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Fun with obedience


Obedience. This word is hopelessly in need of a PR campaign. The synonyms are hardly an improvement: compliance, submission, deference. Even the virtue of Patience fairs better in the Christian vocabulary of prayer. This shouldn’t surprise us. I can’t recall the last time I anxiously awaited the next opportunity to obey. I do recall asking God to bring obedience to people that annoyed me. But this hardly counts.

Perhaps it is a simple misunderstanding. At some point in my circuitous Christian walk I came to believe that obedience should be fun. Yes, I know this sounds utterly ridiculous, and it is. But I don’t think I am alone.

Like most problems in my faith, I can clearly trace it back to Christian radio stations. Sample any of them for 5 or 6 minutes and you’ll walk away with the distinct impression that everything in our life must be happy! Every sentence liberally peppered with joyful exclamation points. Every expression derived from the cheesy smiles of an ABBA album. Naturally, when I looked at a trying subject like obedience, I concluded the obvious. If I am a real Christian, even obedience will be a delight.

It didn’t work. It wasn’t even mildly pleasant. The very definition asked me to do things I didn’t want and perhaps even worse, to not do things I really wanted to. If obedience were fun, it would be called fun. If it were easy it would be heaven. Of course, neither of these are true. Oddly this came as a profound relief. If I knew obedience was going to be difficult and unpleasant, ironically it became much easier. It’s like when you first learn of the curse God placed on our jobs as a result of Adam’s sin. It doesn’t make our work any less annoying, but it’s easier to endure if we learn to expect the unavoidable.

Obedience simply fills the gaps that arise between our moments of inspiration. If we always desired to follows God’s will, it would be entirely unnecessary. True obedience requires us to go in a direction we don’t want to. This only becomes possible when we submit ourselves to an authority we have previously decided to place above us. It isn’t really obedience if you simply do what someone asks of you when you would have performed it regardless.

My biggest struggle with obedience comes from a simple failure of decisiveness.  Obedience becomes worthless if subjected to constant reevaluation. Imagine as a father if your son continuously recalibrated his desire to obey you. And this obedience were based solely on the circumstances of the last 20 minutes.   All the past love, concern and wisdom you had shown him was thrown out the window. Only the actions of the most recent incident were factored into his willingness to obey. What a ridiculous relationship this would be. You would be completely hamstrung in your ability to teach your son anything. Though laughable, is this not how we often view our heavenly Father?

Surprisingly, Jesus provides the clearest inspiration. Surprising, because I imagined the Son of God could handle any call for obedience without breaking a sweat. Instead, He sweated blood. In the Garden of Gethsemane, under the crushing weight of His father’s request, our Lord faced the ultimate test of obedience, the cross. Let us draw great courage from His perseverance and let us remember it is only through Jesus’ great act of obedience that we have any hope to obey.


Comment from Jamie
Time August 25, 2008 at 6:25 am

I never liked the word obedience either. The word I’ve been meditating on recently is faithfulness. The mean mostly the same thing, except faithfulness is, by definition, has to be rooted in faith. Obedience, on the other hand, may be rooted in faith or legalism.

Comment from Mike J.
Time August 27, 2008 at 12:46 am

Obedience simply fills the gaps that arise between our moments of inspiration.

This one sentence might just sum up your entire essay. It makes me think of a suspension bridge across a steep ravine. I guess I could go downhill and climb back up through the brambles… but wouldn’t it be better to take the bridge across? Less glamorous, but it gets you where you want to go a whole lot easier.

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