An obedient life is a blessed life. Benefits of obedience include joy, security in God’s love, God’s intimate presence, and His provision (Psalm 112:1, John 15:10, John 14:23). Isaiah 1:19 contains a simple and profound promise: “If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings.” I’ll take that for 100, Alex, please and thank you.
On the surface, obedience is a simple concept: Just obey God. However, while obedience may be simple, it is certainly not easy. For one thing, obedience involves active listening. Not long ago, I took a hearing test as part of a physical. I sat facing a wall, curtains drawn on either side of me, wearing huge padded headphones. In my hand I grasped a device with my thumb hovering over the red switch. My instructions were to push the button whenever I heard a beep. Easy enough. As the test began, however, I realized that this was going to be harder than I thought. The beeps were so faint that I had to close my eyes and almost hold my breath to hear them. When the ordeal was over, I found myself exhausted from the energy it took simply to listen.
The Hebrew and Greek words translated as “obey” and “obedience” in the scriptures have the connotation of listening intently in order to recognize, understand, discern, and obey. These words and the examples we see in scripture suggest this definition: Obedience is the ability to hear and recognize the voice of God and the willingness to follow His instructions despite internal or external opposition. Here are some principles that can help us on our journey to becoming more obedient daughters of God.
Obedience must be learned.
A scripture that never fails to blow my mind is Hebrews 5:8: “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” If Jesus had to learn obedience, we can be assured that we will have to do the same. The curriculum for learning obedience involves suffering and suffering involves discomfort. Obedience 101 begins when we are asked to do something uncomfortable. I have found that it’s all too easy for me to believe I have mastered this obedience thing…until God tells me to lay off the sugar or step away from the laptop or show respect to my husband. In those moments, I become painfully aware of the areas in which I still need to learn obedience.
Obedience is the ultimate act of worship.
I enjoy putting thought into picking out the perfect gift. The more someone means to me, the more invested I am in selecting a gift that will make her smile. When we reflect on the immensity of the grace God has given us through Christ, our natural response is to want to give Him something of value that will move His heart. That is the literal meaning of worship – it shows God His “worth-ship,” how much we value Him. In Romans 12:1-2, we learn that the best gift we can give to God is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. Jesus adopted this radical obedience as a lifestyle, stating in John 6:38, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” This “devout reverence” (see Hebrews 5:7) moved the heart of God.
Partial obedience is disobedience.
One of the saddest stories in the Bible is the account in I Samuel 15 of how Saul, Israel’s first king, was fired by God. Given clear instructions from God, Saul almost obeyed. His intentions were probably good. He just thought he had a better plan. But Samuel gave him this reality check in I Samuel 15:22: “Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” Trying to bargain with God does not pay – it costs.
Obedience begins with hearing and recognizing the voice of God.
I have always loved the story of the prophet Samuel’s childhood. Dropped off by his mother to live and work in the temple at about the age of eleven, the very first lesson he learned was to recognize the voice of God. In I Kings 19, we stand with Elijah on a mountain while God passes by and, in the end, God is not in the spectacular forces of nature, but in a still, small voice. Like faint beeps through a headset, it is impossible for the voice of God to be detected in the midst of noise and distraction. By creating time and space in our minds and in our routines, we make room to hear God’s voice and distinguish it from the many other voices competing for our attention.
Obedience and uncertainty can coexist.
Facing his greatest obedience test in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ prayer in Luke 22:42 began, “Father, if you are willing….” Then he moved toward the cross. In I Samuel 14, Jonathan prepared for battle by stating, “Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.” Then he moved toward battle. Waiting to be 100% sure of God’s instructions may keep us from stepping out in obedience. We must be willing to embrace the maybe, trusting that God knows how to direct us -- and even interrupt us if needed.
Obedience prepares us to fulfill God’s calling.
Hebrews 5:9 teaches us that Jesus’ process of learning obedience was necessary for him to be “made perfect,” or deemed ready to fulfil his ultimate purpose. We see this principle at play in the lives of many leaders in scripture, including Abraham, Daniel, Gideon, Moses, and Mary, Jesus’ mother. They all demonstrated great obedience prior to God entrusting them with great responsibility.
Here are some practical steps we can take to cultivate the character trait of obedience in our lives.
- Identify your obedience battlegrounds, the areas in which God has prompted or commanded you to do things that make you uncomfortable. Admit those areas to God and ask Him for grace to obey. Also confide in a friend you can trust to be discrete and pray for you (see James 5:16).
- Set aside a day to pull away from entertainment, social media, and stressful tasks so that you have more time and energy to focus on God. Reflect on Jesus’ words from John 10:27: “My sheep recognize my voice.” Read scripture and write down any instructions that come to mind.
- When you receive an instruction from God, immediately create an appointment on your calendar to do it or at least to complete the first step. Schedule your obedience to occur as soon as possible, making Psalm 119:60 your mantra: “I will hurry, without delay, to obey your commands.”
I suspect that, like me, you have learned many lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. One such lesson is the fragility of life. Yet as fragile as our lives on earth are, God has made it possible for each of us to have an unlimited impact on others through even the smallest acts of obedience. So let’s cooperate with Him, embrace a lifestyle and attitude of obedience, and experience the blessing of a life well lived.
Joy Gorham Hervey, Ed.D.
Founder and Principal
Genesis Consulting Group, LLC