Monday, January 19, 2009

The "O" Word

Have you noticed that in our North American culture “obedience” has become a bad word? In a secular society, where God is no longer in charge, words like “authority,” “obedience” and “command” are evil. Without the rule of God, every person is his or her own authority. No one has a right to tell anyone else what to do. Even in elementary school, children are not taught to obey their parents. They are told, instead, to find their own way, create their own truth, and live their own lives.

But when we, as Christians, dedicate our lives to God, we choose to come under His authority. We choose to obey His commands. We are not justified by our “good works,” but obedience is a natural outworking of our submission to Him. In the Jewish tradition, faith and action were the same thing. We tend to separate them out in our worldview, and because of that the desire of our heart to follow the Lord does not always lead to the actual following.

Obedience puts feet to our decision to submit to God, and it activates the renewal we long for. Do we still feel dry, even after a spiritual recommitment to the Lord? Sometimes one small act of obedience opens the floodgates of God’s blessing in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to obey God’s rules than His orders. I have no problem avoiding adultery or murder or idolatry (in its literal form, at least). All I have to do is refrain from doing wrong things. But God doesn’t want us just to avoid disobedience. He wants us to be proactive. He wants us to DO good. This takes initiative on my part. It takes stepping out in faith. It requires me to listen for His orders and then do what he commands.

So how do we take this step from commitment to obedience? How do we know what God wants us to do?

It’s not as hard as it seems to know what God wants us to do. His word is full of His orders—specific ones—all of them involving love, and all of them involving other people. If we want to activate His rule in our lives, all we have to do is look for one of His commands and then go out and do it. When we obey, we are blessed and other people are blessed, and God is glorified. When we don’t look for good things to do and do them, the blessing is missed. It’s that simple.

Active obedience is sometimes hard for me because it involves risk. I risk being misjudged, being embarrassed, or being taken advantage of. If I do a random act of kindness for a total stranger, they might think I’m weird or that I’ve got an ulterior motive. I’m too embarrassed to stand up in church and tell people about an answer to prayer because others might think it’s not such a big deal. I won’t offer to teach Sunday School because it might turn into a huge responsibility and put some of my free time at risk. And I’d never think of bringing a street person into my home because they might steal something.

Active obedience costs. But the cost is an investment. Active obedience reaps eternal rewards, for us as well as for the people God wants to bless through us.

One day I was out shopping when God pointed to a young clerk in the store and said, “I want you to go up to her and tell her that I’m with her and I love her and am taking care of her.” I groaned. This happens to me every once in a while and it always puts me in an awkward position. I don’t like to do it. Usually I give in and get it over with and the person God has sent me to is blessed. Never has anyone actually scowled at me and said, “You’re a crazy lady. Get away from me.” But this time I just couldn’t work up the nerve. I hung around for a while, trying to obey, then I left with the thought that I’d just pray for her.

For a week God leaned on me about this failure to actively obey. For a week I prayed for her, but it wasn’t enough. Finally, I gave up. I went back to the store to find her. It wasn’t easy. I had to talk to the manager and find out who had been working that day. He had to talk to the other clerk so they could figure it out. They had to find her in the store, and then I had to go to her and confess the whole story—that God had told me to speak to her, that I had disobeyed, and that God had hounded me until I came back to do what He’d told me to do in the first place.

I asked her if she could think of any reason why God would say this to her. She said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve recently moved here and I don’t know anybody.” She heard me out, thanked me, and turned and hurried into the back room of the store. I'm sure she was crying.

In this case God redeemed my disobedience. But I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had not eventually obeyed. The thought of the blessing that might have been missed should be enough to goad me into active obedience in the future.

But I also wonder how many opportunities for active obedience I’ve missed because I just wasn’t listening. I suspect there are lots of people around me every day who need to hear the simple message that God loves them. It’s easy not to hear orders that make me uncomfortable, or that would require me to go out of my way, or that would actually cost me something if I obeyed.

I wonder if part of the dryness I’m experiencing might be because I’ve been failing to act on orders God has been whispering in my ear.

Today's to do list:

1) Decide that I want to obey God, even if it costs.
2) Tell Him of my decision.
3) Listen for the still, small voice and expect to hear it.
4) Read His word, searching specifically for a command I can obey.
5) Go out and do it.

How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. A.W. Tozer

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