Why Is Obedience So Hard?

boy and dogMom had asked me to feed the dog once again and I decided to do it my own way. I was a child growing up on the island of Trinidad and had a mind of my own. If I had to do this chore, I was going to have some fun while doing it or at least fun in my own eyes. Our dog was located outside the house and after I took his food to him, I hid in a corner and waited. I knew that my younger brother would come looking for me and I was going to scare him. Well, I must have been pretty effective, because he ran back into the house to get my Dad terrified that a burglar was on the property. I was also pretty fortunate that day, because my Dad came looking for the robber with a stick that could have really injured me. At the last minute, I identified myself, terrified my Dad and got a well-deserved punishment for my “practical joke”. Why couldn’t I have just fed the dog like I was supposed to have?

This week I have been reading the tragic story of Saul from the book of 1 Samuel and have been struck by how much he disappointed God. There is very sad verse in chapter 15 that says that God was “sorry he had ever made Saul king of Israel.” How did it come to this point so quickly in Saul’s reign as the first king of God’s chosen people? The evidence is all throughout the earlier chapters of a man who is so concerned by what the people thought of him that he compromised on a regular basis. In the climactic battle with the Amalekites, he is given clear and unequivocal instructions by God to kill all the people and their livestock – no one was to be spared. Despite this, he caves to the pressure from his army to take the King alive and to keep the best plunder for themselves. In a great irony, Saul even offers to sacrifice the animals they captured, but it is “too little too late”. In one of the most important life application verses in the Bible, Samuel tells Saul that “Obedience is far better than sacrifice”.

My namesake David was the King that followed Saul and was “a man after God’s own heart”. While he was no saint and was actually a pretty big sinner, he was also quick to repent. Even more importantly, he learned the power of obedience from a young age and functioned out of confidence not cowardice. At critical moments when he faced the most insurmountable odds, he stopped to seek God’s will and get His “marching orders”. It seems that a critical component to effective obedience is discerning God’s will in the first place. Sometimes this is very clear like it was for Saul, but at other times, it requires getting alone like Jesus so that we can really hear our heavenly father. Once we are clear on what God wants us to do, it is easier to act in a way that honors him.

That said, I have also experienced moments like Saul where it was pretty clear what God wanted me to do and in the critical moments I fell prey to the temptation to compromise and only obey in “half measures”. So why is it so hard to obey? Most of the time it is because of fear and selfishness. We are afraid of the consequences of complete surrender to God’s will and have been hard wired to put our desires above everything else. I think it is also because we are really forgetful. Just like the people of Israel, I fail to remember God’s faithfulness, His love for me and His desire to see me become the person He wants me to be. Like C.S. Lewis so famously said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

As I pause this week to give thanks to God for all that He has done in my life, I am reminded that more than my gratitude, he wants my obedience.

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