Thursday, February 22, 2018

Answer by Obeying.

Can a month focused on being Called to Surrender my own will really be exciting and fun?

I wondered this when February 1st arrived and as I look back I can genuinely say it has been a great blessing. In fact, I find it odd that as believers we would have any other ideas about surrender and obedience. Why do we think it is a bad thing? Hard, yes. Bad, never.

As I listened to Lysa TerKuerst's book What Happens When Women Say Yes to God, I realized that most of the reasons she gives for wanting to say no to God were rooted in fear and most of the reasons I disobey God are fear-based too. Soon after, a new friend pointed out that true obedience to God flows from a heart that loves Him perfectly. And then the Holy Spirit reminded me that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18).  The tricky thing about all of this is that we cannot love God perfectly in our own power. We are dependent on Him to give us a longing for what is holy and perfect and good.

Maybe this is frustrating to you or even causes you to feel defeated. But remember, this should bring you relief! God wants to give good gifts to His children (you, me, all of us!) and He desires that you should love Him perfectly and grow in obedience. To get started you will simply need a willingness to surrender and a commitment to following Him.

We can know in our heads that we should obey, but we cannot make our hearts desire it the way we envision or wish. That aspect of desiring to obey God will have to be left in His hands. However, the really amazing thing is you can choose to do what you know is right even when you don't feel like it. Growing in obedience and surrendering to God's ways is a journey. How determined are you to stick to that path?

Photo credit by Lucas Favre

Thinking through all of this has forced me to look at my actions and level of commitment, which is kinda rough. How determined am I to do what God calls me to, both in the daily practice of living a life that honors God and in the random times of day when I feel the Holy Spirit pressing on me to do something I wouldn't normally do? Like asking the customer service representative over an online chat if they know Jesus. Not my typical thing, but God is not the God of acceptable cultural behavior. His ways are far higher than our own.

As I've thought and prayed over what to share, I figured I would break down the most prominent fears I have been thinking through regarding disobedience and encourage you to overcome them.

Fear of Difficulty

Fear of Failure or Inability

Fear of Outcome

Fear of the Opinions of Others

There may be some overlap, and maybe you have other ideas about what these fears include or entail. If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Be sure to join our Facebook group to chime in or feel free to comment below.

Fear of Difficulty

I becoming most stressed when what is required of me seems far beyond what I am capable of. When I wake up with a list of to-dos that feel near impossible the struggle to get my day started is long, arduous, and frustrating, and I generally end up getting out of bed far later than I had hoped. It doesn't make any sense that when I have a lot to do I'd struggle so much to get going or wrestle so hard to obey God in being diligent with my time or in being kind with my children. If I was smart or even a tad more self-disciplined, I'd get up earlier and start hammering away first thing. If I had more faith in His purposes I'd be more expectant that God is doing His work through me, even when it feels monotonous or unimportant. But the truth is that I am often crippled by the idea of how hard this type of obedience might be. 

It's easy to get this way with big and important commands that are obviously far beyond our own means. And maybe you're like me, struggling with the daily grind type of obedience as well. We look at what God is asking and feel like it is more than we'd rather do. We know loving our neighbors is right and good, but have you met them? It's hard to even hold a conversation with them! We look at the laundry pile, the homeschooling, and the errands that all need done and sigh. We look at the dream God has given us to write that book, or travel to that distant land, or start that business, or go to school, but looking at the whole picture of what that might entail seems like a lot of work, possibly more than we are willing to do. 

This is when we need to remember God's power. He is the one who gives us strength to complete the tasks He lays before us. When we think we can do something in our own might, we are deceived. He has given us many different gifts, skills, and resources to function in our day-to-day life but we forget that it still all depends on Him. When the next task looks like it will take more than we've got, He needs to be our source of strength to overcome the challenge. We cannot let what we do not yet possess deter us from obeying God right now. The following verse helps me remember to obey even when the job ahead seems like it will be too hard.

"Even youths shall faint and be weary,
And young men shall fall exhausted;
But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not grow weary;
They shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:30-31

Fear of Failure or Inability

Fearing the difficulty of a task and fearing failure or inability are very closely connected. You recognize how difficult (or near impossible) obeying God for the long haul will be and you fear you will not be able to walk this path every single day. You know you are bound to mess up and would rather just avoid that level of failure and operate from the safe place of success. 

Even in the secular realm, that coping mechanism is being undone. Researchers are finding that we actually learn best from making mistakes, seeing where we went wrong, and making a plan to do different next time. If the world is taking on this challenge without the help of God, shouldn't we be even more willing to try? After all, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to keep us from mistakes that might undo God's good work, and we have relationship with the One who can enable us to do far more than we ever dreamed. 

This is when we need to remember not just the strength and force of God's eternal power, but the daily sustenance He will give to us. He will never break His covenant with us. He will continue to provide for you in anything He calls you to pursue. I immediately think of Joshua being called to lead the people into the promised land. Maybe he saw how the people failed to trust God and had to wander the desert or how Moses had failed to obey and ended up not entering into the land. But God speaks to Joshua, commanding him to take the people in, to follow His law, and He takes the time to encourage Joshua. We can trust that we will not fail when we choose to obey God. When we walk with Him, He holds us up. Remember God's consolation and words or exhortation to Joshua.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9

Fear of Outcome

Not seeing where the path of obedience will lead us can rattle the strongest warrior's nerves. We have no clue what it will mean to sell our house and move across the country. We cannot fathom what homeschooling our children, inviting a stranger to live with us, or taking a new job in a new industry might mean for us long term. This fear of the outcome of our obedience is where we must really come back to knowing and trusting in God's character. 

In the monotonous routines of daily life, we have a hard time understanding what it will do for our lives to make the small sacrifices of daily obedience. They often feel insignificant. Or maybe you feel called to obey God in giving up an outlet of social media and it feels too drastic; you cannot fathom what life at home or at work will look like if you are not connecting with people online. No matter what call of obedience you hear from the Word or from the Holy Spirit, you must trust in God's good plans if you are going to obey. 

Do you think you are able to make the best decision about the path of your life? Do you understand that God knows the events in your future and what you will need to be prepared for? Do you trust that all of these things will truly result in the greatest amount of goodness and joy and prosperity for you in eternity? I'm not saying these things are easy to navigate, I'm just saying we need to face them and make a decision. Like Abraham, even when we do not know the outcome, we can trust that God is good and will never lead us down a path that isn't worth the effort, sacrifice, and losses we may face along the way. When God first calls Abram, we only see that God told Abram He would make him a great nation, bless him and make his name great. However, he must have known or felt something about God's goodness in order to follow Him down that unknown path to that unknown land. I love what Hebrews says about Abram (now called Abraham) in this regard. We need to look to our eternal outcome, to God's eternal promises in order to find the strength to obey God in a world of unknowns.

"For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." Hebrews 11:10

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth."
Hebrews 11:13

Fear of the Opinions of Others

I care far too much about what other people think. Most of the time, when I find myself wanting to do anything except what God calls me to, it is because I am worried about what others will think. What will that stranger think if I ask them about Jesus? What will my parents or in-laws think if we raise our children this way? What will my friends think if I share that bible verse or article on Facebook? In case you didn't already know, you cannot serve God and serve yourself. 

When we are prioritizing what other people think over what God has instructed us to do, we are fearing man instead of God, we are serving ourselves instead of serving Him. If we let ourselves go down that road we eventually become so deceived that we do something terribly stupid, something terribly selfish. Make sure you take a look at Acts 5:1-7 to see what happened to Annanias and Sapphira when they believed they could serve themselves and gain a good opinion from others all while looking like they were serving God. They cared more about the opinions of men and it led them to sin and destruction.

I do not want to be them for many reasons. I want God to look at my heart and be pleased. I want to be willing to follow Him anywhere, even if I am afraid and it feels like I will be risking my reputation or giving up more than I am comfortable with, I want to be determined to obey whatever He calls me to, casting aside the opinions of others and highly valuing the opinion of God. This doesn't mean we never take input or advice, it simply means sticking to the truth when we fear it may cause others to look at us differently than we prefer. It might be minor, it might be major, but our first priority needs to be obedience to God's ways. This verse reminds me that trusting in God and obeying His call is always the better option.

"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe."
Proverbs 29:25

So there you have it, my very generalized examples of why you might struggle to answer God's call to obedience. What is stopping you? Being aware of your fears is a great place to start, but at some point you have to choose what you will do. Taking the initiative to know God more deeply will help add some strength to your resolve. Spending time in prayer and meditation over the Word will give you ammo to fight the spiritual battles you are sure to encounter. Then, you will need to decide whom you will serve. Self or God? We know which one has the best outcome. Obey and watch. I have never regretted it, even when I did it scared. Do it anyway! 

I highly encourage you to find someone you can trust to hold you accountable. Not just a friend who will encourage and agree with you in your struggles, but someone who is willing to displease you in order to speak the truth. You might think this kind of relationship would be destructive, but if you are both committed to serving God, it will be a great blessing on your life. Pray for God to reveal who that person should be in your life. He desires that we would sharpen one another and grow stronger in our faith and obedience.

I hope the final week of seeking to understand surrender and obedience will bless your life. It is encouraging and emboldening me in multiple ways. May we all be strengthened to follow His call and become a people known for doing whatever it takes, whatever He asks. May God's name and goodness go forth! 

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