The Struggle of Obedience

The Struggle of Obedience

Finding joy in the process

Written by: Lemuel Teo (Photo by: Ronald Lim)

My sister once told me about a sobering experience her friend went through. This friend was in a foreign land for a mission trip. Whilst preparing to preach at a gathering, she felt God telling her not to leave the hotel.

“But why, God? Didn’t I come here to minister to these people?” she asked.

Back and forth, she struggled with God’s nudging. Eventually, she decided to go on with speaking at the meeting, in spite of God’s instructions to stay put.

When she returned from the speaking engagement, to her horror, the hotel room was ransacked; she had lost most of her valuables — laptop, cash, and other personal items. The pain of losing years of work and memories stored in her laptop was palpable. It was then that she realised the cost of her disobedience.

I have always wondered: Would there have been any difference if she obeyed? Maybe the thief would have detected her presence. Maybe she would not have lost her valuables. Maybe she would not even know of the intended crime — in this scenario, if she did obey, she might not have known why God told her not to go. She would have quietly obeyed God’s prompting without seeing the fruits of her obedience.

I find it much easier to obey when I know why I have to. Without proper reasoning, it is difficult to submit my will to another. The “why” question seems to be the foremost issue for our generation — even enciks (warrant officers) in the army nowadays take it upon themselves to painstakingly explain the rationale behind corporal punishment when older batches of soldiers would have simply accepted it.

In reserving our commitment before we fully understand the rationale, we become the final arbiters of the value behind anything. When it comes to obeying God — whether through the written Scriptures or the leading of the Holy Spirit — I often wrestle with the “why” before being willing to dive straight in.

Yet, God sometimes leads us in inexplicable ways. Consider the Israelites entering the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. In capturing the city of Jericho, God commanded them to walk around the city walls praising the Lord with their trumpets and tunes for seven days (Joshua 6:1–5). To a people who had placed their trust in their walls and weapons, how ridiculous would the Israelites look like to them?

Yet in the very next city that they were to capture, the city of Ai, God told them to launch a full-on military assault, complete with a decoy and an ambush (Joshua 8:1–3). It seems that God gave specific instructions for each situation. When the people listened to God, they were successful in their conquests. They did not question God’s rationale, they simply trusted in His guidance.

Jesus himself walked in deep submission and obedience. He did only what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19) and was even compelled to pass through a Samaritan village, breaking down cultural barriers of that day (John 4:4). Jesus demonstrated perfect submission to the Father.

How does the Lord lead you? How does He speak to you?

Just last week, I felt God leading me to walk a different route on my way to work. It was a gentle nudge — nothing sustained or significant.

“Why not?” I thought, “I could check out the other shops along this way.”

While walking absentmindedly along the walkway, I bumped into someone familiar. We were supposed to arrange for a meeting but, at that point in time, we still hadn’t set a meeting date. So we took the chance to nail down a time. It was not just a coincidence; it felt as if God really wanted us to meet.

In obeying this small prompting, I could see the result of my obedience in a tangible manner. Initially, I didn’t know why God led me the way He did, but I did not need to know.

The equation is simple: obedience leads to blessing and disobedience leads to curses — which was why the Israelites committed themselves to faithfully obeying all of the God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 28).

When we live our lives according to God’s pattern, we benefit from experiencing His goodness and favour. But when we walk in opposition to His counsel, it is not as if God is hankering to deliver judgement and curses. Instead, it is simply a withdrawal of His blessings. The fallenness of man comes with its resultant negative effects.

Recently, God has been challenging me to be obedient to Him in every aspect of my life — from the small and mundane to the big and consequential decisions. These include gentle reminders from the Holy Spirit: “Stop checking out that girl. Keep your eyes pure;” and “Don’t let the compliments from other people get to your head. Remain humble.” The subtle seeds of lust and pride can be planted in the soil of my heart if I choose to ignore these moments where the Holy Spirit is doing His sanctifying work in me.

God also spoke to me about giving financially in a certain way. In agreeing to part with my “hard-earned money,” I learn that the money in my bank account is not actually mine to keep, but a God-given resource for me to steward.

The joy of obedience comes not from avoiding curses as if God was poised to strike us whenever we falter; neither does it come from trying to earn the right to be blessed as if He rations His blessings to the saints only. Fear of retribution should not be the motivation behind our obedience to God.

The joy of obedience comes from being in and preserving a right relationship with our Father. The motivating factor for our obedience should be in wanting to please our Father and to hate quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Jesus promised His abiding presence to those who love Him and keep His words — “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23 ESV). There is great joy in experiencing his nearness as we walk in obedience! At certain points in our journey with God, we will not know the “why,” yet this should not impede our decision to simply trust and obey.

As we open our hearts to be examined by the Spirit every moment of the day, I believe that He will highlight key moments in our lives where we can either choose to walk in obedience or in opposition to God. May God’s kindness lead us into repentance (Romans 2:4) if we have been stubborn. Consider every tiny moment during the day — the joy of obedience is found in nourishing our relationship with God through submitting to His leading.

“It’s my joy to love,
It’s my joy to obey.
You can have all my heart,
You can have all my praise.”

It’s My Joy to Love (Sarah Edwards)

LEMUEL loves Hainanese chicken rice, especially the roasted variety. Cycling along the eastern coast of Singapore while watching the sun set rejuvenates his soul. He is dedicated to restoring and building lives to be Godly pillars of strength in their communities. Follow him @lemuelteo.


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