Friday, February 18, 2011

How Do You Feel About Obedience?

Obey is a word that is often maligned and feared. In our current culture the concept of obeying is not a popular one. The word has been taken out of wedding vows many times simply because we independent people don’t want the responsibility of being obedient. Children don’t want to have to be obedient to their parents because it is no fun. Even Christians sometimes bristle at the idea of having to be obedient to God.

The Bible, though, is full of examples of people being obedient. Abraham placed Isaac on the altar because God asked him for obedience. Even Jesus was described as being obedient in His death on the cross. Like it or not, God does require obedience from us.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia describes the Old Testament use of the word as “to hear” and “to listen.” Really, that is what God asks of us; that we hear and listen. Often I hear, but I still struggle with following through. This week brought an example.

During my commute I listen to a Christian radio station that highlights a verse from the Bible each morning. Many times I hear the verse and then promptly forget it. Friday morning the verse was Isaiah 41:10. As I listened I thought “I should share this with my friend.” It didn’t make any sense as to why I should share it and I pondered what it could mean to her.

My friend is, as she describes it, a “brand new, baby Christian.” She is a coworker. I know little of what her life outside of work is like. Still, as I drove I questioned what good would be done by sharing this verse. As far as I knew it didn’t specifically speak to anything she had shared with me.

However, when I got to work I shot off a quick email to her with the verse and let her know I just felt like I should share it with her. As I walked by her desk a little while later she stopped me. She thanked me for sharing the verse. It was just what she needed to hear that day. She didn’t share specifics of how it spoke to her, just that the timing was perfect.

I told her the truth; I didn’t know why I should share it, just that I felt I should. She then thanked me for my obedience. I was humbled to think that God had used me. I was grateful that I had listened that day. God knew what she needed that day and He chose me to pass an important message along to her. If I had insisted on knowing why I should share the verse my friend wouldn’t have been blessed that day.

This incident was a good reminder for me. My obedience isn’t always about me. When I first heard the story of Abraham and Isaac I was tempted to believe that my obedience would always bring me good things, like rubbing the magic genie lamp. Today as I write this I know that my obedience isn’t all about me and I won’t always know what God is working through me, but that He is working.


  1. I believe in God but a God that is within me... I don't believe that God is external to me and someone to be feared. God is LOVE... Fear and love don't mix in my belief. Help me understand how a loving God needs to be feared and obeyed when love heals all troubles.

  2. Susan,
    The problem with “God is love” is that it renders him as one dimensional. We like God that way because it makes it easy and doesn’t require anything of us. We want his love, but we don’t want to have to give anything in return. Loving God is a relationship just as loving our husband, our parents, or our children are a relationship.

    When we hear the words fear and obey we tend to get nervous. We don’t want to live in fear and we certainly don’t want someone telling us what to do. However, these words can have different meanings based on what Greek or Hebrew word was used in the original biblical text. Fear can mean to be afraid of his power, but it can also mean reverence and awe. As a believer of God, both meanings are appropriate.

    Obey can mean to do exactly what someone says or it can mean to listen or attend depending on what Greek or Hebrew word was used in the original text. As humans, we view obedience as a demand from someone else. With God we hear his request through the filter of our respect and we choose to comply because of the trust we have in him.

    To me, this is similar to my relationship with my parents. I came to respect them because of who they were and because I knew they had my best interests at heart. Because of the trust that was built, I could freely give my obedience to them. So I found that love, fear/reverence and obedience can coexist in one relationship.

    God is not a despot. He doesn’t require that people believe in him or that we fear and obey him. We have the option of choosing our path. Just like any relationship, though, we have to accept all parts of God and not just take those that feel good to us.