Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). This statement is at the core of why we seek to obey God. For many of us, the term obedience has been engraved in our minds since we were children. We’ve been taught its importance but our hearts often have difficulty following through.
Second Chronicles 25:2 describes King Amaziah as a leader who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” Like King Amaziah, we may realize that we are appointed by the Lord to do his work, but often find obedience to be cumbersome. Let’s consider ways we struggle with obedience and ways we can grow in this important virtue.
The Proper Mindset
To say it’s important to obey God without considering why obedience is important can lead to casual commitment. If our reasons for obeying God lay only inside the lines of our Bibles we may lose all connection to the heart. Obedience is a process and this process can become difficult without the proper mindset. Remembering the why can lead to a proper state of heart. Let’s go back to King Amaziah. As Judah prepared to go to war, Amaziah hired an additional 100,000 fighting men from Israel (see 2 Chronicles 25:6). “But a man of God came to him and said, ‘Your Majesty, these troops from Israel must not march with you, for the Lord is not with Israel—not with any of the people of Ephraim. Even if you go and fight courageously in battle, God will overthrow you before the enemy, for God has the power to help or to overthrow’” (vv. 7, 8).
In a world that personifies God as either loving and merciful or cruel and just, there seems to be little balance. At times I forget that the creator of the universe is capable of “overthrowing you before the enemy” and that such a reaction is contingent on my obedience. God is to be feared, just as God is one who loves and is to be loved. Viewing him as a loving and compassionate God, and at the same time a God who is powerful enough to overthrow any plan that runs counter to his will, should strengthen our resolve to obey him.
The Pursuit of Christlikeness
Busyness is the most common excuse I use to justify disobedience. Obedience can be costly and one of those costs involves time. When I find myself thinking I have too much going on in the day to take time to obey God, I’m recognizing the importance of obedience in my mind, but not my heart. It is a half-obedience.
How do I escape this? By being more like Christ. I think about the day it mattered most for Jesus to be obedient to his Father. We might say he had a lot going on the day he died. From washing the feet of his disciples and teaching them about the kingdom of God to the Passover observance. From his agonizing prayer time in the Garden of Gethsemane to Judas’s betrayal. From his arrest and trial to Peter’s denial, you could say that Jesus had a lot going on. All these events occurred before his crucifixion and death. From a human standpoint, such a level of obedience seems impossible to attain. Even so, it is a picture we can carry with us to help us remember that our obedience to God is in some way a reflection of Jesus’ obedience to his Father.
For God, Not Self
Sometimes we treat God like a vending machine. We slide pennies into the coin slot and expect gold in return. In my recent work, Essence of An Age: A Collection of Poetry and Prose, I wrote,
I wish I didn’t have to pay
with indignation and denial
as if they were diamonds I’m sliding
into a vending machine for a can of vinegar.
We may bring a similar attitude to our obedience. We obey, but we obey begrudgingly—with indignation and denial. We deny that we are expecting a reward. But we become indignant when the reward is withheld. This is not to say that all obedience is without reward. Isaiah 1:19 promises, “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land.” Viewed correctly, it depends on the reward we’re seeking, because in many ways the reward is the reason we obey. We obey in order to have a personal relationship with our Creator. Another way of saying it is that the reward for obedience doesn’t just come from God; the reward is God.
A heart that aims to be wholly obedient can be hindered by many things. If you struggle with obedience, you’re not alone. Wanting to obey but faltering in obedience is a dilemma faced by Christians everywhere. Even a third of the angels, beings who dwelled in the presence of God, failed at this. Second Peter 2:4 reminds us that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment.” This is another reminder of how a mindset can be properly adjusted. Above all, remember the example Christ himself gave us. If he was willing to obey God from a perfect heart, then I should be willing to obey God from a less than perfect heart. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:9-11).
Lydia Redwine is a young author from Cincinnati, Ohio, who, by the age of 18, has self-published a fantasy novel and a collection of poetry in pursuit of creating work that is both fresh and impacting.