Obedience is such a challenging word. It comes with a stigma and bad publicity. I often think of obedience in reference to its opposite—disobedience. As a mother of two toddlers, disobedience is something I’m fairly familiar with. Defiance and stubbornness, lack of follow through, or even whining, kicking, screaming, and tantrums are part of my normal routine. A lot of times, disobedience is a product of impulsive independence.
Let me explain further: my almost three year old and I struggle with obedience quite often. She is strong-willed, determined, and persistent. Some day in the future those traits will come in handy. I pray that I will be able to help cultivate those particular strengths and teach her how to use them in a positive, not oppressive way, BUT being three years old, Lillie is defiant, stubborn, and disobedient—as most toddlers can be. She’s starting to learn that she can be independent and do things her way without help or directions from Mommy and Daddy. We want our children to be self-sufficient, to know right from wrong, to make wise decisions, and someday to not need us for everything. However, at three, she still needs Mommy and Daddy to teach her right from wrong, to show her what the best decisions are, and to help her grow in her personality, faith, and so much more.
The problem comes when, as a parent, I have to redirect my toddler’s impulse to be independent. It’s my responsibility to help her, teach her, protect her, and often it frustrates her. This results in acting out, throwing tantrums, or in truth, being disobedient. I know it’s hard for her to see now, and most likely it will be hard for many, many years, but being obedient will bring so much more joy and peace than disobedience ever will.
Let me translate this to us adults: If God is our Father, and we are His children, often times we are like toddlers—kicking and screaming, whining, being defiant, being disobedient. Following Jesus can be uncomfortable, calls us out of our comfort zones, and really stretches us to do things that aren’t in our wheelhouses. In response to being uncomfortable, we fight the convictions and stirrings to do what God is calling us to do. In this disobedience, we aren’t always punished like when we were kids, but God redirects us to be aligned with His plan and vision.
In the Old Testament book of Jonah, the prophet Jonah experienced this first hand. Jonah was given specific instructions to go to Nineveh, a corrupt city in Assyria, and spread the message of repentance and God’s salvation and mercy. Knowing of the corruption and evil in Nineveh, Jonah ran from God’s calling. Being disobedient to God had its consequences for Jonah; he was caught in a deadly storm on the sea, swallowed by a giant fish, and spent three days and nights in its belly. He learned quickly that obedience brings less pain, less confusion, and more life. After being rescued from the storm and belly of the fish, Jonah obeyed God’s commands without hesitation. God redirected Jonah back to His plan and vision, and unfortunately, for Jonah that meant experiencing some painful situations that almost cost him his life. Had Jonah obeyed the first time, it would have saved him some frustration, hurt, and even time.
So how can we be obedient to God the first time without hesitation?
Obedience without hesitation most often looks like taking the next step that’s in front of us. “I will hurry, without delay, to obey your commands.” Psalm 119:60
For some of us, that will look like reading our Bible everyday. Getting into God’s Word on a regular basis aligns us with God’s plan and vision as we learn more about Him, grow closer to Him, and are able to discern His Will and character more easily. Like knowing a close friend and being able to predict their words, actions, and reactions, the more we know God, the more we’re able to know what He is calling us to do. In this way, we are learning right from wrong, learning how to make the wisest decisions, and growing in our faith.
However, for some of us, it may look like reconciling with people we’ve hurt or who’ve hurt us in the past. It may look like leaving that job, pursuing or not pursuing that relationship, taking steps to healing or freedom from addiction. Being obedient in these things will take more time, more courage, and will probably take many “next” steps. But being faithful in the first step, and continuing to be faithful in the following ones, will result in life and life to the fullest.
“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” John 15:10-11
Lastly, for some of us, our next step is putting our faith in Jesus by asking Him to be the Forgiver of our sins and Leader of our lives. If you need prayer for surrender, guidance on how to put your faith in Jesus, or help determining your next step, contact our Empowering Pastor, Nick Petrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All of these next steps have this in common: they will take courage, introspection, and possibly even some time. This will look like open hands and hearts ready to receive what God has for us. Like a toddler throwing a tantrum, pouting and crossing our arms closes us off to what God is trying to say. It’s possible these steps will make us aware of sin in our lives that is separating us from God’s plan or call us out of our comfort zones. Be prepared for God to work in mighty ways as we open our hands and hearts to Him.
“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the LORD. Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts.” Psalm 119:1-2
If you’re unsure of the next step you need to take, or if you want encouragement in taking your next step, pray through the psalm below:
“Teach me your decrees, O LORD; I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found. I long to obey your commandments! Renew my life with your goodness.” Psalm 119: 33-35, 40