When I think about obedience, I think about training a puppy. My dog is handsome and when he was a puppy, he was adorable. He was also ruled by his needs and desires. He wanted to do exactly what came through his mind in the moment. We all, our family and the puppy, needed training to live in the home together. He needed to learn to follow our instructions and we needed to learn his personality.
The beautiful thing about my relationship with my dog is that he understands when I am being playful with him and when I am very serious. He knows that I love him and do the best thing for him, even if it stings for a moment (shots). I know that he loves belly rubs, being chased, and peanut butter. I know what distracts him; squirrels, other dogs, and loud knocks. Since I know this about him, when we are walking and I notice a squirrel or another dog coming our way, I begin giving him the leave it command before he sees the distraction. When he finally notices the distraction, he already knows what to do about it; leave it. This makes the walk safe and pleasant for both of us.
There is a lot I learned about obedience while training my dog. I learned that dogs need a master or alpha, someone to follow and learn from. This allows them to have a clear understanding of their role in the pack or household. They need simple, clear commands. Complicated instructions confuse them and then they don’t know what to do. Although treats motivate at the beginning of training, their relationship with their master will be a better predictor of obedience in the long run.
This month, this column will focus on elements of obedience. I like to begin learning about anything by first defining the terms involved. To obey is “to follow the commands or guidance of or to conform to” or “comply with.” This definition suggests that there is someone or something that gives the commands or is to comply with. This brings in the term, master. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has several definitions that help us better understand the role of a master. One of my favorites is, “a worker or artisan qualified to teach apprentices.” The definition most of us associate with master is “one having authority over another.”
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, a fad swept over Christian culture. I saw these initials everywhere; WWJD. From bracelets to bumper stickers, these initials were meant to serve as a reminder for Christians to consider “What Would Jesus Do?” in any situation they found themselves in. The initials came from the book “In His Steps” by Charles M. Sheldon. Sheldon was a pastor in Topeka, Kansas from 1889 to 1920. He wrote the book as a series for the Sunday evening service at the church he founded and led. His goal was to get his congregation to consider what could happen if they lived like Jesus. In other words, if they loved Jesus enough to obey Him in every situation (John 14:15).
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Jesus tells us to love God with our thoughts, our motives, our desires, our intellect, with everything we are. We are to love God with everything inside us to everything outside of us. With the things people cannot see of us and all things they can see, hear, and experience from us. Another way of saying this is we are to be obedient.
To be obedient, I must choose to do what the person in authority wants me to do, instead of what I would prefer. This means I must have the same vision, mission, values, and goals as the one giving the command. Since God is the ultimate authority, He is the One I must obey. How does one have the same vision, mission, values, and goals as God?
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urges disciples of Christ to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. This transformation causes the disciple to be more like Christ and less like the world. How then are minds renewed?
In a simple statement, not as quickly and easily as a person would prefer. We live in an instant culture where we expect everything to happen in short order. When things do not change in us, or the people we disciple and/or lead, we think that what we are doing is not working so we shift gears and try something new. Yet God calls us to be faithful and steadfast, patient. Renewing a mind to have the same vision, mission, values, and goals as God takes a long time. Here are a few practical steps one can take to cooperate with God in renewing the mind.
Know the Master
There must also be a level of trust in the person giving the command for one to want to obey them. Trust is built through relationship. Relationship develops the more you know someone. The way we get to know God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is through time spent in the Word and in prayer.
In the Bible, we learn who God is. We learn His characteristics and His likes and dislikes. As we read the accounts of the people who lived before us, we learn how God interacts with humans. We learn His expectations and what happens when one does not meet those expectations.
Prayer is not just a wish list or ‘honey-do’ list. It is a conversation with God. That means we both talk and listen to God. When we talk, we praise God, thank God, and ask of God. We share our thoughts, emotions, and fears. We tell Him about what is happening in our lives and the lives of those around us. When we listen, we wait in silence to get direction, guidance, and comfort. The waiting in silence is difficult for some of us, but well worth the slight discomfort.
When we know who God is, that He is with us, He hears us, and He leads us, it is so much easier to follow Him.
Know your Identity in Christ
Once we know God, we are able to begin to know ourselves. Many times, we focus on either the positive or the negative aspects of ourselves. The truth is, each of us is a beautiful mix of both positives and negatives. We can be a blessing and a curse, sometimes in the same moment. Being able to confidently speak both the positive and the negative about ourselves knowing that there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Romans 8:1) and that when we boast it is because of what Christ did for us and in us through His work on the cross (2 Corinthians. 12:9).
The Apostle Paul tells us that we are at peace with God and Jesus (Romans 5:1). God calls us child (Galatians 4:7, Romans 8:14), friend (John 15:13-15), sibling (Hebrews 2:11, Romans 8:29). These titles are endearing and heartfelt, relational. Love seems to be the precursor to obedience. His love shines a light on our identity which changes the way we see God, ourselves, and other people.
When we know our identity, we no longer hide from God and others, which could cause us to love God completely and love others rightly.
Shift your Focus
For most of us, our days are filled with the mundane aspects of life. Most of the mundane things of life center on our livelihood, what we eat, when we sleep, the work we do, the people we care for and maybe a few simple pleasures. Our focus is on ourselves. What would shifting that focus do to our hearts, minds, and souls?
In Romans 8:5, the Apostle Paul tells us that those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on things of the flesh but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on things of the Spirit. In other words, if you are thinking about the things of the world you cannot live in obedience to God. He says, set your mind on the things above (Colossians 3:1-2). Which means to think about things that are true, good, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
A shift in our thinking could align our hearts with God’s causing us to have His vision, mission, values, and goals.
“…we become what we worship (Psalm 115:8). When we set our gaze on the Almighty, we change into the likeness of the One who has captivated our souls. And we reflect His glory.”
Louie Giglio, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table: Taking Control of Your Thoughts and Fears in the Middle of the Battle
Although there are many ways we can cooperate with God to transform us, we must not forget that change in any person, us or others, is the work of God, the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the most important thing we can do to align our hearts with God’s is to open ourselves up to the work of His Spirit and allow Him to initiate all change in us.
And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Obey. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obey
 Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Master. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/master
This post originally appeared at: https://thebonhoefferproject.com/weeklycolumn/desires