To fully follow Christ, we must learn that obeying God means not only being hearers of the Word but doers also. Understanding God’s commands required following through as well.
It’s not a subject that’s all flashy and dressed up in lights. In fact, it’s a topic that some preachers try not to touch, even with a ten-foot pole! It’s obedience. No, I did not just curse. But by the time this nine-letter word hits some believers’ ears, it shrinks down to a four-letter word!
By contrast, messages about God’s grace, favor, blessing, and prosperity gently tickle our ears. But when it comes to obedience, lead balloons are released, promptly falling onto toes. All joking aside, I truly believe that this simple topic of obedience serves as a key to unlock all of those other–seemingly more flashy–things such as blessing and favor.
So what does the word “obey” really mean? We tend to think of it as following orders, being compliant, submitting to authority, etc. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for obey is “shema,” which essentially means to hear. But shema encompasses much more than simply hearing a command. It also means to listen, internalize, understand, and respond to that order or command. This element of responding brings this scripture to mind:
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
James 1:22, KJV
In other words, obeying doesn’t just mean listening to an order. It implies actually doing that which we have been commanded to do. As parents, when we tell our kids to do something, is it enough for them to simply nod their heads to acknowledge they’ve heard what we’ve said? Of course not. We want to see our children, in fact, do what we have told them to do. As children of God, we not only must listen to and understand what the Lord says, but we must also follow through and do that which He calls us to do.
Perhaps the quintessential story in scripture that demonstrates disobedience occurs in 1 Samuel. Before King Saul goes into battle with the Amalekites, Samuel the prophet gives him a very clear instruction from the Lord: completely and utterly destroy the enemy and all that they have. But Saul does not obey this instruction. Rather, he captures alive Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Furthermore, he instructs his men to save the choicest animals for a burnt offering to the Lord. When Samuel learns of Saul’s outright disobedience, he asks him why he has done this thing.
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
1 Samuel 15:22
But Saul claims to have obeyed the command. And when Samuel presses him further, Saul tries to deflect the rebuke by blaming his men for keeping the enemy’s livestock and spoil. Isn’t this the perfect picture of our sinful nature when we’re caught doing something we shouldn’t do? We claim ignorance. We get defensive. Or we try to blame someone else for our own actions. But Samuel is not fooled, and the Lord is not mocked. When he finally realizes how badly he has botched the Lord’s command, Saul repents. But it is too late. And as a result of his disobedience, Saul loses his kingship. Samuel delivers the verdict:
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.
1 Samuel 15:23
I Didn’t Want To…
A few weeks ago, the Lord taught me a lesson in obedience. Had I chosen to disregard and disobey the leading of the Holy Spirit, I might have missed an incredible experience. That morning, I woke up feeling run down and sick. Drained. For two weeks, I’d been battling one sickness after another: a severe head cold that turned into a sinus infection, then strep throat, followed by a couple of days of who-knows-what that knocked me flat! All I wanted to do was pull the covers back up over my head and stay in bed all day.
As I considered the prospect of getting some extra rest, it suddenly dawned on me that I had something I had to do that morning. Every Wednesday morning, my pastor’s wife has a wonderful show called Welcome Home that airs on television. During the show, I help field phone calls from viewers who call in for prayer. Some days I don’t get any calls, but other days, I’m flooded with people calling in with all kinds of prayer requests. As I laid there in bed, I secretly hoped that no one would call for prayer that morning.
A Divine Appointment…
And just about the time I had that thought, the Holy Spirit checked my spirit. Feeling guilty, I immediately repented and asked the Lord to forgive me. I prayed that He would strengthen me and give me the energy to take any calls that might come in. And as soon as I prayed that prayer, a rush of adrenaline washed over me. I didn’t know why, but I was actually getting excited about who might call in. Little did I know, the Holy Spirit was quickening my spirit in anticipation of a divine appointment.
Sure enough, that morning the Lord had arranged for me to talk with a young man named Joe. Joe called in and said he needed a prayer of forgiveness. He had done some terrible things to some people in the past, and he knew that he had hurt them. The burden of what he’d done was weighing really heavily on him. Now in the past, I had kind of made the assumption that folks who watch a Christian broadcast and call into a prayer line are already saved. But the Holy Spirit was showing me that this was a different kind of call.
Holy Ghost Boldness…
When I asked Joe if he attended a church, he said he had gone to church with his girlfriend. Then the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask Joe whether he was saved. When I asked the question, there was a kind of awkwardly long pause on the line. At first, I thought maybe I had offended Joe by asking him this question. But I just waited in silence on the line. And that’s when the Holy Ghost took over the conversation with a boldness I would not have had on my own.
I asked Joe if he had ever invited Jesus to come into his heart. I explained that in order to truly be forgiven for the things we’re ashamed of, we have to ask Jesus, Himself, to forgive us. Only then can we truly repent and fully receive God’s forgiveness. Only then can Jesus cast our sins as far as the east is from the west and give us a clean slate. So I asked again, “Joe, do you want to ask Jesus to come into your heart today? He can give you a new heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.”
Obedience Brought The Blessing…
Finally, Joe answered. Kind of shaken up, he said, “You know, my girlfriend has been telling me that her God is a jealous God. That I can’t be halfway in and halfway out. So, yes. I do want to be saved.” So, I lead Joe through the prayer of salvation, and his name is now written in the Lamb’s book of life. When that call ended, I was jumping for joy. I praised God along with the chorus of angels who were celebrating and rejoicing in heaven. Hallelujah! Praise God!! Thank you Jesus!!!
When I didn’t feel like obeying, I could have texted my pastor to tell her I couldn’t take calls that morning. But had I pulled the covers up over my head, I would have missed out on an incredible blessing–the blessing of helping lead a lost soul to Jesus Christ. The blessing of witnessing someone being raised from death to life. Obedience brought this blessing. And I will continue to do whatever it takes; obeying Christ because He is the blessing!
How have you learned a lesson in obedience? What was the blessing that your obedience ushered in?