“Do not touch things that do not belong to you.” I feel like a broken record with my son. He has far too much curiosity to remember the 500 times I have told him to not touch things that are not his. The other day, he was playing with one of grandma’s figurines, and it broke. Of course. I told him not to touch it/play with it, but he could not resist. The result was: something that had value to someone else was broken. Disobedience usually results in someone getting hurt.
It is hard for Joshua to learn this lesson because it does not hurt him when he breaks something that belongs to someone else. It does not hurt him when he frustrates his sister by playing with her things. The only “pain” he feels is the consequences that I impose on him, in order to help the message stick. I give him a consequence because I want his heart to care.
The whole point of consequences is to turn the heart back on course. The problem is, kids can learn to obey, mainly to avoid a consequence, but it does not mean that their heart has actually changed. Do I want Joshua to learn to obey in order to avoid a negative consequence, or do I just want him to learn to respect other people’s things? Obviously I want the latter.
In order to achieve a change of heart, the heart needs to be addressed and engaged. When Joshua broke grandma’s glass elephant, his heart was touched when I explained how sad that would make grandma. He suddenly felt awful and wished he had obeyed. He learned the hard way, and unfortunately, someone else had to get hurt as well before the lesson began to sink in. (Thankfully he is learning these lessons when the “hurt” is relatively minor)
We are God’s children and the obedience he calls us to plays by the same rules. Our heart must be engaged in order for the obedience to have great value.
Lately, I feel like I have been doing just about everything because I “should.” I should keep up with the house work. I should spend some time with God. I should look for ways I can love on others and help others. I should spend time with my kids. I should get some projects done. I should take a shower. I should write a blog post.
All this shoulding is wearing me out. It is stealing my joy. I need to get rid of the “should” in my life.
I see the value in doing things God’s way. I truly know, deep in my inner being, that God’s ways are best. I have no problem trusting God and his ways (most of the time). I struggle to enjoy walking in his ways. Why is that?
Here is my theory. I have often had obedience without love. I have been obeying because it is the right thing to do – and I know that doing the right thing heads the best results. I have tried to do things my own way, and I know where that gets me. So it makes sense to obey. The more I have obeyed, the easier it has become. However, my obedience has not necessarily come from a desire to please God. Yes, just like my kids, I can obey because I do not want the consequences of disobedience, but it does not mean it flows from a heart that wants to please my Daddy. Obedience can be selfish.
I am weary of selfish obedience, of obedience without love.
The Bible says (1 John 5:3), “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”
God feels loved by us when we obey him, but I am not sure we feel love for God by obeying. I am talking about the difference between obeying because we love Him and obeying because we believe He is right. I think God wants us to obey for both reasons, but love needs to be the driving force. You can have respect and trust without love, but you cannot have love for God without respect and trust.
It is hard to love God. There are so many things in the world that compete for our affections. He says that he is jealous, that when it comes to the affections of our heart, he does not want to share. He has a right to be jealous. He says that we can not love the world and him simultaneously. If we are loving the world, we are not loving God. If we are loving God, we are not loving the world. He is right. You can not love the things of this world and love God, too, because often the things of this world are in opposition to the things of God. However, when we love God first, we can enjoy the things of the world that God intended for us to enjoy.
I do not want to love the world, but I find that this world is alluring. When I am sucked in to the pleasures of this world, my obedience for God rings hollow. It lacks the substance of love. I may still be doing the right things on the outside, but on the inside, I am a resounding gong. And I am the one who suffers.
John goes on to say in verse 4:
“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Loving God through obedience is about overcoming the world. God can only shine as much light through us as we give him space to shine. If other things clutter the view, the light will not shine as bright.
We can not love God without obeying him, but we also can not love him by just obeying him. We love him by first believing him, trusting him, and allowing him to move in us and through us. Obedience naturally flows from that kind of a relationship. Obedience without love is hollow.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21).