We must delight in obedience, not simply obey God because we have to. True obedience is of the heart, our love response to our God and desire to please Him.
I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart. (Psalm 4:8)
This morning brought a surprise, but it was one that challenged me very powerfully. In essence, the post planned for today is on hold for another time. Having put the effort in to have it ready, my instinctive response was simply to carry on…until I realised what God was saying in today’s verse. Sometimes, the little word ‘obey’ really is a ‘four-letter’ word. Obedience, even in the small things, can often be surprisingly difficult. Yet it is obedience, and particularly, our attitude to it, which defines where we really stand with God.
Obedience is commanded by God.
The entire Bible, from cover to cover, contains instructions and injunctions, along with powerful examples, of the centrality of obedience to our relationship with God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lost their place through disobedience. Abraham was raised up and blessed through His obedience. Take any great man in the Bible, and we can easily see that the common thread is that they obeyed God. When they did, things went well. When they didn’t, things went badly. Think of Saul, the king anointed by God, as only one example. There is absolutely no doubt that the pivotal point of all their interaction with God was whether they obeyed Him or not.
What’s even more important is the obedience is commanded in everything – the little things and the large. It’s often easier to obey in the big things because they’re bold and unmissable. They’re right there in our faces, and the choice is clear cut. The little things, however, can be deceptive because they seem unimportant. There is no real impetus to step back and take a long, hard look before making a decision. In our foolishness, we often carry on as if God had no interest in the tiny details of life. Yet Exodus to Deuteronomy, even on their own, present pages and pages of absolute proof that God is involved in the little things. If we look at the endless list of laws by which the Israelites were required to live, we will see that He demanded obedience in absolutely everything.
Free will and obedience.
This is often a challenge for us. We’re raised, firstly, in the context of ‘democratic will.’ Even our so-called monarchies today are essentially democratic – the king or queen ‘rule’ by the will of the people. As such, we frown on ‘dictators’ and rulers who ‘abuse power.’ Yet God has a kingdom, not a democracy. He has no parliament or senate, and His will is absolute and sovereign. It is a kingdom that demands absolute obedience from its citizens. The laws by which God governs have not and will never change, because they are the manifestation of who and what He is. He can no more change these than change Himself. If we desire to belong to the kingdom of God, we must obey. But where, then, does ‘free will’ fit into this?
It’s absolutely true that God Himself has given us free will and that He will always respect this. But what free will actually means is that, like the rest of humanity, we get to choose whether we will obey or not. It does not mean that if we’re saved, we’re exempt from the consequences of our choice. God’s will both created this universe and holds it in place. His will is the natural and spiritual laws that operate together to sustain all according to His will. Without God’s will, chaos would be restored. These laws continue to operate, whether we choose to be obedient or not, or whether we believe they exist or not. The consequences that are the result of disobeying these laws remain in force, whether we believe it or not. Free will is simply our God-given right to choose and responsibility for our choice and its consequences.
We must delight in obedience.
Today’s verse provides us with a bold challenge that concerns our attitude to obedience. How do we obey God? Children often provide a perfect mirror to our response to God. Do we willingly listen and obey, or do we clap our hands over our ears and pretend not to hear? We may try our luck, pushing the boundaries and believing that because He loves us – because we’re saved – we have greater leeway. Do we obey reluctantly or even resentfully, dragging our heels because we ‘have no choice’ and sulking every step of the way? As a parent, how do we respond to this type of reaction in our children? That’s our measure, albeit it limited by human frailty, of how God reacts.
To delight involves desire. It implies an overwhelming drive and determination to be obedience. In essence, we are told to enjoy being obedient more than anything else, to go after it with zeal and enthusiasm. Wow. How many of us, truthfully, can say we do – in all things, large or little? In John 14:15 Jesus puts it very clearly – if we love Him, we will obey Him. No grey areas there. Obedience isn’t hardship or punishment or suppression. It’s love. That is the crux of the injunction to delight in obedience. Love is good. It’s positive, uplifting, liberating, encouraging…it’s a delight. If we love, we will delight to obey.
Real obedience is of the heart.
We’re creatures of emotion, and self will stir these up at little provocation, waving the free will flag for all its worth. But we cannot escape the reality that obedience is commanded and is not-negotiable. And how, in our humanness, can we possible delight? The power lies in the heart. What comes out of the heart is who we are in Christ. When His laws are written in our heart, that stirs up the desire and the delight to obey. We don’t have conjure it like some kind of rabbit from a hat. We don’t have to work at it or beat ourselves up over it and live in condemnation for our weakness. What we do have to is love the Word, who is Christ. The more of the Word we have in us, the more delight we will discover in obedience.
It’s important to remember that delight does not exclude dislike. This may sound contradictory but it’s a very powerful truth. Delight is of the heart and the spirit, while dislike is of self. We can dislike having to do something but still delight in doing it because it’s God’s will. It is a matter of the spirit having control over the flesh. As a small example, I have a real dislike of speaking in public. It’s an ingrained survival resistance to being noticed. Yet God has often placed me in a position where He has commanded me to speak or to sing in public. I still intensely dislike having to do it, but the Word in my heart is so powerful that my spirit delights in the obedience.
Obedience raises daily conflict.
This is a certainty if we choose to follow Christ. The conflict may be big or small, but it is always present in every moment of choice. Self will always challenge obedience. Dislike will always defy delight. At the end of the day, it comes down to what is written in our hearts. Before we can delight in being obedient, we must first delight in Him and in His law. When we focus on that rather than obedience itself, we come to the place Christ spoke of – if we love Him, we will obey Him. Obedience, with delight, become a natural response. We choose to obey not because we have to but because we want to – because we desire and delight to please Him.
Sweet Saviour, thank You for Your divine love which changes our hearts and draws them always to You. Grant us the desire to delight in You and Your Word, and write Your law upon our willing hearts. Help us to be obedient in both the large choices and the little, to honour You with the gift of free will You have so graciously given. Teach us to love You, Lord, so that we can rejoice in hearing and obeying, and so bring glory to You.