Lately, I keep coming across the subject of obedience. Exciting, right? But when I’m reminded of a single word and concept more than a few times, it stops being a coincidence. The more I dug in to what I felt the Lord speaking to me, the more I realized how critical it is to Him that His followers obey His voice. If you will stick with me for a longer-than-usual post, I know you will also see the importance. Writing this out is as much for me as for anyone who might read. It’s an obedience thing.
For a long season of my life I felt the Lord calling me to write a book. I kept putting it off. For years I made excuses but His quiet whispers continually led me back to this task. No matter if anyone read it, or if it was ever published, He simply asked me to finish it. But I allowed many things to keep me from accomplishing it. During the course of the last year I finally finished the manuscript. In that time I have learned valuable lessons about obedience and disobedience that I’m ready to share with you.
Perhaps you are like I was, living in the neglect of a known duty. Something you know the Lord has placed on your heart to carry out, or simply start, but you haven’t done it. For some, it might be that you are living with a destructive habit or sin God has asked you to give up. Perhaps a difficult conversation needs to happen or a leap of faith you’ve been too afraid to take. No matter where you find yourself, I pray these thoughts will strike a chord in your heart and inspire you to take a step into obedience, and then another, and another.
Why We Disobey
At the beginning of June, I started a Bible reading challenge to read or listen to the entire Bible in 90 days. That’s where I came across 1 Samuel 15:22. Saul was told to completely destroy the Amalakites and take no plunder. Instead, he saved the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord. A noble gesture. After all, making a sacrifice to the Lord was a good thing, and part of the religious custom of that day. I’m sure King Saul’s motives were pure. I’m sure he thought the Lord would be pleased with the way he went above and beyond what God had asked him to do. But the Lord was not pleased. He spoke through his prophet Samuel: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
I realized how often we do this in our walk with Christ. God asks us to do something but instead of simply obeying we do something else. Not bad things. We may in fact, do very good things—making sacrifices. But if it is not what God has asked us to do, it is not obedience.
It is amazing when you read through the Old Testament how many times the Israelites sacrificed great offerings to God, and yet were totally disobedient to Him. The problem was that they considered their sacrifice to be sufficient, and sadly, we do the same thing.
There are three reasons that might lead us to this disobedience.
Pride—We think our idea is better. Whether consciously or unconsciously we assume responsibility to carry out something that the Lord didn’t tell us to do. Perhaps we don’t want to look like a fool to others by fully obeying God, so we allow our pride to get in the way of our obedience. Or, like King Saul, our motive might be pure in doing something other than what God has asked us to do but we just assuage our conscious by side-stepping what He really wants from us, our obedience. For example, perhaps the Lord has prompted you to start a ministry, lead a life group, get on a budget, love your husband unconditionally, stop comparing, or spend time investing in your children. If you fill your time with other activities, even good things, you are not obeying God. You are making a sacrifice.
Distractions and laziness—You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve stopped writing this blog to check Instagram or send a text. Seriously. Distractions—that we allow—and the laziness that controls our motivations are huge barriers in our obedience to God. The problem with distractions and laziness is that although God desires your obedience, it’s not always going to be easy. There are ways to make it easier, (we’ll get to that soon) but a lot of the time, especially when you first start taking those steps toward obedience, it’s going to take work and many of us are unwilling to put in the work. So we do other things that are easier, thinking maybe God will be pleased since we at least did something. I am guilty of this all the time. In my life, I joke that you’ll always know when the Lord has asked me to sit down and write—my house is clean, refrigerator organized, toilets scrubbed, and dusting complete. I am great at doing the other things and avoiding the One Thing—the thing He’s asked me to do.
Fear—Fear of the unknown, of failure, ridicule, success or change. Many cases of disobedience are born out of fear. Believe me, I’ve lived it. We may want to accomplish the calling of God but our fear keeps us from moving forward. It’s too hard and overwhelming. We don’t know where to start. We don’t know what we’re doing. Fear can drive us to “make sacrifices” instead of simply obeying.
Disobedience drives us away from relational intimacy. Just as Adam and Eve hid in the garden after they had disobeyed God, we hide from His presence when we are living in disobedience. My personal relationship with Christ suffered greatly during my season of disobedience. Every time I would attempt to seek the Lord and spend time with him, the reminder of what I hadn’t yet done was so distracting that I began to avoid those intimate times. I was always looking for a new word from God, a new touch from Him. Each time I approached, I sensed His loving, patient, yet firm tone saying: I have already told you what to do. It hasn’t changed.
For me, I’ve fallen prey to all these examples and whether I’ve realized it or not, my disobedience was an act of rebellion against God. Of course, none of us would admit to outwardly rebelling against God, but our actions speak in volumes what our intentions never could. That is why obedience can never come from good intentions. Obedience must come from something much stronger, from the very core of who we are, the thing that beats within us: Our heart.
Why We Obey
God told us himself through His beloved King David: “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”
God doesn’t need us to obey Him. He wants us to obey Him. It’s for our benefit, not His.
Throughout scripture, it is made clear: the only thing God is after is our heart. Not our religion. Not our actions. Not our works. Us. He’s after you. He longs to capture your heart and make you fall in love with Who He is because He knows He’s the best thing you could ever behold. It is out of that love relationship that obedience flows freely, and more easily. Not begrudgingly, or arduous, or out of duty, but from a place of awe and worship at what a magnificent and mighty God He is. Obedience to His voice is the overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion. When you start with love, obedience comes much easier.
It was through that love and devotion that I finally began to take steps toward obedience to the calling He’d given me. The intimacy I found with Him dissolved my pride. Falling in love with His heart gave me the courage I needed when I felt doubtful. The sacrifice He made inspired me when I felt lazy. But, best of all, is that His love drove out my fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” I’ll be honest. There are times the fear is still there, but the difference is that His love outweighs the fear, and drives my obedience. Obedience is the test of whether we live for God or not.
The good news for us: there will always be grace for disobedience. But what we need to remember is there might not always be the blessings that come with obedience.
For some of you, you’ll start today. God has already spoken. It hasn’t changed. For others, you may need to grow your love for Christ before those first few steps can happen. My prayer for anyone is that you will do the thing God has asked you to do, no matter when you start, or how long it takes you.
If we belong to Christ, our obedience belongs to Him as well. If he does not have our obedience, He doesn’t fully have us.
He speaks so He can be obeyed.