Obeying God takes a lot of faith and trust. My trust in Him grows as He changes circumstances and/or my attitude and the results amaze me! Life makes sense where it never did, even with the added struggles that come with living as a committed follower of Jesus. I have found an overwhelming sense of peace, a constant underlying joy, confidence, freedom from snares I found myself entangled in through material things. Obedience is something I am committed to, even when I struggle to understand the reasons behind His commands.
About a year ago, I was struggling with obedience. I have tough times off and on, but this was a particularly rough time for me. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV) says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Notice the word “fruit”; not “fruits.” When our walk with God is as it should be, all of these characteristics will be part of our lives. But self-control and patience were two I was definitely missing and as I tried to figure out why, I became aware that I wasn’t even trying to obey some of the things God was convicting me about. I had conquered the “big” things, now it was time to let go of some of the less obvious things I was still holding on to. As I read about the Israelites’ disobedience in the Old Testament, I saw how transgressions against the Mosaic law had a rippling effect. The transgression might not seem so bad, but as I learned more about the context and background of the stories, I began to see the negative impact disobedience had on the individual, the people as a whole and God’s purposes.
Obedience is one way we show our love for God. A lot of stories about obedience are very difficult to understand and, at first many appear to contradict the goodness of God. But it is important to research these stories. Find Biblically-sound commentaries, authors and teachers to learn about the background, context and explanation to understand what’s going on. Knowing the full story allows us to: 1) see what God didn’t do, 2) see that He is working constantly to accomplish His purposes, 3)see God’s patience, and 4) understand how amazing Jesus’ atoning death is.
I decided one morning on my way to work that I would obey the speed limit. I drive about 25 miles one way: 3 miles on a state highway, then straight west on I-70. I wouldn’t allow myself the extra 5-10 mph I usually drove. When the limit was posted as 65, my speedometer would be at 65. As soon as I pulled out of the driveway, I set the cruise control. I drove in the right-hand lane – unfamiliar territory for consistent travelers of the far left lane! The first few days I often felt like I was at a stand-still as cars zipped by me and I was tempted to end my little experiment and just drive like everyone else was driving. When I approached someone actually going slower than me or when I had to adjust my speed to allow someone to enter from an on-ramp, I often experienced a good deal of anxiety as I moved over to the middle lane and peered into my rear-view mirror to see cars coming up behind me, certain they would plow into the rear of my car. I knew what they were thinking: “Come on, speed up, get over.” As soon as I could, I moved back to my proper place! After about a week into my experiment, I began to relax; driving became a much more calm experience. I no longer zig-zagged through traffic and I began to see the dangers I had put others in. My gas mileage improved so I saved money on gas. I was more patient with slow drivers and those I felt probably should not even be on the road! Taking a little more time to get home allowed me to hear more of my 5:05pm radio program. I no longer had road rage. I never anticipated any of these things happening.
I thought after a few days I would give up, anxious to get to work. That I would give in to the desire to drive like everyone else. I have always been a pretty aggressive driver thinking that proved I was the better driver – it was a source of pride that I had been able to maneuver through traffic like I did for almost 40 years and never had a ticket or an accident. After about a month, some of my old habits began to show up, but I re-grouped and continued to enjoy the unexpected benefits of obeying the speed limit.
Obeying God has worked out the same way. I never imagined experiencing the things I have gained. While I came from a pretty low place, I know a lot of people who are very happy living a life without God and I often wonder how amazing their life would be with Him. It seems giving up control of your life would be restrictive and subservient. But it is just the opposite.
I am learning patience. I’m still a work in progress, but I can wait on Him with absolute knowledge that the things He has for me will make my life fuller, more meaningful. I often fight the urge to take the quickest way to achieve something, but each time I remind myself of the things He has done and find myself eagerly waiting to see what He will do when I wait. I’m more patient in my interactions with others and take the time to understand where they’re coming from instead of insisting on speaking my mind or acting on my emotions.
I am enjoying the benefits of self-control. When I was growing up, we eagerly awaited the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz on TV. It was a special time and, even as we ran screaming from the room when the flying monkeys appeared, we LOVED watching it and couldn’t wait to watch it each year. In my mid-20’s we bought a VCR and the first movie we bought was The Wizard of Oz. We watched it so much that my daughter insisted I call her Dorothy, and I obliged her. But it wasn’t special anymore. We live in a nation where most of us can indulge every desire we have quickly and as often as we want. But as I learn how to be more in control of urges and desires, even the smallest things in life are much richer and meaningful. A bag of M&M’s once a week tastes much better than a bag a day. A new outfit two or three times a year is much more exciting than three new blouses a week. Finding three toads this summer has been much more thrilling than finding 1 every weekend! Taking the time to put away my shoes relieves a lot of morning anxiety. Taking time to do things right the first time saves me from a lot of extra work. Learning self-control has made me more disciplined, less depressed, less anxious.
Obeying God doesn’t seem to make any sense when we’ve convinced ourselves that what we want is much better than what He wants. I had to free myself from my plans and trust Him with His plan for my life. There are so many things we do that are in disobedience to what God tells us to do and some things are very difficult for us to change. It’s scary to stop behaving in ways that have worked for us in the past. It’s scary to think about the things we might lose if we change certain behaviors. It’s scary thinking we won’t fit in with the world when we do those things the world tells us are right but God tells us are wrong. It’s uncomfortable when people tell us we’re naïve or foolish to believe in such a God. And it’s very difficult to tell friends and family “no” when they ask us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God. I wish there were words I could say that would assure you that what you get is so much better than what you have. I just pray you will take a chance and see for yourself. Step out in faith. Start with the smaller things that aren’t so scary. Your trust in God will grow each time and pretty soon the bigger things won’t be so hard to change.
Obeying God can be difficult when we cannot see a reason for doing what He asks us to do or to refrain from certain behaviors. Isaiah 55:8 (ESV) tells us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Proverbs 3:5 (ESV) reminds us that we cannot trust our ideas about how we are to live: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” I read an article in which the author points out that most of the time we will understand God’s ways only AFTER we obey.