Why Obedience Doesn't Always Feel Good
When we sold our home, quit our jobs and packed our life into 4 pieces of luggage, excitement lit every aspect of the journey to join a church planting team in East Africa. The rush of adrenaline with imminent change, a dream on the verge of coming true, infused each forward step with a joyful bounce.
The dream came true, my feet finally tread the sandy paths of the African coast. Yet, after a few months the differences in culture, the difficulties in language learning and the tropical sauna box lost their glamor and each next step felt burdened by ankle weights. My heart would pound in my chest with fears of visiting the sick knowing I’d try to struggle through prayer in a language I hadn’t yet grasped. Fatigue held a strong grip on my body as sweat drops from my eyebrows stung my eyes - walking the mile to do a bible storying group had lost all appeal.
Emotions and tough circumstances are like waves beating the sides of a pontoon boat, bidding it to change course, which it will unless the rudder is steering and the engine propelling it in the direction the driver wants to go.
See, our calling, our ministry, our faithfulness are influenced by those waves, because sometimes they’re high and strong. Consider your current ministry, the people you serve, and how you’ve been impacted by what’s been going on around you and within you.
It doesn’t take long to recognize the impact.
With the waves crashing over we begin to doubt our calling, we experience greater fear to take the next step, and we lack confidence. Persevering where God has us is part of our ongoing practice of obedience and, often, it doesn’t feel good.
Expecting life to go smoothly because we’re serving the Lord is a commonly held misconception which results in severe disappointment when it doesn’t. So why doesn’t obedience always feel good?
Consider Ananias as he said goodbye to his family, uncertain if he’d ever see them again. Walking down to Straight Street looking for the man sent to Damascus to arrest the followers of Jesus. He’d obey the Lord and walk in faith, even through the risk.
The Lord led Nathan the prophet to confront David after his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, not knowing how the king would react. Prophets always had a tough job in the midst of significant tension, some would lose their lives. Not knowing how it would turn out, he faithfully spoke God’s word.
When we aren’t sure of the outcome, fear creeps in.
Yet, here’s a truth about fear: we choose how we’ll respond.
John the apostle reminds us that there’s no fear in love because our fear is connected to punishment (1 John 4:18) so when we’re afraid of what could happen as we follow the Lord in obedience, we choose instead to trust His perfect love for us, today and in this moment. Then, like the apostle Paul, though felt fear and weakness as he served the Corinthian church, he resolved to be confident in nothing other than Christ (1 Cor 2:2-3), not his own ability, skill or heritage, only the Lord Jesus.
Has fear crept into your decisions to obey? Have you hesitated because you were afraid? How can you choose love over fear?
We can’t know the results of our obedience; whether our attempts to reconcile church members will end in unity or brokenness, whether beginning that new program will bear immediate fruit or flop, or whether the prayer offered for a co-worker will be rejected or received.
This tension pulls at us, because we know what we want. Our goal is fruit. The same way a gardener plants a seed with the desired outcome being the beans, tomatoes or peppers to come. But many times our role in someone’s life may be that of the planter, the waterer or the nurturer, other times it may be the harvester, yet we choose to trust Jesus and his good plan for us and others, without giving up when we don’t see the outcome we want.
Consider also the obedience in our own repentance. We’ve all experienced recurring sin in our lives, and it’s frustrating to feel weak and incapable. Our weakness is where Christ’s power lies, for when we are weak, he is strong. Humbly acknowledging our inability points us to our desperate need for grace. Our perfection in spiritual disciplines won’t save us, our Savior does. We can’t do anything without him.
Have you felt out of control in this season of ministry? How is the Lord leading you to grow in humility?
Have your quiet times with the Lord felt lackluster? Even those in ministry succumb to apathy at times causing us to doubt that God is doing something in those moments of stillness before His Word. Pile that on top of troubling relationships or a sense of ineffectiveness and you have a recipe for wondering what your purpose is…or if there is one.
I shared maybe a hundred bible stories, and more prayers, with women before I ever began to see a softening in a single woman’s heart. The work is great for the feet bringing good news. There was wrestling with my tendency to depend on my own strengths and abilities, rather than on my sovereign Lord’s perfect timing.
Jeremiah Burroughs writes,“learn by this never to conclude that a work is not of God just because you encounter discouraging circumstances at first.” Yes we will face the waves of emotion and circumstances that will challenge our trust and our faith in who we believe God to be and our own purpose and calling. So we take comfort that even though we doubt our own faithfulness, we don’t ever need to doubt His.
Have you doubted God’s purposes in your life during this season? How can you practice trust in God’s faithfulness?
Biking through the valley after teaching a bible story out in the cassava field, a warm glow along the tall grasses, shouts of cheering at the soccer game in the distance, I reflected on the moment I had just been a part of. I’d shared the story of Moses’ calling at the burning bush and one of the ladies had really grabbed hold of the fact God has a purpose for people despite their past mistakes. I pedaled along the bumpy path back home, greeting women gathered at the well, considering the beauty of watching hearts open to Scripture and thought, “I can’t believe I get to do this.”
That was after I’d almost driven over a black mamba, broke my flip flop and bucket washed my 3 year old daughter for the 4th time that day.
Walking in obedience to the Lord in both our personal lives and our corporate ones. We will experience moments of gladness and others feeling beat down as we follow the Lord to be his aroma through word and deed.
Just as we are saved by grace, we continue to walk in it. Our daily choices toward faithfulness are helped along as we learn to rely not on ourselves but on the One who gave everything for us and gives us everything we need to equip us for our service to him, wherever that may be.
Recognizing the impact the waves have on us will remind us to steer in the direction we want to go, empowered by the Spirit, for the glory of God and the good of those around us.