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Joyful Obedience

 

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I want to start this off by asking you a couple of questions about God. Now if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to hear or read a questions and think, “that’s a good question,” but never actually answer it. But I don’t ask these rhetorically and I think it would benefit both of us to actually consider our answers.

  1. Where are you most often looking to see God’s goodness?
  2. How clearly are you able to see God’s goodness in these places?

Maybe you’ve seen God’s goodness in things like financial provision, the beauty of creation, miraculous healings you’ve witnessed, relationships you enjoy, the cross of Christ, or many other things.

Or maybe you have trouble seeing and experiencing God’s goodness. Maybe you’re like me and often times your experience doesn’t line up with your theology. You read in the Bible that God is good but when you look up from the pages into the world and your life, you don’t see it so clearly.

You have this idea in your mind of what would happen if God was truly good… and then it doesn’t. And the result is that you’re left frustrated, confused, and lacking in faith (although we keep up a good appearance and never really admit this to anyone, right?). If this is you, I get it. If this isn’t you, just wait. 

However, this leads me to another question (rhetorical this time) that is getting at the heart of my message today. What if, when it’s so difficult to see and believe God’s goodness, it’s not God who is lacking in goodness, but us who are looking for it in the wrong places or expecting Him to manifest it in misguided ways?

See, by looking in the wrong places or inventing our own expectations of how God should demonstrate His goodness to us, we’re not only preparing ourselves for probable disappointment but we’re also missing out on many ways his goodness is actually waiting for us, ready to be experienced and understood. And I don’t want you to experience that frustration or miss out on that joy.

That’s why I want to introduce you to or remind you of another, less thought of, manifestation of God’s goodness that is specifically talked about in scripture as a primary source of goodness and always available for us to enjoy. There is a gold mine of goodness stored up in this place that for some is a place unexpected, for a few a place forgotten, and for others a placed unventured because of misperceptions surrounding it.

So what is this place that is rich in God’s goodness and joy? His law. Or His commands, instruction, rules, precepts, etc. This comes directly from Psalm 25:8

“Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he instructs sinners in the way.”

We are told here that one of the ways we can see God’s goodness is in the rules He gives for us to obey. God doesn’t just instruct us because we are bad, but because He is good.

Initially this was somewhat difficult for me to understand. Probably because when I think of rules to obey and instruction to follow I think of the chores I had to do growing up and the things my parents told me I could or couldn’t do that seemed to be without purpose (except possibly to just keep me from doing what I wanted to do and from having fun).

None of these rules were that bad but I wouldn’t describe them as fun or joyful or life giving. My response to my parents telling me to wash the dishes or be home by a certain time was never, “Wonderful! Thank you! You are so good.” And yet, this is the response of the writers of the Bible to God giving them instruction. A great example of this can be found in Psalm 119 where God’s instruction is described as delightful, wonderful, praise worthy, containing reason to rejoice, and much more. All of this leads to the essence of what I’m trying to get at, which is this: 

Much of God’s goodness is placed in and embodied by His instruction to us, and His intention and desire is for us to experience considerable joy in our obedience to that instruction.

The source, the substance, and the result of His instruction are all good. It is not without purpose and it is not without effect. Our obedience to God is not meant to be unpleasant or done out of drudgery, for His instruction is not a burden placed upon us.

Instead, our obedience is meant to be done joyfully, for God’s instruction is a blessing given to us. Therefore, when I use the term “joyful obedience,” I don’t just mean that we are to obey joyfully, as if joy is our duty in obedience and we are to generate within ourselves a pleasant feeling about it in order to do it with a good attitude so that we can please God (although this may be true).

What I’m really meaning is that joy is our reward in obedience; that obedience is full of joy, it is joy-full. 

Now don’t hear me wrong. In all this talk of obedience I’m not saying that you’re salvation is based on your obedience or that if you obey God he will somehow be obligated to give you anything. Only a belief in Christ will save you and there is nothing you could do to make God love you more and no amount of neglect to His instruction will make him love you less. I am simply speaking of the nature of obedience according to the essence of God’s instruction.

Obedience is no longer our covenant but it is still our calling, given to us by way of invitation, not coercion. Through obedience to God, you have nothing to earn but so much to gain. God’s instruction to you, as revealed in scripture, is a treasure chest of his goodness and your obedience to that instruction is the means for you to experience it. 

My hope in writing this is for a few reasons. First, as a plea for you to not give up on looking for and beholding God’s goodness. It’s always there and always abundant even though it may seem hidden or disguised at times. If you’re having trouble seeing the goodness of God in your present season, try looking here, in His instruction, which is always available. It reveals the heart of God and leads us in ways everlasting.

Or if you’re feeling burnt out in attempts at obedience that feel joyless or just really hard, I want to encourage you to keep going and not lose heart, for in due time you will reap if you do not grow weary (Galatians 6:9).

And secondly, in order to encourage you to seek this place and find much joy. Whether you’ve never prioritized obedience to God because of a misperception of where life is found or it just hasn’t seemed like that big of a deal to you, or any other reason, there is an opportunity in front of you to know and enjoy God more deeply. 

What I’m not trying to do is lead you to a mindset of legalism where either your faith is dependent on your obedience, you are attempting to earn God’s love, or where you begin to feel spiritually entitled to His blessings, for Christ took all of that away. We now obey God, not to get something from Him but for our own good and out of love for Him (see 1 John 5:3).

A perfect record of obedience is not the end goal, intimacy is. Therefore, what truly matters here is not so much how well you perform God’s commands but your heart behind your obedience and the genuineness of your pursuit. His instruction is not a burden we are chained to but a privilege we are blessed with. It is a mine field of His goodness, and our obedience to that instruction is truly joy-full.

So to end this, let us consider the view of the Psalmist concerning God’s instruction:


12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.
17 Be good to your servant while I live,
    that I may obey your word.
18 Open my eyes that I may see
    wonderful things in your law.
19 I am a stranger on earth;
    do not hide your commands from me.
20 My soul is consumed with longing
    for your laws at all times.
[Psalm 119:12-20 (ESV)]
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