Lessons On Obedience
I Samuel 25:22 “…to obey is better than sacrifice,…”
Rev. Dana Brown: ”Our desire to do what is right ultimately determines our spiritual health”.
Disciplined Child (Jacob)
As a 6 year old child in Hong Kong, one of my most memorable moments was when I was disciplined by my parents for not doing my homework…yes we had homework in what must have been kindergarten or grade one. The discipline was especially painful as I remember how I was crouched in a corner in my parents’ bedroom to try to escape but to no avail, which is likely why I remember it to this day. It was a significant lesson for me which helped me to recognize my waywardness and the need to obey my parents early on. You see, I was a second child, and like Jacob, my heart was full of schemes (Later on, I would experience God’s discipline in my life as the Lord “disciplines his sons.” Hebrews 12:6)
Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
By age 8, I was becoming increasingly aware of own waywardness. For instance, I did well in school, ranking #1 consistently every year in grade school. Although I never cheated, I often felt it was quite easy to cheat on exams or to manipulate situations to my favour, as Jacob did. Furthermore, I became aware of the evil and deceit that surrounded me and my family as I encountered abuse from extended family, heard about street crimes that were in the news daily, and experienced the insincerity of my classmates.
When I learned about God at age 8, I understood immediately the gravity of my sinfulness. At the church which my aunts and uncles brought me to, I learned about God and his offer of salvation to sinners like me, recognizing my own sinfulness and the sinful world around me. In contrast, the church was a solace and a sanctuary with sincere people who accepted me for who I am, not what I looked like or was able to accomplish in school. I accepted Christ gladly into my life.
Do the Right Thing (Timothy)
Soon after accepting Christ, my family immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where I attended a Chinese Church and their youth fellowship group. The name of the fellowship was Timothy and its theme verse of I Tim 4:12 impressed upon my heart weekly as we recited the verse each week.
I Tim. 4: 12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”
By God’s grace I became the model child – doing well in school, and serving in church as I rededicated my life to Christ as a teenager. I began to serve in the fellowship, help lead worship, and teach children’s Sunday School.
Dare to be Different (Daniel)
When I was in university, my sister and I started a fellowship at our church which was called Daniel, after being inspired from the Chinese Christian West Coast Winter Conference one year which was on the theme of Daniel. Together with 3 other friends and my older sister, I were challenged and led to be like Daniel and his friends, to live a life and form a community which transforms the culture around him. The fellowship flourished as the Lord blessed us with university students from different campuses.
During this time, the core group of us became discipled by a couple who had Navigator’s training. It was then that I was introduced to the Navigator’s model of the “Obedient Christian in Action” wheel, which reinforced my desire to obey him and to serve him wholeheartedly.
When I was doing my undergraduate degree in University, one of my friends had asked me, “Why do you do everything right?” At the time, I thought I must have appeared to be a “goody two shoes” but at the same time I experienced what a blessing it is to be doing the right things.
Psalms 92:12: “The righteous flourish like the palm tree…”
Later on, this friend became involved in a relationship with a married man, even though she claimed to be a believer when she was in university….
Derailment and Despair (David)
Being a cautious and independent person, I have always been careful to do what is right, even when others around me were not. Somehow the Lord led me clearly to Toronto for graduate school, even though I had no idea what Toronto was like and what life would be like there. This period initially became a pinnacle in my life as I settled quickly into a new church and made many new friends. I became involved in different areas of ministries, serving and ministering to many people there. At the same time, I was aware of my vulnerabilities, thus, I ensured I had a network of support and mentors.
While I busied myself ministering to others in discipling, teaching and evangelizing, I also submitted myself to be discipled by a missionary. Even though it appeared things were going well and I felt I was at the pinnacle of success in my life, I was caught off guard. Sure enough, along with success also came temptations and trials. The ministries flourished, but as my student life and ministry life became busy, there were storm warnings. E.g. Once when I was preparing to give an evangelism workshop, my alarm clock did not go off. When I went to retrieve my bicycle to ride to the church, the chains fell off. It was as if the hand of Satan on me to quell the spread of evangelism on campus and amongst my peers.
Sadly, I had overestimated my own strength and the enemy’s guile. My Achilles heel was overestimating my own strength and grossly underestimating the ability of the enemy.
When I fell into sin and its ensuing struggle, I began to relate to David in his psalms.
Psalms 51:10-12 “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
v. 16-17 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of god are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Discipline and the Desert Experience (Moses)
During this period, I felt like Moses, as he was banished into the desert after he killed an Egyptian slave. As desert dwellers would say, in the desert “one cannot rely on self but must be dependent on others in order to survive.” During this dark period of my life, I experienced utter dependence on the Lord to sustain me daily. My book of psalms became my “daily bread”, and I wore it down almost to pieces as I claimed God’s promises to be my refuge, strength and comfort.
Prior to this time, I never understood or appreciated the psalms. Since this time, the words of the psalmists jumped out of the pages at me…
Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. “
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall, he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
Psalm 123:2 “…as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.”
Even though I knew the right thing to do, I felt completely powerless. There were small victories, but ultimately I had to depend on the Lord daily and utterly to sustain and to strengthen me. During the depths of despair, I came to know and appreciate the depth of God’s love. Even as I felt entrapped in my own sin and disobedience, I began to appreciate the never failing love of God. For example, even as I became more entrapped, He always provided friends, words of encouragement, and valuable insights, just at the right time, even when they were simply posted signs in the hallway.
God’s grace was always present, though undeserving, as cycles of success/failure held me captive. God’s forgiveness was also never ending.
Do the “Hard” Thing (Paul)
Romans 7:18 “…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
2 Corinthians 12:9“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
After much struggle and personal growth, relief finally came when I was able to do the “hard” thing of saying “no” to evil. By His grace, I was given the resources that were needed to pull me through the darkest days and nights of despair. Providentially, I was equipped with the know-how, the courage, and the supports that needed to be in place for me to overcome my weaknesses, although it took much time and many cycles of failure until I “succeeded”. Interestingly, these resources came in many different forms, whether they were friends who called at just the right time by the Holy Spirit’s prompting that I needed help, seminars which gave me the practical steps to take, or a word of encouragement or inspiration which came from a wall hanging at my workplace at just the right time. These “coincidences” reassured me constantly of God’s unrelenting love and grace upon me.
In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, there is a scene where the protagonist eventually found his way out of the prison and was shown stretching out his arms as the rain poured down heavily on him. The relief I felt was similar – it was as if a huge weight fell off my shoulders…
Down the Road (Jesus)
Ultimately, God’s purpose is for us to be conformed to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Judges 3:4: They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which He had given their forefathers through Moses.”
Os Hillman in TGIF’s God’s Proving Ground for Faith: “God allows circumstances to develop around your life to give your faith opportunity to be proven. It is only when we are tested in battle that we become skilled warriors. You can be confident God will allow trials to come your way through situations like an unreasonable boss, a vendor who refuses to pay, a false assault on your character, or a difficult relationship that requires unconditional love. These battles are sent your way to test what you know in the mind in order that they might become part of your heart.”
I am a different person now, and can testify I now not only have head knowledge of God’s love, but have experienced the extent and depth of His unconditional love in ways I would not have imagined. I have grown in dimensions I could not have otherwise without the trials and struggles I have gone through.
Rom. 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Although the journey has been especially difficult, in so many ways I have been blessed by the Lord, and have been assured of His love for me every step of the way. Although I regret the detour in my journey, I can now more fully appreciate the true meaning of God’s love and grace.
Today I am especially cautious to remain humble, watchful, and to pray.
I Peter 5:6, 8 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s might hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
v. 8 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
1. You are never as strong as you think you are and Satan is close behind to attack your Achille’s Heel.
2. God’s love is never ending.
3. God’s grace is never failing.
“Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”