Obedience v. Faithfulness
Personally, I dislike the word obedience. It reminds me of my childhood and having to do everything exactly the way my parents or my teacher wanted. No wonder that as teen-agers we are so rebellious; we are almost old enough to decide what and how and when to do something or not—on our own! Obedience smacks of the letter-of-the-law perfection that so many of us grew up with and/or found in our churches. It is all about looking good, without any total involvement of the person, so there is no punishment awaiting us.
I think that God is asking of us much more than mere obedience. We think that we can obey all the laws perfectly without being totally involved in God, without loving anyone, like the Pharisees that Jesus railed against. As Jesus sums up the law and the prophets, we are to love God with all of ourselves: with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul and all of our strength. All of ourselves…all of our doubts, all of our resentments, all of our thoughts, all of who we are, or as I like to say, the good, the bad and the ugly(after the old western movie title).
Bringing all of ourselves to our devotion to God is about faithfulness, not perfection. It means that when we trip over our doubts or other thoughts, or we fail to treat someone with love, for example, we pick ourselves up and focus our whole selves on God again. It means that we allow ourselves our human imperfections AND devote ourselves to God.
Fidelity, loyalty, constancy, devotion, trueness, true-heartedness, dedication, commitment, allegiance, adherence are the most-used synonyms for faithfulness. We could add love, as well. Faithfulness should strengthen in us over time. We start with a commitment to be faithful to God, and then practice it, failing maybe as often as we keep that commitment, at least at first. But, as we gain experience in following God’s Indwelling Spirit, and as He heals us of our burdens, we are strengthening our ability to be true to that commitment until it is so easy for us that we don’t even have to think about it. We just follow the Lord, no matter what. And without any objections. Finally, we are totally His.
Faithfulness takes a lot of surrender: surrender of our will, of our expectations, of our preferences, of our way of doing things. And surrender takes a lot of practice. I am pretty darn good at surrender these days 37 years after committing myself to the Lord. 37 years of surrendering to small things, like the day not going as I planned, and to many big things like my husband dying of cancer or being challenged to love my mother. Surrender, at first and for a long time, was accompanied by resentment from not getting my way, but still giving it up to God. And then I always wanted to know why something was happening, but I finally had to give up the why question because I decided that it didn’t really matter, this thing or person was in my life and I had to deal with it.
By the time my husband died after giving my life to Christ, I had surrendered to so many things that when God called me on my resistance to the return of his cancer with this thought, “If you can just hold all possible outcomes equally, well then…,” I immediately began to surrender to that idea. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
Now, I am experiencing no objections to any changes in my day or in my life. All I do is see that something other than what I expected is happening and I flex. No objections, no resentment, no nothing. Just an “Oh,” noticing what is happening and immediately adapting. Surrender and faithfulness, in my experience, go hand-in-hand; over time as I have practiced both they have gotten easier and easier until they are now effortless.
And then, what happens? Well, I am having the most interesting life, just awaiting what the Lord will do next. Yesterday(that is, March 6th when I am writing this all down), three people that I wanted to talk to popped up unannounced. A___, at a coffee shop where I was reading. F______ at church, and the pastor was going out of a room as I was going in. I was delighted to see each of them, one a close friend I hadn’t seen in months. Also, yesterday I wanted to drop off some supplies at my church for the women’s retreat, but no one was in the office to unlock the door. At that moment another member who just happened to have a key came by and let me in!
Since I no longer cling to my agenda and expectations, I am often astonished at what happens. It’s just perfect! Always. And then there is the presence of God with me throughout my days, which brings tears to my eyes as I dwell in His presence. I can’t begin to express what the faithfulness of the Lord has brought me as I meet his faithfulness with my own.
Faithfulness includes following the law, but not the letter-of-the law approach so much as the Spirit of the law. Perfection as it is used in the saying, “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect,”  means perfect in the sense of completion and fulfilment, not to be the goody-two-shoes that we were supposed to be as children. Being faithful gives us more freedom to see each event that happens to us without judgment, to see it just as it is, without the layering of our expectations, of our preferences. It is just what it us. There is no judgment attached to it about us, it is just what is right now in our lives. And so we can face it without resistance.
We could even look at it as our next lesson in the school called “life on this planet” that we are to learn. I am convinced that our suffering goes down to nothing when we don’t resist what is happening to us. No matter how we might have felt in the past, we are now free to just assess the situation, to see what it is asking of us and to move on that assessment. Christ is carrying our burdens so we are free, free like we have never been before, to just be who we are and to go with what is happening to us.
Let’s go back to the difference between obedience and faithfulness. We can stay in obedience forever without ever giving our will over to God, we can stay resentful, giving lip-service to the law. But faithfulness is transformative. Being faithful means that we are seeing how faithful God is in teaching us what we need to know, in healing us gradually of all that comes between us and Him. So, as we are obeying what He is giving us to do and to say, we are also giving our lives over to Him to reign. Our focus is on God and what He is saying directly to each of us. With obedience we are focused on the law(not on God) and just making sure that we got it right; with faithfulness, we are resting in His wisdom for us.
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I trying to obedient to God or faithful to Him? Am I willing to go beyond mere obedience to true faithfulness in everything I do? How much of myself/my time/my attention do I devote to God? If I were to more towards more faithfulness, what would be the first step? And the second? [Just address the questions that seem to resonate with you.]
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are faithful to Him in all that we do. May we be full of His love and forgiveness and mercy. May we be devoted to Him.
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 Matthew all of Chapter 23
 Luke 10:27
 2 Corinthians 3:6, Matthew 22:34-40
 Matthew 5:48
 Goodrick & Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Concordance, 2nd Edition, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1999, #5455, 5457 teleios, p. 1596
 Matthew 11:28-30