The Struggle of Obedience

The Struggle of Obedience

Living for Jesus No Matter the Cost

by Heather Cofer | September 12, 2017

I walked into the living room to find toys scattered everywhere and a very forlorn figure sitting in the midst of them. About 10 minutes earlier I had asked my son to clean up his toys before bedtime, and was surprised to find that little, if any, progress had been made in the time I had been away. 

“Hey, buddy, it doesn’t look like you’ve done what I asked you to do and pick up your toys. It should be done by now. Why haven’t you obeyed?” 

He flopped his arms out and said in a distraught voice, “I’m struggling right now, so I can’t clean up my toys.”

“Why are you struggling?” I questioned. 

“Because,” he replied, “I just don’t want to obey right now.” 

I had to hide my amusement as I listened to my little son — not because I thought his disobedience was funny — but because he couldn’t see that in the amount of time he spent “struggling” he could have simply had the task over with. 

After addressing the situation, seeing the toys put in their proper place, and tucking him in bed, I reflected on the whole scenario. A quote I had heard by Elisabeth Elliot came to mind, “A whole lot of what we call ‘struggling’ is simply delayed obedience.”

I could think back on the many times I had known exactly what obedience to the Lord was supposed to look like, yet tried to find some “clever” way of getting myself out of it, not realizing all the while that I was creating far more difficulty for myself than if I had just quickly obeyed in the first place. Somehow, I thought that my way would be better than God’s way. I might not have said so with my words, but my actions were what proved it. And the outcome of disobedience has never been good fruit, no matter how much it “made sense” at the time.

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THE OUTCOME OF DISOBEDIENCE HAS NEVER BEEN GOOD FRUIT, NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT "MADE SENSE" AT THE TIME

The Bible is filled with examples of people who were faced with the choice to obey God, but chose their own way instead.  Abraham took Sarah’s advice rather than waiting on God for a son (see Genesis 16); Moses struck a rock instead of speaking to it as he was commanded (see Numbers 20:11); Jonah boarded a boat to Tarshish after God asked him to go to Nineveh (see Jonah 1:2-3). And those are just a few of the many examples. 

And what was the result in each of these instances of disobedience? Hard consequences — sad consequences. All because they didn’t do what God was asking, but God always has a reason for asking certain things, and His ways are always best. As Isaiah 55:8 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ saith the LORD ” (KJV). 

I’m sure all of these people had — in their minds — seemingly legitimate ways of justifying why their course of action was better than God’s, just like any of us do when we are trying to find some way out of obedience. Maybe His way seems too hard, too complicated, too scary, will make us look strange, or downright doesn't make sense. But the problem with every one of these things is a focus on ourselves rather than God. I know better, I can figure out an easier way, I don’t want to look silly. A true heart of obedience doesn’t look for excuses. Instead, its disposition is, “No matter how difficult it is, no matter how little sense it makes to me, and no matter how much I might lose, I will do anything You ask of me because I love You.”

GOD ALWAYS HAS A REASON FOR ASKING

We must remember that God sees the whole picture, from the beginning of creation until the end of time — not just in our life, but in the life of every person who has ever lived. In contrast, we see only the tiniest fraction of what is happening in the here and now. But when we look back through history, we can see countless evidences that there is nothing outside of His control.  Despite the innumerable sins that have been committed, through tragedies and disasters, God still displays His love, faithfulness, power, and sovereignty, and works “all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

When God asks something of us, it is always for our good and for His glory. When we choose not to obey, we are actually depriving ourselves of blessing and of being a part of something that could be a testimony of His awe-inspiring greatness. No matter what obedience might cost us, it is nothing compared to the prize that awaits us in eternity.

Our ultimate example of obedience is Jesus Christ. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” (ESV).  

Jesus’ obedience to the Father was not easy. Going to the Cross was the most painful, difficult, humiliating experience anyone has ever had to endure. Jesus, the only perfect person who has ever lived, actually became sin for us and died in our place. And because of that obedience, He purchased our freedom from sin and death. As Philippians 2:9-11 says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (ESV).  

When I was seven my parents packed up our family of eight (which grew to ten), and moved half-way across the world to Mongolia. At the time, it was considered a difficult place to live; extreme weather, very little access to medical care, and regular power outages — on top of learning a new language, leaving behind family and friends, and many of the comforts we had known. My parents were questioned as to the wisdom of their decision, particularly in the realm of medical care. What if something happened to one of us children and there wasn't adequate expertise or supplies? But they had counted the cost and knew that God had a reason for asking them to go. They were going to display their love for Christ by obeying Him, no matter what. 

It did cost them in many ways, and some effects have been long-lasting. But their obedience has been honored by the Lord in far more ways than they can count. Each trial has given them another opportunity to point back to Jesus as their prize. It has given them opportunity after opportunity to testify to the fact that following God is worth every moment of suffering — and many people have been impacted because of this.

Here are a few ways we can begin to walk in obedience to the Lord in every area of our lives.  

Grow in Love For Him

We see in Scripture that if we love God we will obey Him (see 1 John 5:2). And the way we grow in our love for Him is by spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer. Then obedience to Him won’t just be a duty, it will be a delight. 

Make it a priority to spend time in Scripture on a regular basis. I would encourage you to spend time not just reading, but studying as well. You can start with a smaller book in the New Testament, and immerse yourself in it. Read it over and over, and ask the Lord to give you understanding and insight into His character. When you saturate your mind in the Word, you can’t help but grow in your love for Him and your desire to honor Him.

Walk in Dependence on His Spirit

We must remember that living in full obedience to God is impossible in our own strength. It won’t happen simply by mustering up our own willpower. We must trust Him for the moment-by-moment grace that enables us to do what He asks of us.

Ask God to bring to mind Scriptures that will remind you of truth when you are faced with a decision to obey or disobey. Have verses memorized that will remind you of the truth you need in that moment. Consider memorizing a verse like 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (ESV). 

Start Now

If you know God is asking something of you, don’t hesitate. Don’t justify “struggling.” Simply submit to Him. Yes, if it is a major life change like moving across the world, seek advice and pray. But when the answer is clear, move. If you sense He is asking you to share the Gospel with someone in the grocery store, don’t hesitate. Even if your knees are shaking, trust that He will give you everything you need in that moment. Maybe it is giving or receiving forgiveness, ending an unhealthy relationship, changing the way you speak to your spouse, starting an orphanage, reaching out to that difficult person, or selling everything and moving to the ends of the earth. Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (ESV). When He says move — move. Don’t depend on your feelings; simply obey, and He will give you the grace to do so. To quote Elisabeth Elliot yet again, “God is God. Because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.”

DON'T DEPEND ON YOUR FEELINGS; SIMPLY OBEY, AND HE WILL GIVE YOU THE GRACE TO DO SO.

Living in obedience to Jesus is always worth it. Even if it costs us our life, the resulting joy is beyond compare, because we get Him. And living for His glory is the highest honor we could ever have.