“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice according to what I command you.” Genesis 27:8 (NKJV)
The problem with obedience is, of course, that we don’t want to (obey God’s Word, that is). From Adam and Eve’s fateful decision to disobey the command of the Lord, eating from the tree He had expressly forbidden them to eat from, our hearts have rebelled against God’s purposes for our lives–the perpetual conflict between what He wants, and what we want. I wish that I could say that I have always instantly obeyed God in everything He has told me to do, but everyone would know that certainly wasn’t the truth. It is always much easier to listen to the voice of other people or the voice of our own will, than God’s voice. Obedience requires something from us, and it is usually something we don’t want to give. It requires courage and faith: courage to overcome our fears and faith that what God has ordained is far better than any plan we could have devised.
It is a sad fact that over the course of my life I have probably disobeyed more times than I have obeyed what God has asked of me. I am grateful for the grace and mercy of God—not to mention His immeasurable patience, as He has waited for me to realize that I am just not that smart about figuring out what is best for me. As I look back over my life, I am saddened by the many years (and even decades, in some cases) that have been wasted by not implementing the changes God has asked for. It is certainly not because God hasn’t tried to get my attention, or sent people my way with wisdom I didn’t heed, or even that somehow I didn’t understand what He was saying. It was likely more an issue of pride–I thought I knew better (and not seeing the law of unintended consequences that resulted from some of the bad decisions I made). When I was younger I had no sense of how fast life was passing—no clear revelation that before I knew it, I would so quickly get to be this age. I have largely lived my life in one year increments-dictated by the school year or by each move we made, as if I was checking things off some invisible list, each to be endured or conquered or completed until the really good stuff in life came along. Before I knew it, years had gone by and I still hadn’t dealt with what He had asked me to.
Thankfully, there have been three notable examples of obedience that brought great richness and fulfillment to my life: my choice of profession, my choice of spouse, and the homeschooling of my daughter. Each example of obedience is very different, but the end result was the same. One might almost say that God knew what He was doing!
I have known that God wanted me to be a nurse from the time I was five years old. My mother wrote an entry in my baby book about how I showed interest and compassion for the hurt and sick from a very young age. God’s pre-ordained purpose for my life showed itself early. Not everyone is that fortunate. Usually it takes much time and effort to figure out what God wants you to do with the gifts and talents that He has graced you with. If I hadn’t had such a strong awareness of what I was supposed to do, I might not have followed my nursing education to completion. It was clear that I wasn’t really that much like the others in my class. They had a much easier time memorizing anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and other essential facts necessary to give safe and effective care to the sick. Mostly, I was interested in people’s emotional or spiritual health—even once considering psychiatric nursing as a professional goal. That isn’t where I wound up, but it was an essential tool for where I eventually did.
The choice of spouse was not so easily arrived at. When I first met my husband, God clearly spoke to my heart that he was the one I was to marry. I was not entirely amused. He did not fit into my preconceived ideas of the type of man I would spend the rest of my life with. In fact, he was the polar opposite in many ways. I thought I would marry someone who was quiet, studious, serious, proper, and, as I look back on it, boring. I was painfully shy as a girl, never comfortable with the socially gregarious. My husband was, and is, far more comfortable in social situations than I am. He is not afraid to talk to anyone, not easily intimidated by others, or lacking in confidence. He always has a funny story to tell and a great sense of humor. He is, in fact, exactly what I need. He is the complement to those areas in my life where I am lacking. And, he was the answer to one of my greatest fears when I was growing up and considering the concept of marriage: I was afraid that after one year’s time, I would be terminally bored. His bright and quick mind is always amazing to me. He understands things that I have no clue about, things like economics, philosophy, theology, and financial markets.
It took me two years to figure out that what I wanted didn’t really matter. It was what God wanted that did. It took me two years to overcome the pride and arrogance that I knew better than God what I needed–shameful, but true. When I finally decided to be obedient to the plan of God for my life and decided to accept it, I had to stand against my friends and family who thought I was making a huge mistake. He didn’t fit their preconceived ideas either. It is amazing to me that God gave me the courage to do that—I have never considered myself to be an especially courageous person.
My husband and I never dated—we had been friends for about two years. When he came through Chicago for my graduation from college, we went out for dinner and God finally got through to me that this was where my destiny was. Several weeks later he called me on the phone to ask me if I would consider taking our friendship in a different direction. As God had been dealing with my heart about the same thing, I said “yes.” Over the next few days, God continued to speak so that when he called and asked me: “So, what do you think? Should we get married?” I was ready to give my answer. In retrospect, I wouldn’t recommend this progression to engagement as the norm! Had I not had such a definitive word from the Lord on the subject, I would never have been ready to do that, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to stand in the face of the displeasure I sensed from my family and friends. After 32 years of marriage, it is clear that God’s Hand has been on our marriage. I don’t think anyone really expected that we would go the distance! And while we have had many challenges over the years, the one area where God has consistently blessed us has been in our relationship. Obedience to God’s plan has given me far more than I ever could have imagined–a daughter who is the delight of my heart.
There was no way of knowing that the experience required to stand in obedience for my spouse would again be required when it came to educating our daughter. Homeschooling was not a concept I was familiar with. In fact, we had planned to send her to a very good private school in Jackson, MS when my husband was transferred to San Diego for another job. When we arrived in California, we found the schools abysmal and the cost of living incredibly expensive. I briefly considered going back to work to help pay for the cost of private school but God intervened through a conversation with a good friend. She had just begun homeschooling her two daughters, removing them from private school because one of them was having problems with reading and not making much progress. She was excited about homeschooling and opened my mind to the possibilities.
I wish that I could say that our original decision to home school was one of intentional obedience, but it wasn’t. I had never thought myself temperamentally suited to the homeschooling process. It was more a decision made from necessity and lack of a viable alternative that started us on the homeschooling journey. I figured that I couldn’t possibly “mess up” kindergarten too badly and hoped that by the end of the school year, another option would present itself. In September we began a traditional phonics program, progressing through it so that, by Christmas, our daughter was reading simple phrases. And then something happened. Within the next 3 months she went from that to reading at a sixth grade level. We felt that she would never easily adjust to a traditional first grade classroom environment and the decision was made to try one more year and see where that went. At the end of first grade, we opted for her to take the Stanford Achievement Test to see where her academic strengths and weaknesses were. To our surprise, she tested at a ninth grade reading level– overall at a sixth to seventh grade level. Now we had an even bigger problem. I consulted with the principal of the home school umbrella school that we were a part of, asking about the possibility of skipping a grade so that she wouldn’t get bored. We were advised to leave her in the natural progression of grades, but supplement with enough challenging material to keep that from happening. I knew in my heart this wasn’t the right decision, so we opted to advance her to third grade. Our families could not understand why we were not placing her in a “real school” and giving her all of the advantages of the socialization process and the educational expertise with accelerated academics that were available. Each year we decided to “try it again” for another year until God spoke to us that this was what He wanted for her and for us.
We were aware that God had made our daughter a bit different from the other children we saw—something her peers where quick to point out to her. It was not uncommon for them to ask her why she didn’t speak like they did, think like they did, or do the things they did–making her feel out of synch with many her age, and as she has told me, lonely, as she had no siblings. It wasn’t until getting to college that she found many more like herself. The challenge for us, as parents, has been to convince her that those differences are a necessary requirement given to her by God to equip her to fulfill His plans and purposes–not evidence of some fundamental flaw. Her challenge is, in turn, to discover each one of those gifts and determine how God would have her use them to fit together in the puzzle that is her life while advancing His Kingdom.
Clearly obedience to God’s Word has many consequences—some intended but many unintended. You would think that we would be smart enough to figure out that walking in His ways always gives us a better outcome–not to mention a richer and more fulfilling life. God, help us to daily walk in Your Ways. Give us an obedient heart.
“But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’” Jeremiah 7:23 (NKJV)
Copyright © 2010 by Susan E. Johnson
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