In our culture of individualism and free thinking, obedience has negative connotations. Obedience has fallen out of vogue — it tends to evoke thoughts of compulsion, duress, or even abuse. In fact, we think we should have the right to decide for ourselves what is best in every situation. Typically, we don’t like to have to answer to anybody else. The reasoning goes like this — Anyone who requires anything of me should be able to give me a legitimate reason for that requirement, and I have the right to determine whether that reason is enough to warrant my compliance with the requirement at hand. At least in the western world, we insist that we as individuals are our own final authority on nearly everything.
In fact, the only positive association most of us have with obedience is when it applies to our own children. As parents, we can usually see the practical benefit of teaching our children to obey us. No one wants to have to argue with a child over every little thing that needs to be done during the course of a day. In twenty-nine years as a mother, I have learned that I don’t always have to explain to my children my reasons for absolutely everything I ask them to do. Some things they will find out for themselves. If they choose not to eat the dinner I cook, they will be hungry later in the evening. It is a long time until breakfast. If they choose not to pick up their rooms when asked, their toys may disappear for a period of time. Over the course of time, they all learned that obedience eventually pays off. Most importantly, it builds a relationship of mutual honor and trust between parent and child. This type of relationship is vitally important to God.
When it comes to obeying God, our feelings simply don’t matter. Whether we “want” to or not, or whether we think God is being fair or not, or whether we understand the reason behind the request, has nothing to do with our ultimate decision to obey. Jesus demonstrates that obedience to the Father has nothing whatsoever to do with our feelings. “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, Sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.” (Matthew 21: 28-31; New King James)
Often the fruit and power of obedience do not become apparent until much later. Jesus spent his entire life resisting every temptation known to man. Had He not obeyed His Father in every detail, the power and fruit of the Cross would have been rendered null and void. I have no right to demand that God explain everything to me. I don’t have to obey. I don’t have to WANT to do what He asks of me. God is not obligated to give me immediate fruit from my obedience. I have the privilege of CHOOSING to obey, trusting Him in that area, and knowing that He will release His power in that place of my obedience. Ultimately, there will be fruit from my choice to obey. In the meantime, I will enjoy an intimate relationship of trust and honor with my heavenly Daddy, who will be faithful to complete the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).
Do you long for significance? Most people do. God designed us with an inner hunger to live a meaningful life and to leave a legacy after we are gone from this earth. The best way to cultivate significance, I have found, is to take advantage of our ordinariness to the fullest extent possible. We serve an almighty God who strategically designs everything for His Kingdom purposes. Most people will not end up celebrities – and not all celebrities have become famous for the right things! God has sovereignly chosen to work through ordinary people who live ordinary lives. He has positioned us in such a way in this world as to give us the optimum interface with those He has ordained for us to love and influence for His Kingdom. Few of us speak before thousands, but we can ultimately influence thousands indirectly if we resolve to be faithful in loving the microcosm of people in our families and neighborhoods. Like ripples in a pond, God’s love will extend outward from our small circle to reach many others, both in our own generation and in generations to come. Do I desire to be known or to make Him known?
Educated to be an interpreter, I spent many years as a stay-at-home mom. My days consisted of matching mateless socks, folding countless piles of laundry, baking prodigious quantities of cookies, preparing meals for seven or more people (my children plus their entourage of friends), and running back and forth to Wal-Mart for something we forgot the first time we were there. In between, I searched the Scriptures and asked God if I was wasting His time, for I wasn’t serving in any public ministry. He didn’t really answer me. It was years before it dawned on me that I didn’t need a title or position to do what He called me to do. I simply need to be myself, my own ordinary self, whom He daily is transforming more and more into His image. He will see to it that His Spirit influences other people for His Kingdom, if I will simply be obedient to show His kindness and speak His words wherever I go and whatever I do. This kind of thinking transforms cookie-baking and sock-matching into ministry. Grocery shopping affords us a variety of opportunities to offer silent prayers for other people wandering the same aisles with us, for the stock boy or cashier who seems weary or frustrated or ill. Ministry more often resembles the work of a secret agent than that of a public figure.
After 27 years of parenting, my husband and I find ourselves with no children actually living at home anymore, as the youngest departed for college last fall. However, God is allowing us to see the very real fruit of His labor in us during all those years of hiddenness. He is working profoundly in the lives of each of our children. He has given all of them a heart for people, particularly a heart for foreigners and outsiders (something we tried hard to impart to them by inviting foreign visitors to our far-from-quiet home whenever possible). We feel the heritage He has given us is rich beyond words and quite undeserved. We are ineffably grateful. Moreover, our home is still quite often occupied by people who don’t live here, as we resolved years ago to put our home to use rather than maintain it as a museum. God is faithful to bring us people to love if we are merely willing to include them in our day-to-day lives.
When Moses was afraid to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, God asked him, “What is that in your hand?” (Exodus 4:2) All Moses had was a rod (a shepherd’s staff), but God used that rod in miraculously ways. All the widow of Zarephath had left to give the prophet Elijah was the last dregs of flour and oil she had saved for a final meal for herself and her son, but God was able to work a miracle of provision with those meager ingredients (I Kings 17:8-16). Similarly, all that was available for a meal for 5000 men was a little boy’s lunch – five loaves and two fish – but that was all Jesus needed (John 6:1-14).
God is asking us, “What do you have in your hand?” He wants to use what we already have in our hand, whatever little bit that might be. He is more than able to use our minimal talent, skeletal knowledge, or limited finances to work greater things than we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). The Bible urges us not to despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). There is great power in the ordinary place.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;” I Corinthians 1:27