We are now on our fifteenth character trait lesson - my how time flies. That also means we are better than half-way through our "lists", with today's being our "O" List. Only one character trait comes out on top of this list: Obedience. Some of us think of obedience as some sort of subservient submissiveness to the will of another without any ability on our part to do something otherwise. I think there are elements of this definition which might be right, like the submissiveness which is required to really be obedient. Yet, there are parts which really don't match up to God's definition of obedience - the stuff like no ability to do anything other than be obedient. We all know this is not the case - we struggle with obedience, don't we? We don't just get up one morning, determine to be obedient and then never turn back. In fact, truth be told, we find ourselves looking back a little too frequently!
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.” (I Peter 1:13-16 MSG)
Looking at our passage today, Peter really nails this idea of obedience. There are a couple of characteristics I'd like us to see:
- There is a call to be engaged. "Rolling up one's sleeves" really is a call to get into the task at hand. I actually like to wash dishes - there is something kind of therapeutic for me in this activity. The warm, sudsy water soothes my hands and I like seeing things go from soiled to clean. Yet, in the winter, when wearing long sleeves, I have to push them up, out of the way, so I may plunge my hands deeply into the warm water. I think Peter is giving us instructions to "go all in" with Jesus. It is not a half-way commitment - it is all or nothing. The task ahead is often governed by our response to the task. When we are willing to engage in the process, no matter how long or hard it may appear, we will see the rewards based on our level of engagement. If we are half-way committed to this life with Christ, our struggles with life-dominating sins, breaking free from legalism, and the like will continue to be issues.
- This is not an unthinking action. Peter tells us our mind has to "be in gear", we have to be present in the moment. Obedience is not a casual thing - it requires attentive consideration of choices, mindfulness toward making the right ones, and then the determination to continue making them even when it is hard to do! Like I said, obedience is not the easiest of character traits to possess, but it "pays off" phenomenally!
- The place of obedience is only held when their is an awareness of how easily it can slip away. I am as guilty as the next person of having this project and that which sit in some sort of "unfinished" state. It may be a sewing project, a little repair job needing to be done, or even the writing of the next installment of the blog. Regardless, it is easy to "put things off" when they just aren't all that exciting at the moment. Obedience requires the determination to not put off till tomorrow what needs our attention today. When we aren't attentive today, it will become easier and easier to allow our attentiveness to drift with each tomorrow!
- There is a learning which occurs as we take steps forward. The first step in the right direction is sometimes the most difficult, but with each step comes an element of trust, learning how it is we move forward. Between the first step and the last one there are a whole lot of subsequent steps. It is kind of like crossing a stream by carefully selecting each stone upon which we shall step next. We might just learn the wet ones don't make the best stepping spots! We might learn the wobbly ones give way to our weight! We might also learn there are a whole lot of paths but only one which really gets us to the other side dry! As we put one foot in front of the other, we find it gets easier, because we are learning from the past "mis-steps". Obedience is often riddled with some "mis-steps". We think it is the correct step for us to take, but we come to discover it was maybe not the "best". The truth is - God redeems our "mis-steps" and helps us put our next foot forward!
- There is a "pull" to obedience. At first, it seems like a life-challenge which will just not let us catch a break. Each and every step seems hard. I don't know where it really happens, but somewhere along the way of taking the hard steps, the steps get easier. It is like we have someone propelling us forward. I think this is God's Spirit, backing us up all along the way. As we step forward, he nudges us a little further, until it is like a force pulling us into the place of perfect obedience.
Obedience is incremental, at best. We think we are "all in", but truth be told, we are only as "all in" as we are aware of being "in" right now. We don't know the full story when we take the first step toward obedience, but it is in the steps we discover the story unfolding for us. Each incremental step leads to another and another. It is line upon line, precept upon precept. To think otherwise is to delude oneself. We get down on ourselves when we see the frequency of our mis-steps, but God just sees our willingness to take the next step. He urges us on, pulling us toward the place of obedience. In time, it becomes "second-nature" to us, but until then, let him keep pulling! Just sayin!