#14 Radical Obedience (shortened)

(For full version of this Bible study "lesson," click here.)

            I would have to say that of all the things a Christian is called to do, this has got to be one of the most important.  (If any one of them can be considered more important than the others.)  And I’m not saying this like God necessarily needs our obedience or else He’ll be at a helpless loss.  But because obedience says the most about our relationship with God.  Obedience tells us if we are able to hear Him, if we trust Him enough and are willing enough to do what He says, if we have humbled ourselves before Him, and if we love Him and have really made Him God of our lives. 

            Let’s take a moment to explore some of what the Bible says about obedience:



 
            Jeremiah 7:23:  “but I gave them this command:  Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.  Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.”



            Luke 11:28:  “[Jesus] replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’”




            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. . . .” 


            Okay, wait!  I want to look at something here.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  I think that we have a tendency to want to believe that no matter what we do, God will work it out for good.  We can make our own choices, live our own lives, and go our own way; and somehow He will work it out for good.  Because it is written that God works everything out for good . . . as long as we have warm, positive thoughts about Him, right? 

            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!] 


            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, exciting things for Him, but sometimes I wonder if He’s asking, “How are you doing with the jobs I have already given you?” 




Noah  

            To me, the story of Noah and the ark is a story of obedience.  In Genesis 6, we read about God telling Noah of His plans to wipe out life on earth and how Noah is to build an ark to save the animals and mankind. 

            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.   

            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. 

            Which leads us to the next lesson of this Bible story:  The closer you walk with God and the fiercer you cling only to Him and the more you try to look like Him, the more different you’ll look from the rest of the world. 

            I’m sure Noah stood out like a sore thumb.  I mean, it’s not like he was building a tiny bird-house that he could hide in his garage.  And I can only imagine the intense teasing and persecution he got for listening to a God that no one else cared about and for being obedient enough to build an ark in a world that never saw rain yet.  (From what I understand, the ground was watered by dew and not rain until the depths of the earth broke open in the flood.)

            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.  

            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? 





Letting God Interrupt

            Let’s change gears here.  What about when God interrupts our plans?  What about when He changes the direction our lives are taking?  I mean, we all have plans for our lives, don’t we?  We have dreams and wishes that we want to see fulfilled.  We have gone to school so that we can get a job in a certain field.  And we have plans for where we will be next month, next year, and five years from now. 

            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.  

            We might have our plans, but sometimes God changes our direction.  Maybe we want to do big, glorious things, but God brings us tiny little jobs where no one sees or appreciates the things we do.  Maybe we wanted to travel, but God calls us to stay home.  Maybe we wanted to be married, but God calls us to be single.  Maybe we wanted to get a job out of the home, but God calls us to stay home and raise our children.  Maybe we wanted to keep our heads low and quietly mind our own business, but God calls us to take a public stand for Him, for Truth, and to face the persecution that follows.  Maybe we wanted a carefree, easy life full of fun, but God calls us to learn to humbly bear a painful burden and to praise Him and bring Him glory anyway.

            Are we willing to let God interrupt our plans with His plans?  Are we willing to let Him change the direction of our lives?  To follow Him wherever He leads?  To accept smaller, less glamorous jobs, if He calls us to?  To do everything for His glory, with all of our hearts, praising Him no matter what, even if it's not the life we wanted?

            Our answers to these will tell us a lot about where we are in our walk with Him, about how much we really trust and love Him, about how willing we are to follow Him, to obey, and about who's really on the Throne in our lives.

            Our lives might not (and probably won't!) turn out the way we planned, but our job is to be obedient, whatever God calls us to do, and to not worry about the effects and rewards of our obedience.  We just have to worry about obeying.  It's His job to determine how to use our obedience and how to reward our obedience.  

            And even if we see no visible rewards for or results of our obedience on earth, we will see them in heaven.  And we'll know it was all worth it when we hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."


            I wish that I had heard this message when I was graduating with my master’s degree.  I had planned on working and using my degree and paying down loans.  And then, I got pregnant four months after getting married.  I remember half-joking with my husband that he could stay home and raise the children while I went to work.  Because, after all, I had worked so long to get my degree, to become a counselor.  Not to stay home and change diapers.  

            But I had to learn to follow where God leads.  To grow where I was planted.  To be faithfully obedient in whatever job God gave me.  To be the mom God called me to be and to not worry about whether other people appreciated or noticed my efforts and sacrifices.  



            I think those of us who struggle with discontentment, who yearn for more or better in our lives, feel like it will all be okay “if only . . . !”  

            "If only they would notice all I do for them!"  

            "If only I had the skills of so-and-so!"  

            "If only my spouse would do such-and-such!"  

            "If only I had more money ... a bigger house ... a more exciting job ... more success, etc.!"  


            But I've learned that I can’t let my feelings hinge on “if only . . .”  Because “if only” hardly ever happens.  (And when it does, then we find something else to be bitter about, something else to yearn for.)  

            What if your discouraging situation never changes?  What if you never get a bigger house or the changes you want in your spouse or a more glamorous role or more success or more appreciation for all you do?

            What if "if only ..." never happens!?!


            Sometimes, we can change our situations to make us feel better, to help us get the life we want.  

            But sometimes, God expects us to simply live the life we have, to fulfill the role He gave us, for His glory - praising Him no matter how we feel, being obedient no matter how much we wish things were different, working with all our heart for Him in our small, overlooked, unexciting, unappreciated role.


            When I was struggling with feeling taken for granted as "just a mom" (feeling especially unappreciated by my husband who, at the time, seemed to only complain about the things I couldn't get done all day, but never noticed the things I did do all day as a homeschooling mom of four boys), I took those bad feelings to the Lord.  I asked Him to help me learn how to thrive in that unappreciated, unglamorous, overlooked role of "just a mom," instead of just getting bitter that I wasn't feeling as appreciated and respected and successful as I wanted to be.  

            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 Whom 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.”)


            So many people out there need to hear this 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. 



            When we find ourselves struggling with our roles in life, feeling overlooked and under-appreciated and maybe even unsuccessful, we have a choice to make: Continue on the path to bitterness ... or remember Who ultimately put you in that role and Whom you are supposed to glorify in that role.



            Are you looking at yourself and your value through the world's eyes ... or through God's eyes?  

            Are you defining success according to the world ... or according to God?  

            Are you looking for man's approval ... or for God's approval?

            Where are your rewards - on earth or in heaven?



            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, to faithfully do whatever job God gives you, and to spread His messages of hope and salvation and truth and love.  And the only rewards that matter are the ones that will be waiting for you in heaven.    



            I believe that at some point in our struggle with discouragement, we will face a choice: make our own path to happiness ... or follow God, even if it doesn't make us "happy" right away.  

            If we desire happiness above God, we will find ourselves flirting with sin, straying outside of God's Will, making a less-than-godly choice, or simply getting bitter because He isn't doing what we wanted Him to do.  And if we allow ourselves to flirt with sin or with the possibility of straying outside of God's Will and commands because we think it will make us happier, then we will end up blocking the Holy Spirit from fully working in and through us, from comforting us in our struggles, from helping us grow in our faith and learn to be content no matter what.  We won't feel the joy, peace, freedom, and love that come from Him . . . because we have shut the door to Him by allowing a sin or an ungodly idea or fantasy to take root in our hearts and minds.   

            But if we will put God's glory and obedience to Him above our feelings, if we will set our hearts and minds on doing the right thing and on following where He leads and on being obedient no matter what (even if our feelings are not there yet), then our hearts are more fully open to the Holy Spirit and His work. 

            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.


            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! 



            Jeremiah 29:11:  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”


            Proverbs 16:9:  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”


            James 4:13-15:  “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”  



Questions:


5.  When it is hard to obey?  What keeps us from obeying (things like pride and our need to be “in control”)?  How do they get in the way?


6.  What are some of the excuses that we use to rationalize our disobedience?   


7.  What might happen as a result of continual disobedience or ignoring the nudges of the Holy Spirit?


11.  Is it harder to glorify God in the smaller, everyday jobs than it is in the big, glamorous jobs?  If so, why?  Would we rather have the bigger, more exciting, more glamorous jobs, and why?  What are some of the “pitfalls” of having the small, unnoticed jobs?  How about the pitfalls of having the big, glamorous jobs?


12.  Are we more concerned about and aware of our obedience in the big things, while overlooking our obedience in the little things?  What are some kinds of “little things” that we need to be faithfully obedient in and do for God’s glory?  Big things?  For you personally?


13.  What does “switch your employer” mean to you?  What are some ways you can apply this to your life?  If we all started to do this, how might it change our lives and country?


16.  Do you try to listen to what God wants to tell you through the Bible and through prayer?  Do you take His rules, guidelines, and commandments seriously?  Do you think most people do, or do they see them more as suggestions?  How is this evident in the world nowadays? 


18.  What are some times that you believe God told you to do something, either through the Bible or hearing His whisper?  How did you know it was Him?  Did you obey or not?  And what happened as a result?


19.  Is there anything right now that you are failing to be obedient in, big or small?  (You do not have to share this out loud.)



20.  What does “radical obedience” mean to you and for your life? 


24.  What are some of your future plans and dreams?  How do you feel about the possibility that God might interrupt your future with a plan of His own?  What makes it easier to accept the changes He might bring? 


25.  How can we be missionaries wherever we are?  How can you personally?  In your family, job, neighborhood, church, etc.?  (Think of some specific examples.)



The posts in this Bible study:
(And I didn't repost the last "lesson" because it's not really a lesson.  It's meant to be a conversation-starter if you are doing this Bible study with others: 22.  Gray Areas

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