Obedience Can Be Tough

Debbie (my wife) and I were traveling to the Great Smokey Mountains recently. I probably don’t need to tell you that the landscape is grand. On the way, we entered into one of those “Work Zones” where you have to drive about 50% slower than the normal speed (OK, I know I’m exaggerating, but that’s the way it feels to me). I don’t normally deal well with this kind of thing, but this time it was even worse because there was no one working on the road! Of course, this shouldn’t create a dilemma for a pastor—or any Christian—but I was struggling. You know, “Well if there’s no one working out here, what’s the purpose of the slow speed limit? They wouldn’t care if I kept my speed since no one is out here.” The Lord, however, wouldn’t let me go…so I slowed way down. It was torturous for me, mostly because cars were passing me at the normal speed. Even so, I reluctantly obeyed. Then God sent an encouragement to me, right there on the road. A police cruiser passed me doing only about 2 MPH faster. I couldn’t help but thank God for “forcing” me to obey.

Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”? That’s not a biblical mindset. God has much to say about obedience, but nowhere does He intimate just going ahead with what you want and then asking for forgiveness later. In fact, Romans 6:1-2a says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” We don’t do what we want just because God will forgive us. Samuel put it this way, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Obedience can be tough at times. That’s not to say that I accomplished some great feat by slowing down that day, but only that the human desire to do things “my way” is very strong. James 1:14 says, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” I’m tempted because of my own desires; it’s all about what I want. But shouldn’t we try to discover what God wants?

God loves obedience. In fact, He also rewards obedience. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” The later part of this verse says that when we’re approved, we’ll receive the crown of life. That’s a reward, but there’s a reward we receive on earth too. The first part of the verse says that a man who endures temptation is blessed. Who doesn’t want to be blessed? Of course, blessing can come in many forms. Sometimes a blessing is as simple as knowing that you did what God wanted. Sometimes it means you don’t get a ticket.

This world will always provide an opportunity for us to sin. At the same time, God always provides a way for us to obey. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Are you taking the way of escape, or are you just going ahead, hoping to ask for forgiveness later? “To obey is better than sacrifice.”