Links Daily Devotional

Proper Obedience

“In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully while we did wrong.” (Nehemiah 9:33, NIV)

A lot of us want to know why.

Why, for instance, does the ball go up when I swing down—especially since my swing tends in the other direction?

Those are the funny kinds of whys. But many are more serious, and quite a few of those are directed toward God.

Some want to know why God is involved so little in our lives, not intervening in the midst of crisis. Yet these are often the same people who get upset that God might want to be involved too much, setting a course for our behavior. It’s a sort of dual reasoning that says to God, “Do what we want, and let us do what we want.” That doesn’t sound like any sort of Supreme Being at all, but more like a lenient friend. Still they echo what many of us have asked through the years, at least on a given point or two: “Why, Lord, must I do this thing you ask of me?”

Obedience cuts to our proudest bone, testing the resolve of our worship of another rather than our worship of self. Either we will do what God asks, or we won’t. But the won’t often comes with smart qualifiers and old-fashioned stalling.

There are, you know, bad reasons to obey God, and these arise out of bad religion or bad theology. The Bible does not paint a picture of obedience done out of compulsion or cosmic negotiation, where our good acts placate the wrath of God. It’s no wonder the church’s harshest critics find trouble in such approaches; we should too.

What we see in Scripture, and most markedly in our passage today in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, is a healthy picture of obedience, framed by contrition and willingness.

In the return of the Israelites to the land after a 40-year expulsion to Babylon, the leaders found many things to be out of whack, we’ll say, with regard to the way people were worshipping God. Golfers can understand this problem, for it doesn’t take long away from the game for us to drift off the fundamentals. And in such a case, we golfers recognize our lack of off-season work and the resolve out of desire to work on our game. Contrition and willingness.

What is your approach to obeying the word of the Lord? As in all things spiritual, we want it to be a function of relationship, not of religion. We honor God with obedience because he is just and we are wayward. The onus is not on him. And we serve God because his love sparks a response in us not of obligation but of willing oblation. We give to him in worshipful appreciation for what he has already given to us.

Jeff Hopper
December 15, 2015
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