Obedience

The beginning is a very good place to start. I’m not sure when that was. I do recall that in October of that year I announced to a few close friends and associates that a major change was about to take place. I declared that it was in obedience to what the Lord had revealed to me in our prayer time. So we’ll start there and perhaps I will digress as it seems good to do.

 In the several months prior to my announcement, I had noticed a change in both the intensity and frequency of my prayer times. I felt I was not getting the freshness from the scriptures that I had enjoyed for so long. I was actually coming to the Lord with the phrase “I know I haven’t talked to you in a while…”

 So in one of our conversations I asked what I thought was the obviously needful question. “Lord Jesus, what is going on in my life that I am just going through the motions of teaching and worshipping and being a Christian in a leadership role?” Anyone can do this for a short time but this had been more than a couple of weeks. I felt His answer was a bit ominous, “Are you sure you want to know?”

 My immediate response was that of course I would want to know. But then I replied “What will it cost me to find out?” Now that is really the bottom line for our selfish, me based, concept of the world in which we live. What is in it for me and what will it cost. Then we might consider whether our obedience is a good thing, a “profitable for me” thing. And certainly that means beneficial towards me in the sense of my continuing daily comfort.

 His answer was simply “humility”. Now in my mind I could imagine a myriad of scenarios where this could play out. Certainly, anyone who is close to me or has known me for any length of time knows it is an area I struggle with. When people recognize the gifts and talents God has bestowed on someone, it is tempting for them to take some of that glory and praise on themselves as though they have something to do with being used to glorify God. You can read about that in Isaiah chapter fourteen. I don’t want to be arrogant but I sometimes am. I sometimes choose to be. So a little dose of humility might be a good thing for me; in my opinion, a little dose.

 I very clearly and distinctly heard the voice of the Lord within my mind saying, “You need to stop teaching both your classes at church for January and February. You cannot tell anyone why you are doing this other than it is in obedience to Me.” He continued “It will cause you shame and you will be seen as failing in the eyes of others. Your loyalty and faithfulness will be questioned and yet you may not defend yourself. You may even be seen as turning your back on the church, your faith and even me.  And you may not ask why until you are in obedience“.

– My unspoken thought was about the respect and admiration which had been directed toward me for being the “willing to do whatever is needed” servant. Somehow I must have thought it possible that He wouldn’t hear that thought. I was surprised to hear Him say “That too must stop”. I was already experiencing some unpleasant emotions internally and had a bit of a pessimistic view of the future due to the physical circumstances in our lives.

 My daughter had been temporarily disabled a few months after buying a home and was struggling financially. I had always been her safety net but I too had been laid off from work and my finances were getting tight as well. There were other pressures mounting with interpersonal relationships, my wife having to work long hours to try to make up for my lack financially,  my wife’s aging mother’s health, and even poor investment decisions coming home to roost. Then there was this whole issue of not getting understanding from God and His word in the way I was accustomed to. It seemed to be really piling up and people close to me were beginning to notice.

 My prayer life picked up quite a bit over the next few weeks as I shared my intentions with others (this was my big announcement). It was met with skepticism, fear, disbelief and a myriad of other emotions. The response was not favorable although some were hesitantly supportive. The internal pain and doubt was evident in their eyes. Some even suspected I might be planning to leave the church. When I was asked to participate in special services and events leading up to that time, I was a disappointment to those who attempted to rely on me. I would say no and didn’t. I would say yes and failed to be there. I had plenty of excuses but no reasons. Was I really just being obedient?

 And then I stopped. I stopped apologizing, teaching, being available or filling in as I had usually done. The smallest role was too much for me to achieve.  I thought of Job. I didn’t want to read his story again for fear of finding myself too close to his situation. I did not want to suffer physically as He had nor to fall victim to the desire to end it all by the urge to curse the One I loved.

I was affected physically, financially, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and I was certain the source of my agony was the one who had long been my ally and trusted friend, the Lord Jesus.

 I hurt, emotionally, physically and spiritually. For the believer, you hurt spiritually when you are not rightly connected to God’s divine plan and purpose. It has been said that the presence of evil can only exist when there is an area of absence of God. If you have been there for even a short while, the smallest void seems to be a Grand Canyon type chasm. I quickly became depressed and fearful.

–  What if God was putting me on the shelf? What if my secret sins were going to be revealed and I would never be seen as usable in ministry again? What if I would lose everything and even worse, what if I would curse God in my misery? I was trying to be obedient. Yet I had not come to the place He was taking me. Why had he stopped me for two months? What was the significance of two months? Was there a Bible precedence that I did not understand? What was going to take place that it was to my benefit to be out of the way, on the side lines, watching Him work? Was I in obedience?

The physical pain started simply enough. I have had a physical problem in the recent past with a stiff shoulder socket. I had been taught specific exercises and used them to loosen it and rapidly return to normal use. As I employed the stretches to relieve the aggravation this time, something went horribly wrong. It hurt instantly and was unrelenting. The stiffness was not only “not relieved” but was now accompanied by a sharp pain under my right shoulder blade and I found it impossible to take a deep breath. Since I also suffer from a floating rib on my left side, I immediately expected the same thing was happening on the right.

It was of course late on Friday. God’s timing is always perfect. After painful hours of being unable to pop the rib back into socket I made an appointment with a Chiropractor for Monday. The weekend was intensely painful and I could not even attend church.

At the chiropractor’s office, the suspected diagnosis was confirmed and I found temporary relief. But the treatment had to be repeated several, no many, times over the next few weeks. That was the easy part. The real damage came from the pinched nerve which resulted in numbing my right arm and sending shooting pains to different areas of the arm at different times. It was at times excruciating to the point of tears. I cried out loud for relief. I was taking so much medication it began affecting my internal organs. I developed an infection which was resistant and required more than one round of prescription medications to conquer it. Eventually the pain abated somewhat and the body began to heal. So it was a difficult time physically for me.

Oh, did I mention how the strain all of this medical attention was impacting my financial status? None of the medical professionals were donating their efforts pro bono.  It was difficult financially.

It was a difficult time for my very supportive family and friends. Mr. Grumpy was not what they needed in their lives at this time. Yet these circumstances were exactly what God knew I needed at this time in my life. I needed to be obedient.

–   As I went through this short time of personal agony I would cry out at two or three o’clock in the morning “WHY!?!” “why me, why this, why the pain, why the shame of being unfaithful, why the lack of communication from heaven, why me, why me, why, why, why…”

I have for as long as I can remember said that it is not right for God’s children to ask why because it demonstrates a lack of faith. I definitely was demonstrating a lack of faith. But we are not super saints. We are sinners saved by grace. We are unfaithful, selfish human beings covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, enjoying the blessings of forgiveness and salvation at the hands of a merciful and loving almighty God. He does not doubt that we love Him. Nor does He doubt that we doubt or question whether our circumstances are good for us. Yet His command is obedience.

I would read the Bible for hours on end. What else are you going to do when you go to sleep at midnight and the medicine wears off before four? There are only so many miracle working infomercials you can endure over and over and over… I read it silently, I read it aloud, I sang it back to the Lord and I listened for His voice. It appeared to be absent. Or at least His voice seemed to be there less when I was demanding and crying out and questioning His intentions. Perhaps I just thought it was there less. I even screamed at the devil to leave me alone. I am pretty certain I heard him laugh and say “it isn’t me this time”.

After I began to soften my attack, I heard the Lord’s voice more often. Sweetly and softly He spoke to calm my fears and ease my discomfort. “Yes, this IS for your good. No, I do not have to explain what I am doing or why. Surely my presence is your comfort as I have promised. Your obedience matters.” His word from the scriptures came in rapid fire fashion through my thoughts dispelling every nonsensical feeling I expressed. Eventually I began to listen and know and accept as I had when I first knew who Jesus was in truth. What sweet fellowship it was then. It was becoming sweet again.

I had somehow forgotten the relief from the burden of sin that He lifted from me when I was obedient to His call for repentance and faith in His finished work on the cross. Now I was being obedient again and His relief was present.

The pain is less now as I write this but not completely gone. It seems to be going away. Two months have almost completely passed since I stopped teaching in obedience to the Lord. The sense of being in control and able to make the right thing always happen is gone, at least for now. I hope it stays that way. I am able to resume teaching soon. I am more confident than ever that I don’t have a clue as to what is best for my future. I am only certain that He does and He is. I’m certain it will include obedience. If I need to be shamed or disgraced to reveal His love and presence in my life then I’m okay with that.

In fact I desire that. I want my influence and understanding and place in the minds of others to be less and His to be greater. I want my life to facilitate that. Right now it appears to me that He is restoring all He has withheld. I do not know how He will be glorified in all that has transpired or that which is coming but I am confident that He will be.

Someone has said in warning about the harshness of following a life of sin filled pleasure that “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay and cost you more than you are willing to pay”. There is indeed a lot of wisdom in those words. There is, as often is true, a counter thought to that premise. I believe that the Love of God will cleanse you purer than you can hope, keep you safer than words will allow you to say and cost Him everything He could pay. I know this is what the Lord Jesus, the Christ of God, has done for me.

It is an awesome thing to be found in the hands of an Almighty, all powerful, all knowing God. When you are your own god you tend to make your own rules within the confines of your circumstances and attempt to force everyone else to be under your control and authority. Unfortunately they are also doing the same thing. Each one is attempting to be their own all sufficient god. It is not unlike being on a roller coaster ride and refusing to throw your hands up in the air and scream. You think you are controlling yourself and the effect of the roller coaster but you are only kidding yourself. The result is chaos and fear.

Being in God’s hands is more like simply throwing your hands up in the air, screaming for joy at the top of your lungs and enjoying the ride. He is so loving and awesome and beyond description good. The ride will be exciting and challenging and exhilarating and will come to a certain conclusion. That will be when you will step away from the car of life onto the platform of heaven and exclaim “Wow! Can it get any better than this?” It already is.

What happens to those who will not choose to get onboard the obedience ride? Well, if you fail at any test, God is usually gracious and allows a retake. You may have to go through the same pain and agony and turmoil again, but that is just His grace. So have I conquered this obedience thing? No, I just happened by His providence to listen this time. Hopefully it will make me a better listener and a better advisor in the future. Perhaps this will allow me to be more obedient in the future.

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