Obedience is a learned behavior. It’s not innate. It’s something we practice. It’s a discipline that’s borne over time and circumstance.
Despite these assumptions, I often forget that God places us in situations in which to grow our obedience. I also forget that these situations tend to coincide with temptation, and that these temptations, these enticements to conduct ourselves according to worldly standards, aren’t a one-time item we cross off our spiritual to-do list once we’ve conquered them. They often reappear.
As of late, I’ve been visited by a recurring temptation. I’ve found myself in a type of situational déjà vu, in which God is demanding my obedience.
Now, I’ve always considered myself a disciplined, self-controlled, good-decision-making-person.
However, I’ve recently discovered that I possess a rebellious streak; a staunch stubbornness on par with Israel.
In Jeremiah 6, God lets Israel know that a time of reckoning is at hand. God exhorts and reminds Israel of the warnings he’s sent.
Israel knew the ancient paths, the model of faithful living laid out by Moses and the other prophets. They knew the good way, a life of obedience. They knew they were to walk according to these standards, to faithfully live each day, to shape the rhythm of their lives according to God’s covenant.*
Despite this blueprint for a plentiful, harmonious life, Israel says, “No thanks God. We’re content living greedily. We’re happy bowing down to other idols. We’re fine disobeying your law, because well, that was a long time ago, so, maybe it doesn’t apply anymore. Plus, we’d rather live like other nations. It’s more fun.”
This rejection reveals the depth of Israel’s rebellion.
Yet, God isn’t deterred. He’s familiar with this stiff-necked and stubborn people (Ex. 33.3, Jer. 5.23). He knows their rebelliousness and dysfunction. He loves them anyways and gives them another opportunity to show their obedience.
In his relentless pursuit, he sends trumpet-sounding sentinels, prophets bringing a word of caution.**
Despite these explicit warnings, again, Israel says “No thanks God. We think we know better. We want to listen to false prophets instead, because well, the real prophets are killjoys.”
At this point, God isn’t happy. This is the final straw. Israel has walked in disobedience for too long. In doing so, they’ve rejected God, and now, God rejects them by sending a people “from the land of the north” (Babylon, Jer. 6.22) to invade and destroy them.
Israel has sealed its own fate.
The temptation to be like other nations, worship other gods, live counter to God’s instructions, and forsake their chosenness, was nothing new. The entire Old Testament testifies to this. And, in light of these temptations, more often than not, Israel gives in.
As of late, my responses to God have been similar to Israel’s.
God: “Jess, you know the decision you need to make. You know the path you need to be pursuing.”
Me: “Um, yeah, I kind of like the curvy road better. It’s more conducive to joyriding. Especially if you’re on a motorcycle.”
God: “I’ve spoken to you in prayer and through other people. I’ve given you multiple warnings. I’ve given you numerous chances to faithfully respond.”
Me: “Yeah, maybe I misinterpreted those though. Actually, no, I’m just pretending I didn’t hear.”
This rejection reveals the depth of my own rebellion.
Considering, I have more grace for Israel’s short-term memory and habitual disobedience.
Israel lost sight of many things. Of utmost significance though, they forgot they were in relationship with a mighty God who was able to help them through their stumbling. God offered. He extended his hand. He desperately wanted to aid his people. They just didn’t tap into this powerful resource.
I too forget I serve a mighty God who’s capable of taking away temptation, of buoying me through it, and of spiritually maturing me in the process.
Israel also forgot that they were a beacon to other nations. They forgot that their obedience mattered. They failed to realize that other people were peering into their microcosm, eagerly anticipating their response to God. They forgot that their actions were their witness.
I too forget that my obedience to God’s will isn’t just about myself. It’s not just about my own spiritual development or personal relationship. I forget that other people are observing my choices. They’re critiquing how I live out (or fail to live out) my faithfulness to God; they’re awaiting my response in light of God’s direct command. Like Israel, I fail to realize that my response (good or bad, obedient or disobedient) serves as a model for unbelieving onlookers.
And, in the particular situation I’ve repeatedly found myself in, I believe this is the case.
Lord, I thank you that temptation breeds obedience. I thank you for your patience in my spiritual learning process and your boldness in communicating with me. I thank you for your grace in allowing me to make the right choice, despite the extreme pull to do otherwise. My faithfulness is completely contingent upon yours.
Picture taken from: www.motherrr.com
*ESV Study Bible. Crossway Bibles. Illinois, 2008.