I’ve decided to let Toto off the leash -- at least for brief moments when I’m nearby and can catch him if he races away. While I’m no dog trainer, I’ve recently realized that there is no way to know whether Toto will wander off if he’s always tethered to something. I need to give him some freedom, within limits, to see if he will listen when he’s free. Will he obey or rebel? So far it doesn’t look good. My six-pound bundle of joy has a strong-willed personality, one that is bigger than his body.
Obedience. It’s a heavy word. It’s also not a popular one these days. Obedience to elders, parents, and even authority figures can seem old-fashioned when it’s more acceptable to be a free spirit, follow your heart, or do your own thing. But despite the bad press, I’m convinced that obedience is not only necessary for our four-legged friends, but for humans too. Through a summer study of Priscilla Shirer’s book “Discerning the Voice of God,” I have been reminded that obedience is foundational if we desire a relationship with the Almighty.
“If we want to keep the lines of communication open and flourishing, we must prepare to abandon our plans when they don’t coincide with His,” Priscilla wrote. “Obedience is the key to hearing His still, small voice.” The Bible confirms it -- obedience is a theme repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the Hebrew word “shema,” which can be translated as “hear, listen, obey,” is the first word and title of one of the most important prayers in Judaism, one often recited daily in the morning and evening by observant Jews. The Old Testament has many stories highlighting the importance of obedience and the consequences when God’s people disobeyed: Remember the Israelites’ journey in the desert and how it was extended for 40 years? God told His people what to do, but instead they did what felt right to them, and there were serious consequences.
The New Testament also emphasizes this theme of obedience. In one of His most well-known sermons, The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly spelled it out, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25) And then, of course, there’s the Great Commission, Jesus’ charge before ascending into heaven: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Hearing God’s voice is one thing; acting on it is yet another.
I confess that I have often lacked confidence in hearing God’s voice. But through my studies this summer along with the wisdom of godly council, I have realized that hearing God’s voice is actually not my stumbling block -- it’s obeying it. Most of the time I know what I’m supposed to do; I just don’t want to do it -- my feelings, desires, or lack of self-discipline get in the way. In those cases I’ve fallen into a pattern of telling people that “I’m praying about it,” which actually sounds pretty good and very godly, if I may. But honestly when I pray over the same issue repeatedly (for years!) it can become procrastination. So I’ve adopted a new mantra: No more delaying — stop praying and start obeying!
Obedience training? I need it just like Toto. And only time will tell if it works -- for the both of us!