Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Sacrifice of Obedience

What does it mean to obey? What is obedience? What pictures and images come to mind? Are they pleasant images? Are they tough? How does it feel to obey? Does obedience come out of love or obligation?


What does it mean to obey
God. I mean truly obey Him? The Bible says if we love Jesus, we will obey His commands and his teachings (John 14) . And there are 2 main ones, right? 1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and the 2. is like it, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22). Got it. Love is usually the easy part, right? That's the touchy-feely, buttefly-in-the-tummy, do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-unto-you part, right? The loving by being moved by compassion or empathy for others? Seeing a homeless person and buying them lunch. Hearing someone crying and asking if they're okay. Smelling the trash in the kitchen and taking it out even when it's not your usual house-hold job. This is all part of obeying and loving God, but I believe obedience to Him goes deeper than just doing the obvious. I mean, won't even someone who has never heard of Jesus stop on the side of the road if they see an elderly man stranded with a flat tire? Or let the woman with the two crying kids and only 5 things in her shopping basket budge in front of an over-flowing cart? That's called being a decent human being. I will show what I mean with scripture first, and then get to my point:

Deuteronomy 30:11-20
11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
 19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

John 10:2-4
2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

Woah. Wait. You mean loving the Lord is more than just reading the Bible and not flicking off that jerk that just cut me off on the highway? It's about listening to him and obeying what he SAYS?!? He talks to us?? How is that possible?!? Here goes...When we recognize that Jesus is the one who saves us and he is Lord of all, he comes and lives in us through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, Romans 8:9, Galatians 2:20) As we start becoming disciples of Christ and doing things like reading our Bibles, going to church and listening to sermons, praying together, becoming part of small groups, etc., etc., we are starting to learn the language God uses. We catch his "lingo". And as we draw closer and closer to him, though prayer, meditation, fasting, all the disciplines mentioned in the Bible (for reference on this, consider the book The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster) we can literally start to hear the voice of God as well. (The whole "listen to my voice" thing is meant to be literal. Jesus wasn't just being poetic with the metaphor about the sheep.) Yes, it is possible to hear the voice of the Lord (Isaiah 50:4-5;  Hebrews 3:7, Psalm 81:12-14). No, it does not sound like Morgan Freeman. It doesn't often sound like an audible, other-person-in-the-room voice either (although it can.) That's a whole other topic for a whole other time for a whole other day. But it does takes listening and faith that He does actually want to speak and be heard. Truly, though, you can start to recognize and listen to His voice. 

And so we enter my story of the week. I shall title it: 
The Sacrifice of Obedience: Knowing You Heard the Voice of the Lord and The Consequences of Listening.

Every Friday, we have prayer in the house for an hour and then go gather any of the young dudes from the church that want to go with us and pray through the community. Two weeks ago, David and I were praying in the house before heading out into the community and I specifically asked (out loud) for God to show us His strategy for praying through the community. We had a few minutes of silence where I heard the Holy Spirit tell me a VERY specific strategy. I heard Him tell me to start at the top of the community, up by the main road, and the walk along the top of the community on the road in the Mangoes and go to the furthest part of that road (past David and Terry's yellow house where most people never go). He told me that at the end of that road a woman would come out to us and that we were to pray with and we were to give her what she asked. And I thought I heard him say bring 5,000 colones with us. That's about $10. I wasn't sure about the last part, like waking up from a dream and being confident about the first part of the dream, but as you wake up the end is a but fuzzy, so you can't really be sure you dreamed it or not. Anyway, I told David the Lord had given me a strategy and that I would write it on an index card and stick it in my Bible. I told him every detail...except about the 5,000 colones. I still wasn't sure about that. Plus I knew I didn't have exact change, I only had a 10,000 bill ($20). But I put it on the card anyway. I told him when we got back it would be written down and we would have a testimony for the guys who would go with us.

We were off. I grabbed the bag I always carry with me...thought about throwing in some money but brushed off the thought since I never carry money with my into the community and met up with the dudes. Dago, Kevin, and  David told them the plan. And we followed it exactly. And it was exactly as the Lord had shown me. We walked to the end of the end of the END of the Mangoes and prayed. As we turned around, a woman came out of her run-down-but-well-kept house to check on a pot that she had sitting on an open fire outside. David immediately got excited. It was a pot of nacatamales...a traditional Nicaraguan dish that includes corn meal, chicken, peppers, and some spices wrapped in a huge banana leaf and boiled over an open fire. SO delicious!! David looked at me, eyes wide. Here was the woman. David struck up a conversation about the tamales and before we knew it she was sharing about her son who was involved in drugs and how she needed prayer for him. We ended up praying for her and could tell she really experienced a personal touch from God. As we turned to leave, David asked how much the tamales were. 1,000 colones each. No one had any money with them and David, with a forlorn look in his eyes, told the woman that we would have to come back another time to buy the nacatamales. Uh-oh. My heart sank. There were 5 of us. That would be 5,000 colones!! AUGH!!! 

When we got back to the house, David was thrilled. He excitedly told Elidey, who was cleaning at the house, about all that had happened that morning and how God had given us the strategy and it was exactly how He told us it would be!!

"Except I was disobedient, " I interrupted.
"What do you mean?!? You listened to Him and we did exactly that and look what happened!!"
"Yes, but the Lord also told me to bring 5,000 colones. But I didn't. And there were 5 of us." I bemoaned. SO disappointed in myself. The light bulb went on for David. The nacatamales!!


I knew what I had to do. I had to go back and buy the tamales. Of course now it was raining. And I would have to go alone. And I still didn't have the right change. As I was walking, I apologized PROFUSELY to the Lord. He forgave me right away. Of course. But then I again heard the Lord speak softly to me again. He told me that now the tamales would be double the price...ouch....Because what I thought was just disobedience actually robbed the Lord of glory, the woman of a blessing from God, and David of the enjoyment of the nacatamales. For my disobedience, the woman would receive a double blessing. I knocked on the door and they were there. I got my 5 tamales. "How much are they?" I asked innocently. "5,000 colones," she said. I handed her the 10,000 bill. "Oh, no! How embarrassing! I have absolutely no change!! Let me send my son down to the convenience store! I'm sure he can make change!" "No, that's okay. Keep the change. The Lord wants to bless you!" 

As I walked back into the house, I passed the nacatamales off to Elidey and headed straight for my Bible, David's eyes following me the whole way. I pulled out the index card and tossed it to David. There in my own hand was "5,000 colones". David was thrilled, "I was wondering what I was going to preach on this Sunday and now I know. The sacrifice of obedience!" I was left pondering. I should have known better than that. I DO know better than that. I know the voice of the Lord. Why did I do that? Laziness? Selfishness? I think the spirit of stupid just had a field day. Whatever. It doesn't matter. May God STILL receive ALLLLLL the glory. And may I learn another valuable lesson in obedience myself. And hopefully you can learn from my mistake.

So here's the point. There comes a time in everyone's Christian walk where the walk becomes more than just about obeying the street signs to the letter of the law and thinking that's what it means to be on the right path. There comes a time when we need to start actively listening to the voice of God as he DIRECTS our paths and LEADS us where we should go (Psalm 23, 119:35, 133; Proverbs 3:4-6; etc.) Obedience is a sacrifice. It takes not only listening and being confident in what you hear (because you can get to a point in your walk where you know for certain it is the Lord speaking) but also stepping up and actually doing what you hear the Lord say. Letting him lead and guide and direct because he really does know best, because he really does want to bless others and uses us to do it, and he really deserves all the glory!!! I encourage and challenge you to pray this week and ask the Lord to speak to you. Then listen. Listen to what he says and do it! See what blessings the Lord has for others around you, how you can bring Him glory, and how you might just be touched along the way.


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