If they made a movie of your life, who should play you (and your spouse, if you are married)? What kind of movie would it be, what should it be called, and what would be the main themes?
Let’s take a moment to explore some of what the Bible says about obedience:
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.”
1 John 5:3: “This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .”
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 out of love. 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.
[And yet, in the end, I do think God can and does make good things out of any and every mistake, even in our disobedient times. But there will be a lot more good if we live a life of obedience. And this doesn’t necessarily mean “good” as we define it, such as getting what we want, having an easy life, or being pain-free. Obedience can be very difficult, painful, and costly. Just look at what obedience cost Jesus!]
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 . . .”
As seen in this verse, as well as many others, God created us because He wants mankind’s friendship for all of eternity. It was His pleasure and Will to do this. 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 desires and our own ideas of what we think His instructions should have been. 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. It’s all connected.
The more time we spend getting to know Him and drawing nearer, the more we trust Him, the more we love Him, and then the more we 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.” Obedience is an action of the will. And I do not think that God will accept our excuse of “I didn’t feel like it” for our disobedience. Many times in the Word, God talks about the blessings that come with “if you obey.”
It’s not “If you feel like . . .” or “If you want to . . .”
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 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, etc. All of these things are to be faithfully 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.”
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 jobs I have already given you?”
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. The desire to obey is the natural response of a heart that properly fears God and that is so full of His love and of love for Him that you can’t help but want to do His Will and bring Him glory.
To me, this shows just how much God works with and through man and his obedience.
I think we are greatly confused nowadays about how God works. We think that if God wants to do it, He’ll always do it. Regardless of what we do.
I mean, think about it. God could have made the ark Himself and saved a lot of time. Or He could have lifted Noah and his family up into a cloud while the earth was being flooded.
But He didn’t do those things. He told Noah to do it. And Noah obeyed.
I believe that much of the time, God accomplishes His plans through people. He looks for those with willing, obedient hearts, and He says, “I have a job for you.” And Noah’s job was to accomplish God’s Will by obediently building the ark. God’s plans hinged on Noah’s obedience.
But how often do we let the idea that “God always does whatever He wants, with or without us” make us lazy in our responsibility to listen, respond, and obey?
Notice that Noah did everything that God commanded him (verse 22). He followed God’s instructions to the letter. Even though I’m sure it took a long time. And even though Noah probably had to listen to the taunts and mocking of the ungodly people around him. And even though his obedience was going to lead to the destruction of everyone around him.
Yet, Noah was obedient! And this is what made it possible for the animals and mankind to survive the flood. Carefully adhering to God’s instructions. The rest of humanity and history depended on Noah’s careful obedience.
But God wants people who will be totally obedient, and He has reasons for asking what He does. God’s plans for humanity rested on Noah. But maybe for us, it’s just that our obedience will affect those immediately around us or the legacy we pass on. My influence will be a lot smaller than Noah’s was, but no less important to God and His plans for my tiny world and those whose lives I touch.
And for eternity.
What we do here matters and affects eternity. For us and for others. We might not be able to see and know the results of our obedience, but our responsibility is to be obedient, even in the small things and even when we don’t know God’s reasons for asking certain things of us.
Noah had to listen to all the ridicule from people as he built the ark. Year after long year. And I’m sure it would have been easy to get discouraged or to doubt the assignment that God gave him. But his heart was set on being obedient to God, no matter the cost.
And could you imagine the persecution he would get if he was wrong? If - after years of building an ark - nothing happened? I wonder if Noah ever had doubts running through his mind as he hammered in each nail, day after day, year after year. Thoughts like, Dear God, I really hope I’m not wrong in what I heard You say. I would be the laughingstock of the town. I would totally embarrass You. Wait a minute, I am already the laughingstock. I don’t know, maybe I do hope I’m wrong because I don’t want to watch everyone around me die? Or maybe I do? They are all so evil. I don’t know. I don’t even know what to think anymore. All I know is that this is what You told me to do, and I am responsible to obey as best I can.
I am sure that it took a lot of faith to cling to God and trust Him enough to obey when everyone else was trying to pull him down and when he looked so ridiculous to others.
And this must have made him a really lonely man. He was the most righteous man on earth at the time. So who else was there for him to lean on (besides his family), to seek support or encouragement or advice from, to pat his back and say “Good job, keep it up”?
No one. No one . . . but God. Noah could look nowhere else for real support but to God alone. Noah could get no spiritual leadership from anyone else. He had to cling to God alone. He had to come to the realization that God is enough. And that God is good, despite the fact that the He was going to destroy everyone else. This must have taken constant, daily walking with God to remain faithful and encouraged. Encouraged by the only One that really mattered. Our good, heavenly Father.
What an amazing lesson we learn in Noah about faith and trust, about being radically obedient, and about walking with God! These things greatly affect the legacy we pass on and the eternity that we are building. Thank God, for our sake, that Noah “found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”
Do I? Do you?
But do we factor in the fact that God may introduce different plans for us? That He may interrupt our plans, even our good and godly plans, and change our priorities and the direction of our lives? How do we handle this when it happens? Does it feel like a punch in the gut, or do we have enough faith and trust to let God open the doors that He wants to and to obediently follow when He changes our directions?
I wish that the message of “letting God interrupt our plans” was given during more graduation speeches. I think it’s so important for people to hear, especially as they set out into the great wide open, with all their grand plans about how they are going to use their education. And since I will probably never be asked to give a graduation speech, I’m going to share the message that I wish I had heard at my graduation.
Pretend right now that we are graduating from the School of Life, where we have been trained to go out into “the real world” and do great things for God. You are in the audience in your cap and gown. And since I have been asked to deliver a speech, I am stepping up to the microphone (recovering well after tripping on my gown), taking a deep breath, and getting ready to share with you my inspirational words:
Now, like me, I know that many of you have great plans about how you are going to serve God and use your degrees. You’ve gotten a great education, and you’re ready to go out and conquer the world for Christ.
But as you go about your plans, store this message in your heart: Be willing to let God interrupt your great plans of what you’re going to do for Him with what He wants you to do.
You plan on getting a job in a certain line of work, but maybe God will call you to a different position. Will you follow? Maybe you find yourself working with people you don’t care for, but God says, “I put you here. Glorify Me!” Maybe you will be called to care for an aging parent or a child with special needs. Maybe your life will detour greatly because of a chronic illness or accident. Maybe you’ve planned on marriage and children, but God will call you to be single or childless. Or maybe you’ll find your great plans for your career and life interrupted simply by having children.
Maybe you’ll be going about business as usual. And one day, you’ll find “favor in the eyes of the Lord.” And God will tap you on the shoulder and say, “I have a job for you. It won’t be fun. It won’t be easy. It won’t make sense to you. In fact, it will be long and tedious and cause pain and you’ll be mocked for it. But I have a job for you. Will you do it?”
Let God interrupt! Let God interrupt your plans with what He wants you to do. And for many of you, that will be nothing more glorious than just raising children or going to the same unglamorous job every day.
Where you end up may not be what you planned on. Your life may take great detours. Those great things you wanted to do may be replaced by small, tedious, daily tasks. And the world may mock you for it. But be willing to follow God in obedience, doing your best wherever He plants you . . . working for Him and for His glory!
Your job is just to be obedient. His job is to use your obedience to accomplish His purposes. And even if you see no visible rewards for or results of your obedience on earth, you will see them in heaven. And you will know that it was all worth when you hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
You may feel like you’re wasting your education or your time, but remember that God doesn’t waste anything. If you will present all that you have to Him and if your main goal is to glorify Him, He will use you for His great purposes. Through your faithfulness and obedience in the small things and in the big things. Wherever He plants you. Let God interrupt! Follow where He leads in obedience.”
Boy, I was ruminating on these thoughts one day as I did the dishes. I was going over them again and again, getting more and more angry at the unfairness of life, at the lowly role that I had to live with. I just wanted a “thank you”! And I wanted to be cut a little slack for the things I couldn’t get around to doing. Was that too much to ask for? With all that I do around here?
(Now to be fair, I’m sure that my husband has his own way of showing appreciation and love. And I do know that there is a lot about me that he does overlook and put up with. But as is typical among two different people, we don’t always “hear” the way that someone else “tells” us that they love and appreciate us. Oh, if only we all spoke the same “love language.”)
Well, as I angrily scrubbed dirty plates, I began to work my way through these thoughts and feelings. I realized that I couldn’t keep feeling the way that I was and still enjoy my life or marriage. And I knew that I couldn’t change my husband or demand to be appreciated more. How satisfying would “forced appreciation” be?
Now, at this point, I believe a lot of people go wrong by thinking something like this (or by being advised this by others): “Well, I can’t change them and I can’t keep living like this. So maybe divorce is the only option?”
Well, for me, divorce was not an option. It never was! But neither was feeling that way for the rest of my life. But I knew that if something didn’t change, somewhere down the line I might be tempted to think that divorce sounded pretty good.
So I had a choice to make. To keep feeling bitter and angry would be choosing to walk down that path to potential divorce. And I didn’t want that. So I had to get off that path now. But how?
And so I asked God this. “How, Lord? How can I stay in this and yet enjoy my life and my marriage? And if things never change, could I be okay with that?”
I think all of us who yearn for more or better in our lives or marriages feel like it will all be okay “if only . . . !” But I knew that I couldn’t let my feelings and the success of my marriage depend on “if only . . .” Because what if “if only” never happened? What if things never changed? I had to learn to accept that possibility and to be okay with the way things were (and to flourish with it), if I was going to avoid that bitter path that couldn’t end with anything good.
But how could I do that? How could I be okay with it? How could I love my home life – the life and the role that I poured every bit of myself into - when I was feeling so taken for granted and unappreciated? And as I prayed about it and let God speak to my heart, He revealed the key to a proper perspective. And this is it:
“Change your employer! You should not be working for your husband or for your own satisfaction. You should be working for Me. But as long as you continue to work for approval and appreciation from him, you will be unsatisfied. Because you are letting your sense of worth and fulfillment rest on someone else - on another imperfect human being - when it should be resting on Me. Another human being will always let you down at some time, so you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you let your feelings rest on what they do or don’t do. Do your best to be faithful in the role I gave you . . . because I am watching. Work for Me. I see all that you are doing, and it matters to Me. And your rewards will be in heaven, as long as you do your best for My glory on earth.”
I tell ya, that message got to me. And once I switched employers - once I realized Who I should be working for and where my rewards should be - I was able to relax. I was able to work harder at those daily tasks because Someone was watching and appreciated it. I was able to see the importance of being faithful and obedient to God, even in the little things. Because it matters to Him. And I was able to love my husband in a way that I couldn’t when I was letting my sense of satisfaction rest on what he did or didn’t do for me.
It wasn’t about working my hardest and doing my best because I wanted to hear “thank you” or because I needed to be appreciated or because I needed anything from anybody else. It was about working my hardest and doing my best and being obedient because God was watching, and because what I did and how I did it mattered to Him.
And interestingly enough, this knowledge freed me up to love my husband in a way that didn’t hinge on whether or not I felt appreciated. I was free to love him for who he is, and not for what he did for me or my idea of who he should be. (And I was free to see the ways that he did show his appreciation, instead of only noticing how he wasn’t meeting my definition of “showing appreciation.”)
Now, I wondered if I should share such a personal story as this. After all, I don’t like sharing such personal things about my marriage. (“Honey, you know I love you! We’re in this thing called ‘life’ together.”) But I also don’t want to present some false, polished front. And I really believe that the message that I got from God is not meant just for me.
So many people out there need to hear that same message. People who struggle with their marriages, with their self-esteem, with their role in life, with their parents, or with jobs and bosses they don’t like. Marriages are falling apart left and right. And they don’t need to be. We need to learn ways to cope with the way things are - in our homes, in our jobs, in our lives. We need to learn to be faithful and obedient, to remember that we work for God. (I am not saying this to people who are being abused, though. If you are in that kind of marriage, you need to get help. It needs to change.)
And so this is what I want to share with you: If you feel like you can’t go on with the way things are, try switching your employer and where you store your rewards. (Which is really what we should all be doing anyway. It’s just that sometimes it takes a trial to figure that out.) You are not just serving your family; you are serving God by caring for your family. You are not just working for your boss; you are doing the job that God gave you, for His glory. You are not just a family member or friend or employee; you are a representative to others of God’s love and grace and mercy.
You have a mission field, wherever God plants you. You are a missionary! Are you living like one? You are here to work for Him, to glorify Him, to be obedient to Him, and to spread His message. And the only rewards that matter are the ones that will be waiting for you in heaven.
Now, I do have to point out something. I believe that the sense of peace and contentment that I felt and the love that I felt for my husband and my place in life was released in me by the Holy Spirit because I set my heart on doing the right thing. I knew that if I continued on the path of negative thinking that I was on, I might encounter the dim possibility of a divorce somewhere off in the distant future. And so I firmly decided in my heart that “Divorce is NOT an option.” And this was a crucial turning point.
I believe that at some point in all of our decisions and struggles, we have the choice to flirt with the possibility of sin or a less-than-godly choice or to get bitter. And if we allow ourselves to flirt with that or to tinker with it or to covet it in our hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit is blocked from fully working in and through us. And we will not feel the complete joy, peace, freedom, and love that come from Him . . . because we have allowed a sin or an ungodly idea or fantasy to take root in our hearts and minds. And this shuts the door to Him.
But if we will set our hearts and minds on doing the right thing and on following where God leads - even if our feelings are not there yet - our hearts are more fully open to the Holy Spirit and His work.
I may not be serving God as the counselor I had planned to be, but I can choose to work hard at being the best mother and wife and friend that I can be. Because it brings Him glory when I do! And I think that He is just as proud!
When I let God choose my mission field (which in this case is just my home) and when I made Him my Employer, I found an incredible peace and joy and satisfaction, knowing that I was right where God wanted me and that He noticed all I was doing! And that’s what really matters.
2. Do not make or worship any idols.
3. Do not misuse the name of the Lord, for “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Are we generally more cautious about not using four-letter words than we are about not using the Lord’s name improperly?)
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (How can we do this? How do we fail to do this?)
5. Honor your father and mother. (What does it mean to “honor them”? How can we do this practically? What about if they were terrible parents?)
6. Do not murder.
7. Do not commit adultery. [What about “anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery” and “if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” and “the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:12, Luke 16:18)? What does this mean for us or for a couple who is in such an unhappy marriage that they “cannot” stay together? What about cases of domestic abuse? I’m not saying these have easy answers.]
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
10. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, house, or belongings.
20. What does “radical obedience” mean to you and for your life?
“We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)
“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. . . . Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:16, 25)
What does “living by faith” and “living by the Spirit” mean? What does it not mean? How should this affect our lives?
Sunday, November 11, 2012
ISI 14: Radical Obedience