As the parent of four young children, obedience is a common theme in our home. During practically every waking moment we are trying to display it, encourage it, reward it or even reprimand it if it doesn’t occur. To a parent, lack of obedience can be pretty frustrating.
When I stop and put obedience into perspective within my spiritual life, I can honestly say that I have a tendency to be a little slow to obey God if I know the request is going to make me uncomfortable.
It’s not that I refuse God completely, but I can sit on His instruction for so long that by the time I get around to saying yes the opportunity is lost. Or worse, He’s used another means to fulfill the task. I am foolish to think that God’s will won’t be achieved if I fail to serve Him in the request.
I think most of us tend to believe that our hesitation isn’t an act of disobedience.
I’m certain it is. In fact, I once heard a minister say that “delayed obedience is disobedience.”
As I’ve read through the story of Jesus’s birth during this season it has become almost painfully evident to me just how often my obedience is delayed. Sometimes I claim to be too busy. Other times, I might pull a Gideon asking God again and again to prove to me that it’s Him making the request. And yet often I feel so out of my comfort zone that I just pause for awhile, hoping that God will change His mind.
God certainly didn’t change His mind when He sent Jonah to Ninevah. After an entire display of events resulting in Jonah’s desperate attempt to out run God he is brought right back to the place that he started and God had not relented. Jonah would be used to deliver a message despite his near-death attempt to avoid the task in the first place.
Yet as I return to the stories that are quite pertinent to this season of the year it’s incredibly evident that God had an amazing display of willing servants captured within the pages of the Gospels.
A young girl who is visited by an angel of The Lord is told that she will give birth to a child despite the fact that she is still a virgin. Asking only one obvious question of “how will this be,” Mary is satisfied with the answer the angel gives to her and quickly replies “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”
Did Mary stop to consider the ridicule that she would face? Was there fear in her that she might be stoned to death? Did she consider that Joseph might not take her as his wife once he knew her “condition?”
We will never truly know her thoughts, but scripture is certain that she was more than willing to fulfill God’s request.
And then we move on to her betrothed. Joseph, a righteous man, was willing to keep his divorce from Mary as quiet as he could to avoid tainting her good name. But one visit from The Lord during a dream gave him the reassurance that he needed. Joseph, without hesitation, not only changes his mind and takes her as his wife, but heeds to the request that the child’s name will be ‘Jesus.’
As if this isn’t evidence enough, we see Joseph’s obedience again after a second dream. This time he is told to take his family to a country that was not their own (Egypt) in order to protect Jesus from the annihilation of all infant boys commanded by King Herod.
However, it was not only Joseph and Mary who displayed such unquestionable acts of obedience during this time. The shepherds were then visited by an angel of The Lord to bring the news of the birth. They were so moved by the holy praises of the heavenly host that they needn’t even be asked to go up to Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened” and spread the good news. They did it anyway!
I could continue to elaborate on many more obedient individuals throughout this text from Zechariah and Elizabeth with the birth of John the Baptist to the Magi consenting to avoid King Herod on their return to the east.
As much as we would like for these stories to be full of rich detail, they are not. We can speculate and imagine so many scenarios in our heads to fill in the gaps, but God was intentional as to what we should glean from the text. As many questions as I would love answered regarding the events leading up to, as well as the birth of Jesus itself, God intends for our hearts to be moved by the specifics. And it has been made evident to us that servants who accept the task of The Lord need never fear.
When we begin putting faith in ourselves and not in Christ we are setting ourselves up for defeat. No matter how intimidating His commands upon our heart may sound, we are to act with prompt obedience. When we ask our children to complete their homework it usually doesn’t mean that we want them to finish it tomorrow. Or next week. Or perhaps sometime that school year. We assign them the task with the understanding that it will be obeyed at our request.
As does our God when he lays a command upon our heart…
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:22-25 NIV)