I have a four-year-old in my home who is struggling greatly with obedience. I’m realizing that obedience comes easily for some people, but not as easily for others. I am fully confident that God created her strong nature in preparation for the life he has planned for her. It will serve her well. But it must be harnessed.
One of the daily battles we have with our spitfire is at mealtimes. She does not want to eat. She wants to be babied and be fed. She has figured out that there is a system of rewards and consequences in our home, and she often tries to barter for rewards at mealtimes. Unfortunately, she has not yet realized that she doesn’t actually hold any bargaining chips in the family. Obedience would be what would actually yield the result she is seeking.
One recent conversation went like this:
“Mom, can I have hot chocolate for lunch?”
“If you show me that you can eat your food then maybe you could earn some hot chocolate.”
“But Mom, I promise that I will be good, and I will eat my food.”
“That’s not the way a reward works, sweetie. First you have to show me, then you get the reward.”
This of course was followed by pouting, and subsequent whining at the table. So you see, had I given her the reward right away, before the proof of her behavior, I would have been duped. Because she did not intend to follow through on her promise. I mean, she is four.
But this got me thinking. There are certain regards of my relationship with my children that are non-negotiable. I will always love them. I will always do my best to provide for them. I will instruct them. I will help them grow. I do these things regardless of how they are behaving. But there are other aspects to our relationship that vary based on them, based on what they show me by their actions.
The other day, my son, seeing that I was once again cleaning up the house all by myself (he watched me do this a lot over Christmas break), decided that he was going to help me. He put away toys that he hadn’t gotten out or played with, he offered to sweep both the wood floors and the carpets. He wasn’t asking for anything or trying to earn anything from me. But his actions, which were so kind and thoughtful, did return a reward for him in the form of a handful of gummy bears in the bottom of his snack cup.
When my children demonstrate obedience, along with trustworthiness, respect, care for another, love, etc, I love to reward them.
When I think of this in terms of my faith, I know that there are things about my relationship with God that are the same non-negotiables as I have with my kids. He will always love me, protect me, provide for me, and care for me, no matter how I am behaving. My salvation is secure in him because I chose to believe. However, as a growing Christian, I have to realize that my actions, not my promises to act, return rewards. This is the essence of living by faith. Faith in action unlocks the door to more abundant blessing God longs to unleash in our lives.
But we have to DO it.
Sometimes there are things that I feel God asking me to do, and I tell him I will do them, but then I don’t follow through. It’s like Hannah at mealtime. There’s one thing in particular right now that I’m feeling him nudging me to do, but I keep making excuses about how I don’t feel I’m capable, or especially that I don’t have enough time. It will stretch me too thin, thinner than I’m comfortable with. That, I suppose, is exactly the point. It will be action taken in faith, the assurance of something hoped for but not seen (Hebrews 11). God will have to supply the result if I begin by taking the first steps.
As I consider obedience in this area of my life, I hear God answering my excuses: “You don’t need more time; you need more trust.”
I don’t know what thing God may be calling you into, or what your excuse to put him off has been. But whatever it is, you probably don’t need more of what you think you do – time or resources or whatever. You probably need more trust. God’s going to come through for us when we take that step of faith. He longs to reward us when we act in obedience to him (with more than a handful of gummy bears in our snack cup, enticing as that may be for some of us!).
One of my favorite stories of obedience in the Bible is of Philip in the book of Acts when he’s told to go and talk to the Ethiopian eunuch. Acts 8 says this: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet” (29-30). The story ends with Philip explaining the gospel to this man, who receives salvation and is baptized. Philip’s obedience resulted in a life changed for eternity!
What about this ordinary passage has always impressed me? Philip RAN. He felt the Spirit of God nudging him into something, and he took off running in that direction. I may not struggle with obedience like my four-year-old, but I also don’t RUN into it like Philip. If he hadn’t run, he would’ve missed the opportunity. And this is what I feel like I’ve been doing lately – missing a bunch of opportunities because I’m waiting on my life and my circumstances to make something easier for me to accomplish. I’m running alright, but in the wrong direction! Just like my little Hannah, I’m bartering, promising, and excusing. But I’m not doing the one thing I really need to do – and that’s obeying. I feel a little like the Israelites in the wilderness: “Then the Lord said to me [Moses], ‘You have been traveling around this mountain long enough. Turn…’” (Deut 2:3). It’s time to turn. Quit spinning my wheels. Quit wandering around and around the mountain. It’s time to obey, to take the step of faith. I don’t know what your mountain is, but I hope you are ready to join me in taking an active step of faith into obedience.