Ever heard the piercing squeal of automobile brakes right before an accident? Well, that’s kind of what happens in my mind when I first think of “celebrating obedience.” I mean, really, isn’t obedience one of those harsh, prickly things, with all sorts of connotations of punishment and fear? Let’s celebrate weddings and birthdays, Christmas and Easter, and all that. But obedience? I’m not so sure.
I was brought up to think of obedience as following the rigid instructions of someone who had control over me. Debilitating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy crouch at the edges of my mind. Henri Nouwen (et al.) gently corrects this misperception for me. “The word obedience is derived from the Latin word audire, which means ‘to listen.’ Obedience, as it is embodied in Jesus Christ, is a total listening, a giving attention with no hesitation or limitation, a being ‘all ear.’”(1)
God makes Sabbath rest a priority so that His people can hear and attend to Him regularly. It is so important to God, in fact, that He threatens death for those who don’t observe Sabbath rest (Ex. 35:2). This is very curious to me. Is God saying it is better to die than to live an absurd (which is the opposite of audire, or “listening”) life? Could it be that when we are so busy with ourselves and earthly concerns, and don’t take time to check in with our Creator — in whose image we are made — our lives become, subtly and imperceptibly, meaningless? Or worse, destructive?
So, to obey God is to give my full attention to Him. In those still too-rare moments when I am still and listen to God, I hear things like:
“Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3).
I will complete the good work I started in you (Phil. 1:6).
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
These certainties soothe my weary soul and fill me with hope. They make me true, like a surveyor’s level, straightening my dark, despairing tendencies. Listening some more makes me realize that these promises are for me as much as they are for the people who frustrate me to no end. (Daddy God, Please help me to remember that You love_ and are completing the good work you started in .)
These truths are also for you, my friend.
So obedience is not trying to live up to a bunch of laws. Rather, it is listening to a Parent who yearns for us to live true, live love. Then this obedience, this listening to a loving God and being reminded of ultimate realities, slowly transforms how I live and interact with others.
Now obedience is something to celebrate!
1 Henri Nouwen, Donald P. McNeill, Douglas A. Morrison, Compassion (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982), p. 36.
Cami loves to watch living things grow. She enjoys gardening and caring for her cat, Cayenne. She feels closest to God while hiking or swimming. She serves as Field Director in Sierra Leone.