Obedience can be a tricky concept at any age. What does obedience to God actually mean? How can we shift our perspective to what he says? Read on.
Last summer, my son almost walked straight into a speeding bike.
Distracted by a pretty view, he broke his grip on my hand and started strolling toward the beach. I called his name a few times as he wandered, then yelled when he didn’t stop. He froze, and I managed to reach out and grab him just in time. Once he was safely back on our half of the sidewalk, my frustration broke loose.
“You CAN’T just…you SHOULD have…WHY would you…” The phrases jumbled together as they sputtered out. My head was spinning with the implications of what could have happened.
At the core, I was really asking, “Why didn’t you listen to me? Don’t you know I want what’s best for you? Don’t you know I want to keep you safe? Do you trust me?”
It’s frustrating to see a bigger picture, to flail your arms for someone’s attention, only to be ignored. It hurts almost physically to want the best for someone and see them make a dangerous choice.
Can you imagine how God feels?
He has laid out the most incredible plans and ways for us, and we’ve gotten distracted by a pretty view.
He sees the potential outcome of the direction we’re headed, and it isn’t good.
Then he’s throwing up flares and red flags, calling our names.
But we aren’t paying attention, or don’t want to respond.
We keep walking toward a shiny glimmer, totally missing what’s about to run us over.
Obedience is truly difficult to grasp at any age; maybe even more so the concept of obedience to God. It involves surrender. It is vulnerable to consider we may not know what’s best. It’s inconvenient. It’s humbling. And we don’t work to earn our salvation – so why is obedience necessary?
And yet in scripture we are called to obey. Jesus puts it this way in John 14:23-24 NIV: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 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.”
How do we reconcile all of this? What does obedience to God mean? We need a fresh look at it through the scriptures.
First, we need to know the One who calls us to obey.
So often, I have looked at God as an overbearing manager. As I grew up, I imagined him constantly monitoring my performance, checking his watch, and getting annoyed with me when I messed up (re: often).
A few years ago, my anxiety over my performance broke me. It led me to take a hard look at this thinking I’d developed over years and years of attempting to prove my goodness to God and others. This is one of the scriptures that completely changed my perspective:
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…” – Psalm 103:8-13 NIV
Comparing this incredible image of God to my own poor depiction was like measuring an artist’s masterful portrait to a stick figure scribble on a scrap of paper. God is a loving Father, not a humanistic demanding boss. Love is who he is. He is limitlessly patient and compassionate towards us.
Equally important, though, is to see and respect God’s authority, justice and might. He doesn’t ignore our disobedience. He disciplines us and allows us to face the consequences of our actions. Yet all this he does this as a loving Father, and doesn’t keep us from making our own choices.
Obedience to God means entrusting our lives to the One who knows better.
As children, we dream about what it would be like to be a “grown-up”. It sounds to us like limitless freedom – eating anything for dinner, or driving off wherever, whenever. And then I grew up, and the world was very different than I expected. Just like my parents warned me.
Why are children subject to someone else’s authority and remain someone’s responsibility? Because they just don’t know. In the grander scheme of the universe, it’s the same: we just don’t know. There is so much we don’t have control over, and we can’t see into the future to know what’s coming next. And all of this is really hard to admit. (Or sometimes even to believe.)
Our Almighty God is outside of time. Everything in life plays out before his eyes. He has the power and the authority to intervene. He loves us abundantly and wants what’s best for us. And he keeps every single promise to us, is unconditional in his response to us, and doesn’t ever fail us (even if those who had responsibility over us did).
Isn’t he worthy of our trust?
This is all just as Romans 12:1-2 (NIV) says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Obedience means offering our very selves to God out of reverence and worship for who he is, again and again. Laying down our will, and allowing our minds to be transformed. Then we get the incredible blessing of a much clearer picture of God’s will, which always is for our benefit and his glory.
Obedience is not a measure of our worth or a means to earning the favor of God. It’s a natural response to the abundant love and trustworthiness of our Father.
Obedience to God is more about who you are than what you do.
“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”
Many of us probably know this classic Christmas carol by heart. We can attribute those feelings to God too. Like he’s calculating all of our successes and failures on some big scale or scoreboard. If the scales tip the wrong way, if the numbers drop, is all hope lost? Will he not love me or bless me anymore? These questions dive into deep waters.
Fortunately for us, God’s math is not our math. He doesn’t calculate obedience the way we might as human beings. God is not merely monitoring obedient acts from his children to determine how good they are.
Instead, he engages us in the day-to-day battle of obedience training, out of a goal for us to become more like Christ, just as a loving parent hopes and prays for the best for their child. Just as I hope to train my children to obey so that they can grow up safely to make responsible and faithful choices of their own someday.
He cares about our hearts and our characters more than our track records.
Hebrews 11 is what some call the “Hall of Faith”. It’s a list of the people from the Old Testament who are lifted up for their faith in God and his promises. These are the same people whose stories have been passed down through generations, and guess what? All of them made mistakes. Big ones. Sometimes when we think of those people, their mistakes are the first things that come to mind.
And still they are commended here for their faith. Still they committed themselves and their lives to God, pivoting back to him when they messed up. That’s how God sees their lives, at the end of the day.
Being covered with grace means we can make mistakes. We are not hopeless if we stumble. We don’t have to obsess over our messes.
Let’s refresh our perspective of obedience. When we know God’s heart, his goals for us, and how trustworthy he is, it changes the game for us. Let’s entrust ourselves to the one who knows us best and has the greatest plan for our lives.