A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the subject of Obedience. Since then, I have been continuing to think about that topic. As I said in my previous post, the term obedience gets a bad name in our independent-thinking kind of culture. While we believe in the value of obedience in our children, the term seems better left behind as we move into adulthood.
Obedience within the context of our faith journey is not necessarily characterized by adherence to the beliefs or practices of another person or a particular denomination. I ran into that confusion as an adolescent when I tried to tease out the differences between following Jesus and being "religious." I was raised by parents who believed in Jesus and I don't remember a time in my life that I didn't talk to Him and love Him. I formally gave my heart to Him when I was 8, but that only seemed a continuation of a relationship that had already been established. I never doubted His love or His presence, but sometimes felt like I didn't fit in at church. I wanted to be a good Christian, but I didn't know if I could ever be like the "good Christians" that I thought I was supposed to emulate.
When I was in high school, I went through a training on how to share my faith in the most effective way....effective being defined by the numbers of people who made a decision to be "saved" at the end of the presentation. This was a training curriculum that has been used in many churches for a number of years. I think the training lasted 10 or 12 weeks. Turns out, I was really good at it....at least in the eyes of the instructors. I memorized all the lines and the scriptures easily, I was a naturally persuasive person and I wasn't afraid to talk in front of people. I was chosen to be the youth representative that did a presentation of this new skill for the adults. So they put me on a stage and had me do my thing in a role play. I remember feeling very torn. I enjoyed the accolades that I received from the adults, but I simultaneously felt like the biggest fake and liar in the world.
On the one hand, I knew all the things in the scripted presentation were true. On the other hand, I would never in a million years share my faith with one of my friends in this mechanical, hard sell, fear-provoking way. It simply wasn't me. At that point in my life, I had already had the joy and privilege of seeing some of my friends come to know this amazing God that I loved. Any part that God had allowed me to play in the process was based in my love and caring for that person and in sharing with them something that meant everything to me. They saw that I was excited about something, they saw me find peace in the storms that were erupting in my life during that time, and they wanted to know more. The saw in me, and also in my mom, a real-life relationship with Jesus. I didn't have to sell them or scare them. I just shared what I knew to be true for me, with no strings attached.
So, I was confused. I committed myself to God over and over again, thinking that I hadn't quite gotten it right yet because I still wasn't like "them." I wanted to be a "good Christian" but some of the religious people to whom I was looking for guidance seemed to have ideas that didn't feel right to me. I acted one way with my "church" friends and another way with my other friends....trying to be who I thought everyone wanted me to be and only succeeding in feeling guilty about the ways that I could never measure up...the ways that I didn't really fit in with either group. I was, in many ways, too wild and free-spirited to fit in with the "religious" kids and too crazy about Jesus to feel at home with the wild kids. Like many adolescents, I didn't know which one was the "real" me.
This in no condemnation of the churches where I began my journey with God. I believe strongly that we can't do this journey alone; we must be living and growing in a community of other believers. I learned to love God's word in my adolescent church home and I am grateful for the many ways that I was nurtured within that community. My point is that I was confused about who or what I was called to obey. God never meant for me to be a carbon copy of the religious people that I saw around me. God never intended for me to change the way that He made me in order to become some sanitized version of myself that seemed holier and more proper. I was simply called to follow Him.
It is a story too long to continue in this particular post, but I eventually found my way to a different understanding of being obedient to God. I should say, God was patient with me as He slowly revealed what I needed to hear to begin to understand the connection between obedience and peace...the connection between a habit of obedience and the freedom to be exactly who God made me to be. An obedience for which we were created....a daily, minute by minute conversation with the God who made us and loves us. "What next, God?" "Now what, God?" "I can't do this alone, God." "I'm sorry I messed up again, God." "Thank you for these blessings, God." "Help me to help them, God." "I love you so much, God."
I just finished a FABULOUS book. It is called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. He is the gentleman who "wrote" the inspired paraphrase of the bible called the Message. Here are some of many wonderful things he says about this journey of discipleship:
...I hadn't yet found an organizing center for my life and a goal that would demand my all and my best. The Christian faith is the discovery of that center in the God who sticks with us, the righteous God. Christian discipleship is a decision to walk in His ways, steadily and firmly, and then finding that the way integrates all our interests, passions and gifts, our human needs and our eternal aspirations. It is the way of life we were created for.
Joy is not a requirement of Christian discipleship, it is a consequence. It is not what we have to acquire in order to experience life in Christ; it is what comes to us when we are walking in the way of faith and obedience. We come to God (and to the revelation of God's ways) because none of us have it within ourselves, except momentarily, to be joyous. Joy is a product of abundance; it is the overflow of vitality. It is life working together harmoniously. It is exuberance.
We cannot make ourselves joyful. Joy cannot be commanded, purchased or arranged. But there is something we can do. We can decide to live in response to the abundance of God and not under the dictatorship of our own poor needs. We can decide to live in the environment of a living God and not our own dying selves. We can decide to center ourselves in the God who generously gives and not in our own egos which greedily grab. One of the certain consequences of such a life is joy...