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Friday, January 07, 2011


Obedience is a word that our modern culture doesn't embrace too easily. In fact, I think it is a concept that we readily dismiss. We send our dogs, maybe, to obedience school. But that is probably the extent to which most of us regard obedience.

Parents don't typically demand obedience from their children. They don't teach it to their children either. Even at the toddler stage, we see American parents encouraging their children to express themselves, develop an opinion, etc. Parents will ask the children where they should eat out. They may buy a certain car or other large ticket item because the child said it was the best decision.

There are lines for obedience all around us too. Our governments make rules and laws that we are to obey. Our work places have procedures and rules that we are to obey. Of course, the Bible has its own set of commandments and other things that we are to obey. And yet, most of us, if we're really honest, pay little regard to the concept of obedience. Going a little over the speed limit doesn't seem like much of an issue for people who would otherwise regard integrity highly. And skirting rules at work to make sure your own agenda is fulfilled doesn't seem so wrong. After all, the companies expect people to do this. Right?

The point is that, in terms of virtues, obedience isn't highly valued. I bet if you gave people a list of virtues and ask them to rank them, things like honesty, loyalty, generosity, or even open-mindedness would rank higher than obedience for most of us. In fact, I imagine there are people today who wouldn't even agree that obedience belongs on a list of virtues. In terms of priority, it's probably lucky if it can rank in that "nice-to-have" category.

I have to confess that I've been a very disobedient individual myself - both as a child and as an adult. It wasn't until I became a true Christ-follower that obedience began to matter in my life. Somewhere along the line, obedience started take hold in my thinking processes. It was at about that time that I began to also realize just how disobedient I really was. I'd always known that sneaking a cookie in childhood or violating curfew as a teen were disobedient. But I'd never considered obedience as an employee or citizen. And I most certainly hadn't given much thought to the notion of obedience as a Christian.

One day, during my daily Bible time, I stumbled on a passage of Scripture that really seared my consciousness. It was Jesus talking in the 14th chapter of the book of John. Let's take a look at what Jesus said here.

"Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me ... Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching ... Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me." (John 14:21-24)

So here I had been going to church, reading my Bible, praying, listening to Christian music on the radio, attending conferences, volunteering and doing everything else I thought went into the making of a good Christian. But Jesus stops me cold in my tracks. "If you love me, you'll obey me. If you don't obey me, then you don't really love me." That's essentially what He said to me. Moreover, He told me that this wasn't just His perspective, but rather it is God's perspective.

Through the years since that day, I've come to understand more deeply that God is unchanging on issues like this as much as He is unchanging in areas like love and mercy, for example. So God has always felt this way about obedience. He looks past my prayers and my good deeds and my church attendance and my volunteering and all the Christian stuff I buy at Mardel's book store. He looks past all that ... searching for my obedience, the true sign of my love for Him.

In the Old Testament, we can observe a consistent pattern for the Israelites. Frequently the language says something like, "During this time the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." In fact, those very words are found in several places through the Old Testament. And each time, it described a period when the people weren't close to God, their lives weren't going very well, and God was angry with them. He was looking for their obedience and not finding it.

In 1 Samuel 15:22, we are told that God values our obedience even above our sacrifices and gifts or offerings to Him. Said differently, we learn that there is nothing more valuable that we can give to God than our obedience. Were you aware of that? Our obedience is the most priceless thing we can give to God. And, as Jesus said, it is the truest evidence of our love for Him. Volunteering in the children's ministry at church, donating canned goods or serving at the homeless shelter? Not so much.

It's easy to say that we love the Lord. It's often not even difficult to do His work, give money or make other expressions of loyalty and devotion to Him. But if God looks past everything else to try and find our obedience, what will He find? Will He find someone who is ignorant of what it means to be obedient? Will He find someone who hasn't read His Word and doesn't even know what it is we are to obey (i.e., His will for our lives)? Or will He find someone who is in His Word regularly, seeking to hear His will for their lives and then turning themselves to the task of making the choices that result in obedience to Him and His ways?

There are many aspects of our relationship with God. We're often most focused on how God responds to us. God loves us. God forgives us. God saves us. God calls us. God even seeks us. If we understand them, we ourselves are pleased with God's responses to us. They're edifying. They're purifying. They're live-giving. So you might say, for example, that people love a forgiving God. And of course that would be true.

Similarly, there are just a myriad of ways that we can respond to God. And many of those are assumed to be pleasing to Him. Of course those are the responses that we like to think the most about. You'll hear things like, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." Of course that is true. But the caveat to that or any other rhetoric we could muster up would be that, "The Lord loves an obedient and cheerful giver."

May each of us focus on the ways that God responds to us. And may we focus very sharply on the ways that we can respond to God which He finds pleasing. But above all else, may we respond to Him obediently. For there is found the true measure of our love for the Lord.

1 comment:

  1. Just found this and just read it. Fantastic!