Spiritual Practice #4: As God shows me how to live, I do my best to obey Him
Most people are attracted to the idea of having a resource like God available to help them with life. Who wouldn’t want the Creator of the universe at their beck and call? What does slow down the “me and God” thing, however, is the realization that God wants to be more than just our buddy or our backup. It turns out that God’s got this thing about being . . . in charge. Jesus, God the Son, put it this way in John 14:21“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Commands. Not merely “requests” or “preferences”, but “commands”.
How does that make you feel? We humans tend to bristle a bit at being expected to submit to the commands of anyone. We’d rather have God as a friend, or a consultant, or a partner, but as our Master? That’s humbling. In fact, lots of folks resist coming to God for salvation, in part, because they don’t want to give up their independence. But, as a believer, learning to submit to God is an important part of growing up spiritually.
Why does God want us to submit to Him; to obey Him?
1. God wants us to submit to Him because it’s His right
God created the universe – everything and everyone. He owns it all. And just as a landlord has the right to tell his tenants what they’re allowed to do with his property, so God has the right to say what happens on planet earth and even what we do with our own bodies.
2. God wants us to submit to Him because He knows what He’s doing
Fortunately, for us, this isn’t just a “might makes right” situation. God’s actually extremely smart and totally good. He designed us to function in certain ways; ways that are not only pleasing to Him, but also happen to be good for us as well. When God says, “Don’t do that!” He’s not just being bossy. There’s a reason why He forbids certain things. It’s because they’re bad for us. Conversely, when He tells us to do something, He knows that, if we obey, we’ll benefit. There’s a lot of satisfaction and joy on the path of obedience, especially in the long run.
3. God wants us to submit to Him because it accomplishes His greater purposes
As Rick Warren famously put it, “it’s not about you”. We were saved, according to Ephesians 1:14 that we might be “to the praise of his glory”. If you and I submit to God, then we get to play a positive role on the winning team. We exalt God and help Him to accomplish His purposes in the world. If we disobey, we lose that privilege. God will still get achieve His purposes, but He does it by working around us rather than through us and that’s a shame.
What does strong obedience to God look like?
1. I obey God better when I have a willing, submissive attitude
When our government asks for obedience – mandating speed laws, taxes, etc., it doesn’t really care much how you obey; whether you have a good attitude or not. They just want you to do it. God, however, does care about our attitude. At least 23 times in the Bible the phrase “with all your heart” is used in connection with loving and obeying God. Now, being realistic, this doesn’t mean that we always feel like obeying God at the moment. Jesus didn’t feel like dying on the cross. It does mean, though, that we don’t settle for a merely external obedience done with a bad attitude. We also consciously yield our hearts to God as well.
2. I obey God better when I consciously depend on Him
What I suggested a moment ago is actually more difficult than it sounds. It’s hard to know our own motives or to change them so that we have the proper attitude toward God. Furthermore, sometimes it’s just flat out hard to obey. Ever try to stop smoking? Or to forgive someone? Or to read your Bible regularly? Obedience can be like walking uphill on ice against the wind. We need help, lots of help, to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way. Don’t hesitate to ask God for assistance. He’s delighted to help those who seek Him.
3. I obey God better when I’m committed to total obedience
Pick and choose obedience doesn’t work very well. I’m not suggesting that any of us will always get it right. That’s not realistic. What I am saying, however, is that our goal, at least, should be total obedience. Deliberately settling for partial obedience shows that something’s out of whack in our attitude toward God. He’s worthy of 100 % obedience.
4. I obey God better when I’m immersed in His Word
It’s easier to obey God if we know what He wants from us. The Bible is an enormous help in this area. It not only gives us lots of specific commands from God (“forgive one another”), it also lays out broad spiritual principles (“love your neighbor as yourself”) as well as teaching us a lot about who God is and how He thinks. Furthermore, just coming in contact with the “living and active” word of God gives us a shot of spiritual motivation and strength.
5. I obey God better when I regularly associate with other committed believers
You and I are significantly strengthened or weakened by the company we keep. Now, I’m not suggesting that we segregate ourselves from unbelievers or weak believers. They need to experience God’s love through us too. Nevertheless, it’s very helpful to find other serious believers and make a habit of spending time with them. Their enthusiasm will help you stay enthusiastic. Their holiness motivate you to be holy. They can offer practical tips for obedience. And they’ll pray for you, hold you accountable, and encourage you.
6. I obey God better when I learn how to handle my failures wisely
Failures? Yep. Failures. The spiritual life is a battle and sometimes we get taken down. We lose our temper. We give in to lust. We tell a lie. James says, “We all stumble in many ways. . .” It’s true. Two steps forward and one step back. Aim for perfection, but expect some bumps on the road.
When we do fall short, how we handle it makes all the difference. Here are some suggestions. When you realize that you’ve failed, admit it. Don’t make excuses. If it’s wrong, say, “I was wrong.” If it’s sin, call it “sin”. Tell God that you’re sorry. Stop doing it. And start over. If there’s someone that you’ve wronged, if possible, talk with them and make it right.
That’s it. You don’t have to beat yourself up or dwell on your mess-up. Just make it right and move on. The sooner the better. Isn’t it great that God lets us do that? That He forgives so readily?
The path of obedience can be challenging, but it’s also exciting and rewarding. We were made to obey God. When we walk in step with Him we experience life at its best. Are you doing your best to obey God today? Ask Him to help you. He loves that.