The joy and challenges of parenthood lend themselves to many life lessons. At this stage in the parenting game, at least for our family, it provides a lens through which to see so much of myself and the average human experience.
It is not uncommon for me to give directions to my eldest son. My directions are typically strategic, so they are given step by step so that I don’t overwhelm the poor lad with too many tasks. Time and again I have been disappointed with the results when he is given too many steps at once! I have learned that when directions are given in small pieces there is greater likelihood for success.
Interestingly, as he matures, his confidence and intelligence have created space for him to add his own opinions and procedures to my carefully crafted instructions. He often jumps ahead, sometimes misunderstanding the actual goal of the task, believing he understands the end result and will either create shortcuts or alter the instructions all together to better achieve what he believes is either the goal or the best outcome. Sound familiar? Somehow, I doubt that I am the only one that resonates with this behavior.
It is usually unclear to me what his motivations are. Sometimes it seems he is anxious for the final product, or inpatient with the process and hopes for better use of his time. Sometimes he most certainly believes that what he is doing is far superior and simply a smarter way to accomplish the task.
Not only do I see myself in his behavior, but King Saul in 1 Samuel went before us ages ago and from him we see disobedience played out and dealt with by the Lord.
Saul is given special instructions to destroy a tribe of people that the Lord desired to punish. The instructions are simple: Kill all the people and destroy all of their things. Saul simply doesn’t do it. He takes the King captive and takes anything of value and keeps it.
When Saul is confronted about his failure to obey God’s instructions, he confidently claims that he did obey. He made a few “exceptions” but he explains why they were wise. He even admits to rewarding his own good behavior by creating an alter for himself and his disobedience took place so that he could sacrifice the earnings of his disobedience to the Lord (1 Samuel 15).
Not only do I hear the words of my son in Saul, but the culture we live in echos the same sentiment.
What hinders obedience?
In some Christian cultures, the typical motivation for altering God’s commands is to spare the feelings of those around us. It is uncomfortable to make other people uncomfortable and for many this discomfort is powerful enough to lead to a rhetoric of disobedience. Rather than standing firm on the steadfast foundation of the Lord, Christian culture often shifts with emotion which is as rocky as the waves of the sea.
Simply put, God isn’t a people pleaser. “I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass, I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 24:14).
Impatience, fear and selfish desire are other leading contenders for disobedience in our own lives. Just like my son, we hope for quick results and the process of obedience takes time. So often, we have an agenda and when the steps are only revealed one step at time we fear that the outcome will be lost in the process, waiting seems inefficient, or the discomfort of waiting will push us to pursue short cuts and compromise. Like Saul, partial obedience is more rewarding. Why must we sacrifice good things in the name of obedience?
Fear would have us to believe that God might not know as much about what we need as we do. Fear or the need for control will have us behave as though our wisdom is greater than the Lords.
Trust paves the way for obedience
The sweet hymn Trust and Obey captures the sentiment of the need to trust God as the antidote for fear.
“Then in fellowship sweet,
We will sit at his feet,
Or we will walk by his side in the way;
What he says we will do;
Where he sends, we will go.
Never fear, only trust and obey.”
As the hymn says, when we walk with the Lord sweet fellowship takes place. In fellowship with the Lord, we learn that God can be trusted. Each time we cautiously move forward, step by step, we learn that God keeps his promises and we experience the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Trusting the Lord more than we trust ourselves is also a challenge. When we remain in control, jumping ahead, manipulating the situation or simply doing what feels right, we, like Saul, essentially declare ourselves to be more knowledgeable than God.
Rather, as believers we accept the challenge to obey God’s commandments, trusting that God will provide insight to our next move in the journey of obedience at just the right time; no man made alterations needed!