closer and watched longer, I began to see these tiny, little, wispy things.  These little, half-inch creatures – like shards of glass or pieces of spider web - running all over my kitchen. 
            They were everywhere.  And the more I looked, the more I saw.  They were on the counters, in the dishes, on the stove, in the honey, and hanging upside down from the ten-foot ceiling.
            One poor, little guy got his head stuck to a piece of tape.  And he was just wiggling there, so close to freedom, but so far away.  I felt bad for him.  And I thought that if I could gently pull him off of the tape (he was barely attached to it, just by the tiny tip of his head), I could set him free.  So as gently as I could, I tugged on the piece of tape. 
            And off popped his head! 
            My stomach just about fell out onto the floor, and his body was still squirming in my hand.      
            I spent the next two days catching sixty to seventy baby mantises and putting them outside.  And for many days after, I would be doing dishes and I would look up and see a little refugee running across the ceiling or hanging upside down under a cabinet, staring at me.  It was quite a while before my kitchen was mantis-free. 
            And all because I ignored one little command:  “If you keep the egg cases in the house, keep the bowl tightly closed.”
            I think I was lulled into a false sense of security when nothing seemed to be happening as the egg cases sat on my counter.  I was also afraid that they would suffocate if closed up tightly.  And so I ignored the instructions.  I felt like I knew more than the experts did, that my way was good enough. 
            I mean, surely, I would be able to tell when they were about to hatch, and I could get them outside in time.  Right? 
            I had my own ideas about how it would work.  And since two little dried-up walnuts did not look like much threat, I neglected to take one tiny piece of the instructions seriously.

            I think that’s how it is with us sometimes when it comes to following the Bible’s instructions.  We gloss over the smaller things.  We don’t see too much risk in ignoring this little command or that little piece of advice. 
            And when we do ignore one, we don’t see much happening at first, and so we get more comfortable with doing what we want.  We have our own ideas of how things should work, and it seems to be working out just fine. 
            Until the day that the eggs hatch and we find the consequences to our disobedience everywhere, if we look hard enough. 
            It is just as important to faithfully obey in the “small things” as it is in the big ones.  It is crucial to the health of our lives, our relationship with God, our marriages, our families, etc., to be faithful and God-glorifying in the everyday, unglamorous tasks.  Honoring your marriage vows, cooking, cleaning, raising children, reaching out to the “lowest of the low,” being a person of your word, watching your tongue, doing your job to the best of your ability, respecting your spouse, honoring your parents, faithfully tithing, being responsible and generous with your resources, etc.  All of these things are to be done to the best of our ability and for God’s glory.  

 
            1 Corinthians 10:31:  “. . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (This is another one of my Top Five verses.) 

 
            All things, great and small, are to be done with the same amount of faithfulness and diligence - for His glory!  And, as I said, I think that it’s how we do the “small” things that really define and testify about the Christian community.  It’s how we do the small things that build our character, which builds our Christian families, which builds our churches, which builds the generations to come, and, therefore, the kingdom of God.
            It’s all built on how faithful we are in the little, daily, overlooked things.  And like the big things, to do these things well requires daily dependence on prayer and on God’s grace, strength, peace, joy, and Word. 
            Let us never forget how much of our Everyday rests on Him and how much we need to rest in Him every day. 

            Remember, whatever He calls you to do - the big things or the “small” things - you are working for Him.  Not for your boss or your spouse or your kids or satisfaction or self-fulfillment or happiness.  You are working for Him and His glory and His kingdom.  And that is why there are no “small” tasks and no instructions from God that are too insignificant to obey. 

            We want to do big things for Him, but sometimes I wonder if He’s asking, “How are you doing with the small jobs I have already given you?” 

 
            There have been a few times in my life when I have had a strong sense that God wanted me to do something specific, something particular.  Something that seemed so “small.”  And I want to mention two of them. 
            Actually, one I mentioned already in Child of Mine.  And this one was when the woman at the beach was telling me how she was in the process of divorcing her husband because he lazily sat around all the time.  And I could tell that she wanted to be talked out of it.  And I knew that God wanted me to tell her four simple words, “It’s not too late.”  But I didn’t obey.  Four simple words.  And I couldn’t even do that much. 
            Now, I’m not bringing this up because I want to discuss the possible consequences of my disobedience, but because it stands out to me as a huge example of “No small thing!”  No command that God gives us is a “small thing.”  Anything that He asks us to do or not do is BIG … because it comes from Him and because He knows how He wants to use it.  But at the time that I was talking to that woman, all I could think was, Who am I to tell her what to do?  
            Well, you know what?  It wasn’t me telling her what to do.  I believe it was God wanting to give her some encouragement - a nudge in the right direction - through me.  And I stuck my head in the sand.  I could have given her a word of godly wisdom.  It wouldn’t have been harsh or rude.  It would have been gentle and encouraging, in line with scriptural views on marriage.  It could have saved her marriage, sparing her children the pain that comes with divorce. 
            But all I said was something like, “I’m sorry to hear that.  I hope it works out for you.” 
            If I really loved her the way that a Christian should love, I would have encouraged her to fight for her marriage, to hang in there with the Lord’s help.  I would have obeyed and said four simple, non-threatening words . . . “It’s not too late!”
            That one bothered me for months.  I felt terrible about it.  And so I prayed that God would send another person to tell her what I failed to say.  A marriage and two children were at stake.  And then I told God that if I ever saw her again, I would tell her what I was supposed to say that day on the beach. 
            And you know what happened?  A few months later, I was dropping my son off at Awanas and there she was, dropping her son off.  My stomach got twisted up in knots as I realized that this was my opportunity.  I took a moment to pray and ask God if He still wanted me to pass on that message.  And when I didn’t feel any sense of unrest about it, I wrote her a note. 
            In this note, I explained where we had met before and the conversation that we had.  And then I told her that I believed I was supposed to say something to her that day on the beach, but that I failed to say it.  I apologized for that and told her that I hoped it wasn’t already too late, but that I had to tell her one thing:  “It’s not too late.” 
            I don’t know what happened after that.  I never saw her again.  But I thank God for that second chance.  That doesn’t happen often. 
            (Now, I try not to say things like “God told me . . .” or “God wants me to . . .” because I do not want to put my words in God’s mouth or His name on my agenda, just in case I’m wrong.  I know that I can easily convince myself that something is “from God” when it is not, especially when emotions run high about it or when I’m feeling “extra-spiritual” one day.  So I always need to check what I believe God wants me to say or do against the Word and against godly common sense.  And I prefer to say, “I believe that God is telling me . . .” or “I feel like God is asking me to . . .”.  This leaves the door open for me to later say, “I was wrong” in case . . . well . . . in case I was wrong.  Then the blame and responsibility fall on me and not on God.)   
            Anyway, this episode has made me more concerned with obeying in the “little things.”  However, I have to admit that being concerned with obeying in the little things doesn’t mean that I always do obey in the little things.  Trust me, I have a great ability to ignore those tiny nudges when it’s not what I want to hear or do. 

            In fact, to be honest here, I have this one “little thing” that I seem to always disobey in.  Years and years ago, I wanted to stop doing this one, tiny little habit.  Just a silly thing that wouldn’t be considered a sin by anyone, not even God.  But it bugged me that I kept doing it.  And so in my youthful brilliance, I decided to vow to God that I would stop doing it.  Because, of course, I would never break a vow to God. 
            Yep, that’s right . . . habits being what they are by nature, I have continued to do it over and over again.  And every time I do, I am reminded of that stupid vow that I took.  And now, this little “nothing” habit is not such a little nothing thing anymore.  Because every time I do it now, I am breaking my vow to God.  What wasn’t sin before, now is.  (Stupid me!)  And every time I do it, I am showing Him that I don’t fear Him or respect His holiness, goodness, graciousness, forgiveness, and love enough to put Him above this “little” disobedience.   
            And, Oh, that is such a huge statement about how I see Him.  And I am just so thankful that He is an unconditionally-loving, forever-forgiving kind of a God.  I don’t deserve that grace and mercy, but I do accept it.  And when I fall, I pick myself up again, ask forgiveness, and get back on the path of obedience as quickly as I can.  (After I berate myself a little first, which isn’t healthy either.)  This really is a journey of brokenness, never an ending.

            Okay, now, onto the second time that I heard a little command from God.  We were getting ready to move into the first home that we would own, and I was packing up a drawer of things.  In the bottom of the drawer, I found a gold and gemstone ring that I owned.  I never wore it anymore because I’m not a jewelry kind of person.  (Crazy, but true.  And I totally cannot understand how women “worship” shoes, either.  Totally outside of me.  I have to think it’s genetic.  My wonderful Grandma K is the same way:  no jewelry, no fluffy or frilly things, no ruffles, sparkles, or embellishments.  So if this is a trait passed down from her to me, I’m proud to be plain!)  But this ring was too nice to just get rid of. 
            In the other room was a teen girl who came to help watch the kids as I packed.  And I heard this tiny little whisper that said, “Give her the ring.” 
            Give her the ring, Lord?  Is this message from You?  I put the ring on my finger and noticed how pretty it looked.  Suddenly, it seemed to sparkle more, and it looked so much more elegant on my hand than ever before.  Maybe I do want it, after all?  I thought.
            “Give her the ring.”
            There it was again.  That whisper.  But, Lord, it’s an awfully valuable gift to just hand off to someone, especially someone so young.  What would her parents think?  Would they think it was improper to give a ring like this to their girl in such a casual manner?
            “Give her the ring.”
            I still had the ring on my hand when I accidentally bumped it up against the counter.  And it reminded me of how much I really do dislike wearing jewelry.  There was really no reason to hang onto it, other than sheer covetousness.  And, obviously, God wanted her to have it.
            I went into the other room and awkwardly asked her if she would like a ring that I didn’t use anymore.  She was a little surprised, but gladly accepted it.  When I walked away, I turned around in time to see her admiring it on her hand.  And I knew that I did the right thing.                                
            But a little later that evening, I understood more about why it was so important to God that I gave her this ring.  She told me that she and her parents were trying to get her a “purity ring,” a ring to help encourage her to stay pure until marriage.  She had wanted something nice, but they did not have the extra money for such a ring.  And there were three different styles that she had her eyes on . . . one of them being just like the one I gave her. 
            Well, when I heard that, I really saw the importance of listening to and obeying God’s whispers, even if they seem outrageous or insignificant to us at the time.  You see, I had no idea what significance there was behind such a little command, being asked to give away something that I didn’t want anymore.  But God did.  He knew a girl that wanted a ring for a good reason - a ring that she couldn’t afford.  And He knew a woman who had that exact ring and didn’t need it or want it anymore.  And at the right time (of all the things that I could have been packing up, it happened to be that drawer), He put things in place.  And then He whispered . . . “Give her the ring.” 

            Oh, how many times He whispers to us!  But how many times do we hear and obey?  

            (And after I heard what the ring meant to her, I polished it up a little more and put it into a nice box to present to her properly.  And I also talked to her parents later to make sure that I did not offend them by giving her such a valuable gift.  They were okay with it.) 

 
            We need to place a premium on obedience, whether or not we “feel like it.”  Whether or not it “fulfills” us or makes us happy.  Whether or not it works for us or makes sense.  It’s not about us.  It’s about His plans and His Will and His glory.  And it’s about His love. 
            He wants the best for us.  He wants to bless us abundantly.  And that comes after our obedience.   Now, we don’t always agree with Him about what’s best, but if we want His best, we need to be “radically obedient” (a phrase used by my Pastor Bob to describe Elijah: radically obedient, even when it meant following God’s call into a desert and having no idea what came next). 
            And if you are having a hard time obeying because your feelings are getting in the way, do not hide or deny your feelings.  Admit them to God.  And pray, “Lord, I am struggling with obeying You.  Forgive me, and help me to be willing to obey.”  And then obey . . . one step at a time as God reveals it!  And then we’ll experience His best for us and for His kingdom!

 

 
Challenge:

            There is no particular challenge for this section.  Because I can’t give you any challenge that will increase your willingness to obey.  That is between you and God.  But there are some questions worth considering to give you some insight into your current level of willingness to obey and current practice of obeying.  As you go into these, ask the Spirit to search your heart and reveal truth and insight.
            You know what, I guess there is one challenge, especially if you have a hard time obeying or feel like there is just too much that you need to clean up in your life:  Find one thing to obey in, and do it.  Start with just one thing that you know God is calling you to do or not do or give up or add.  Start with one!  Every step that we take in obedience makes it easier to take the next one.
            And if you want to, make a whole list of things that you need to obey in and begin working your way down that list.  One thing at a time.  But remember, obedience is not to be done out of fear or because we are trying to earn our way with God.  We should obey out of love, because we love Him and because we are thankful that He loves us.  (This may not be that easy to do until you go through the other sections.  They will help us evaluate our views of God and ourselves.  But at least keep this challenge in mind or start it, if you want.) 
 

 
Example Prayer:

            Heavenly Father,
            Thank You that You are a loving, good God who wants to bless me abundantly and use me abundantly - for Your Kingdom and Your glory.  And I know that this means that I have to learn to be radically obedient.  Help me, Lord, to discern what You ask of me, and give me the strength and boldness to obey.  Help me remember that You hold the future in Your hands and that You can be trusted with working all things out for good.  I don’t have to control everything.  I don’t have to rely on myself.  I don’t have to know what the next step is.  All I have to do is draw near to You, to obey what You tell me today, and to do the jobs You give me to the best of my ability.  Because I am working for You!  Help me do this.  Thank You for Your amazing love and goodness.  Keep me in Your hands and protect me from evil. 
            In Jesus’ name,  Amen 

              

Questions for Reflection:

1.  Did anything in this section stand out to me?  Why?

 

2.  What is my record like when it comes to obeying authority figures and applying myself to the jobs given to me?  Do I try to cut corners and get away with things?  What is my attitude like while I do (or don’t do) my job?  Do I resist authority because I feel I know best or because I don’t want people telling me what to do or because I would rather lead and tell others what to do, etc.?  How well do I take instructions or constructive criticism? 

 

3.  How did I get to be that way?  And what does it tell me about myself?  How has it affected my life and faith?

 

4.  How was I raised in regards to expectations of obedience and follow-through?  Was it a permissive home, an authoritarian home (the “Because I said so!  You are the kid and I am the parent, so don’t question me” kind of home), or somewhere in the middle?  How has that shaped me?

 

5.  How do I feel (or what do I think) about “church” and about getting instructions from God and from the Bible?

 

6.  Do I try to listen for what God wants to tell me through the Bible and through prayer and through sermons?  Or is my Bible reading and prayer time and church attendance just part of my To-Do list? 

 

7.  How would I describe my current level of obedience regarding what God asks of me, in prayer or in His Word? 

 

8.  What do I think might happen if I started to listen for and obey His commands more?  How might my life change?

 

9.  What is my view of God?  Can He be trusted or not?  (Why or why not?)  Is He a God of love, peace, joy, etc.? 
            (And this is not about what your head tells you or what the Bible tells you.  It’s about what your fears, heart, past, doubts, etc., tell you.  It’s how you live out your opinion of Him, even though your head knows the Bible-truth of what He is like.  This is about being honest with the ugly parts, instead of just saying what you know you are supposed to say.)
            Where did this view come from?  What caused it? 

 

10.  Is there anything that the Bible says about Him that I can’t seem to grasp or understand?  Why?

 

11.  What are some times that I believed God was telling me to do something, either through the Bible or hearing His whisper?  How did I know it was Him?  Did I obey or not?  And what happened as a result?

 

12.  Do I ever feel God’s leading or the Holy Spirit’s conviction?  What does it feel like to me? 

 

13.  If I don’t feel His leading or conviction, why might this be?  Could it be a hard-heart, failure to listen, or failure to obey?                    

 

14.  Is there currently any command that I am failing to obey or any significant time in the past when I ignored the Holy Spirit’s instructions?  What might happen or has happened as a result?  After praying about it, is there anything that I can do to right that wrong or get back on track?     

 

15.  Am I doing any wrong “little things” that I am trying to get away with?  Any wrong big things that I am rationalizing?

 

16.  What are the typical ways I rationalize my disobedience?  What kinds of situations do I disobey most in, with little or no remorse or guilt?
            [I want to tell you about something that I have at home.  It’s something I call my Humility Rock.  And for me, it’s a reminder of just how human I am, how I can easily rationalize or justify disobedience to God. 
            We went on vacation once, and I saw this gorgeous rock in the landscaping of the place we were staying.  It wasn’t huge or anything; I could hold it in my hand.  And it was obviously one of the multitudes of rocks that they brought in to make a border around their mini-golf-course.  But it was beautiful.  And I wanted it. 
            I knew that if I took it, no one would miss it.  But I also heard the Holy Spirit’s conviction:  “It’s not yours.”  And I struggled with this dilemma.  But it’s just a rock.  They don’t care about it.  They’d laugh at me if I asked for it.  No one will miss it.    
            “It’s not yours.”
            Well, I wrestled with this, and I felt stupid for getting into a spiritual struggle over a rock.  But I knew that it was not just “a rock.”  It was about obedience and my relationship with the Lord. 
            But the longer I looked at it, the more it seemed to say, “No one cares about me.  No one sees my beauty but you.  You appreciate me.”  (Humor me here.)  And so I took it.  And I brushed aside any guilt that I felt with the idea that it didn’t matter to them anyway.  It was, after all, just a rock. 
            Well, I got home and put it on my shelf.  But every time I looked at it over the next few months, I felt guilty.  It wasn’t “just a rock.”  It was disobedience.  It was knowing that God was calling me to be above reproach, that He was watching what I was doing and calling me to do the right thing.  I saw something, I desired it, and I took it.  Not too far from the steps that David took with Bathsheba.  And I had rationalized my disobedience.    
            Anyway, the story doesn’t end there.  I felt so guilty that when we went back a couple months later, I returned the rock to the mini-golf-course.  Back where it belongs.   
            But the story doesn’t end there.  The next year, when we went back again, I saw it again.  But it wasn’t quite where I left it.  It had been rudely and roughly rolled down the hill.  Cast aside like a worthless piece of garbage.  Obviously, no one else cared about it.  It would go down into the dirt and no one would ever be able to appreciate this beautiful specimen, the beautiful creation of God.  And so I took it.  This time feeling fully justified that I was giving it a proper home.
            And once again, the Holy Spirit began to gnaw away at me.  “It wasn’t yours.  If it was wrong the first time, it is wrong the second time.  Wrong is wrong.  And this sin is against God.”
            Well, I knew that I had to right this wrong somehow.  I had made a breach in my relationship with the Lord, and I couldn’t go on acting like all was well.  But I wasn’t sure what to do about it.  So I prayed about it and thought about it.  This time, I didn’t feel like I could just secretly return it, acting as if I had done nothing wrong.  I had already done that once.  But since I was more bold and deliberate about taking it this time, I needed to be more bold and deliberate about doing the right thing this time. 
            And for me, as humiliating as it was, I knew that the best way to deal with it was to come clean, not only to God but to the park as well.  And so I mailed them a five-dollar bill (hopefully, it was enough to cover that rock) and a letter confessing what I had done and that I was paying them for the rock that I took because I was making amends.  (Yes, Park People, that was me.  I’m sure you laughed when you received a five-dollar bill for a rock.  But I had to do it, for my relationship with the Lord, my Christian witness, and because it was the right thing to do) 
            And that is the story behind my Humility Rock.  And every time I look at it now, I don’t see just a pretty rock anymore.  I am reminded of my humanness and my ability to be prideful and to rationalize sin.  I am reminded that I fall far short of God’s righteous standards more times than I realize.  I am convicted of the need to be deliberate about pursuing obedience and righteousness and about letting the Holy Spirit search my heart and my motives.  And I am reminded that without God and His grace and mercy, I am hopelessly sunk.         
            (And in a way, I can relate to this rock.  And I am reminded of one more thing when I see it.  I am reminded that even though I occasionally feel like a worthless, unimportant, overlooked “rock,” God loves me.  He sees value and beauty and something worthwhile in me, enough to die for me so that I could be eternally at home with Him.  Even if I’m just a plain-old, everyday, ordinary “rock”.)
            Anyway, all of this is to say that we all have ways of rationalizing our sin.  And we all have certain typical excuses that help us brush aside the guilt.  And we should spend time searching for these.  Maybe it’s an “I deserve it” mentality.  Maybe it’s “They deserve it.”  Or “No one will notice.”  Or “I know I shouldn’t, but … it’s not that big of a deal … it feels good and I want to do it … it’s their fault … no one will care … what will others think of me … God’s doesn’t really care about this one, little thing …”  What drives your disobedience?]

                        

17.  Are there any “little things” that I believe He wants me to do, but that I am failing to do?  Any big things? 
            (Luke 16:10:  “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, . . .”  And Matthew 25:21:  “ . . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.’”  It’s not about how big or little the task is, it’s about how faithfully we do it.) 

 

18.  Am I overlooking my level of obedience in the “little things” because I am more focused on or interested in the big things? 

 

19.  Am I more concerned with my service to Him than I am with my relationship with Him?  

 

20.  What are the greatest driving forces in my life right now, the priorities and values that govern how I live and how I walk as a Christian?  Where does “bringing God glory/obeying God” and “drawing others to Christ” come in on my list?     

            [I think that many of us were raised with the idea that our happiness is what matters most.  And we believe that the Bible teaches that God just wants us to be happy above all.  And so all decisions we make and things we pursue are based on how happy they make us.  (And personally, I think this entitlement attitude is what’s wrong with this current younger generation.  They’ve been taught that it’s all about them and what they want.  And it’s causing big problems.) 
            But I challenge you to find one verse that says that our happiness is a main priority of God’s, that it should be a main priority for us.  What are the main driving forces in your life right now, the reasons for your decisions, why you live the way you do?  What are you working the most for?  Where are you going wrong?  What kinds of problems does (could) it cause?  And what should be the main driving forces behind your decisions and how you live?  Come up with some Bible verses that address this and consider how you are doing in living them out.]         

 

21.  Do I sense that God is challenging me in any area of my life?  Specify.  What might happen if I obey?

 

22.  What does “radical obedience” mean to me and for my life? 

 

23.  Is there anything that I am facing right now or in the near future that I need to ask for God’s direction and guidance about?  Am I willing to wait for an answer? 
            (Remember Abraham in Genesis 16 and how he tried to “help” God’s Will and God’s promise along by sleeping with Hagar to produce the promised heir?  Now think about your own situation regarding any plans that you feel the Lord has for you, and ask yourself this:  Is there any Hagar in my life right now?  Is there anything that I am doing of my own will and wisdom to try to help God along in His plans for my life?  Should I just be waiting for His timing, for when He opens the right door at the right time?)    

 

Bible Work: 

1.  Do your own study on obedience and disobedience.  Read the Old Testament, as least (according to me) Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges to learn from other people’s lives about what happened when they obeyed or disobeyed.  Take some notes about anything significant that stands out to you.

 

2.  Look up passages to see how obedience relates to . . . the fear of God . . . our love for God . . . the security of our lives and futures . . . His blessings . . . the effect it has on eternity, His Will, and His kingdom . . . and our relationship with God and the Holy Spirit.

 

Prayer time: 

            If you have any fears or doubts that block your willingness to obey, confess them to God.  He knows them anyway.  And being transparent with Him about what’s really inside of us is so important for our spiritual health and relationship with Him.  Don’t just stuff your uncomfortable feelings, your fears, and doubts.  He wants your honesty, because that is what draws Him near and opens your heart to Him. 

            Many times, we have the desire to obey and we know that it is best for us, but something inside of us stops us from actually doing what He asks us to do.  The best thing you could do if this is the case is to confess that to God and ask for His insight into why you do it and for His help to overcome it.  This may mean spending some time reflecting on your life, fears, and doubts. 

            But in the end, whether you are afraid or not, God requires that we step forward in faith and obedience.  He will be with you and He will bless your obedience, even if your feelings are not in line yet.  And the more that you obey, the more comfortable it will become, the more you’ll learn to trust Him, the more you’ll learn to hear Him, and the more your feelings will get in line.  Don’t let your feelings lead.  No matter how you feel, be honest and obey.  And watch God work in and through you.  And bless you! 

 

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A place for your thoughts and questions. If you would like, think of this as a big, online, "book-club" meeting where you can all interact, answer each other's questions, and encourage each other. Please keep comments godly and uplifting because I will delete any that are mean or clearly ungodly. I want this to be an encouraging, safe place to interact. God bless!