The Struggle to Obey

It never fails. I’m sitting with a young couple in pre-marital counseling and we get to the part of the service where the husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loves the Church and the wife is to “obey” her husband. They look at each other. They look at me. Sometimes they smile and sometimes they scowl. It seems we live in an age where the word “obey” is a “trigger” word.

And that makes sense in a society shaped as ours is with the notion of radical egalitarianism. Everything in relationships, in society, and even in our relating to God gets reduced to “rights.” And when that happens, well, just look around you. You get persons reduced to a “group” they’ve been placed in “for their own good” of course. You get the disintegration of families. You get this group demanding that group “empower” them to “right” old “wrongs.” In other words, the multiplication of conflict. To be sure, many of these struggles are well-intentioned, but without the foundational discipline of learning how to obey, these “intentions” quickly devolve into destruction.

Look at our lesson today in Genesis 7:1-5:

Then the LORD said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate; and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive upon the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

This is a story we all know well but look at the key ingredient of obedience. God could have commanded all day long, but Noah obeys and there is a synergy of salvation that occurs in the cooperation with the Divine Will.

That’s the power of obedience. It creates the space for God to do what He has always wanted to do: Train us, humans, how to be like Himself! And obedience is the key. Obedience requires we humans to be humble, teachable, open, receptive, and loving. I will never truly obey, from my heart, anyone I don’t truly love. Oh, I may be compelled to do this or that, but my obedience is reserved for those I love and trust. And that’s the point of obedience, dear one. That’s the power of the discipline of obedience. It creates the space in my heart to love and trust God.

In fact, God could have forced Noah to do what He commanded. God could have cut we humans out of the picture altogether. But He didn’t, and the reason why He didn’t is that He knows that if we humans come to that place of loving trust in Him, we will see our own lives transformed through obedience into free persons who are motivated by love first. But we NEVER get to truly loving motivation without the tutelage of obedience. It is in bending my will to God’s will that my will is instructed, strengthened, and enabled to exercise true love in all my actions. Left to myself and my enfeebled will, I will always choose that which is of benefit to me regardless of how it may affect those around me. But, learn to obey, and my will is now enlarged to choose the other above myself. It’s like being like God because that’s how God lives: choosing us over Himself!

Today, does the word “obey” bother you? I understand. There have been many cases of abuse of that word over the years, and that isn’t good. But, if we allow the misuse of that word to stand in the way of the wisdom of God’s life, we foolishly squander the chance to learn that “obedience is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). In learning how to “obey” God and enter into that wonderful cooperation with God, we become by grace what Christ is by nature. And it all starts with obedience. Being Orthodox on Purpose is being obedient.

P.S. Dear Lord, obeying You is so very vital to my transformation into Your likeness. But I struggle with obedience because my pride wants to be free from expectations and external “rules.” And that very desire for freedom actually comes from You, but the paradox is that true freedom comes from being enslaved to You, and You alone. Teach me this deep wisdom of obedience so that I don’t constantly make excuses for my sins, but confess them freely and being set free by Your grace. Amen

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