Back in the good-ole-days, when I spent my days teaching third-grade students, I tried to impress more than rote “rule-following”.
Every successful elementary-school class depends on rules, of course, and mine was no different. We posted the rules on the wall, and we discussed them daily. Teaching students requires order and structure – every teacher understands this, and most children expect to be under the authority of classroom rules.
But what many students never learn is WHY rules exist.
They understand the expectation to complete assignments and walk in the hall and curtail all urges to punch and kick and bite. Most students agree to follow those rules, (even if they have trouble keeping their end of the bargain). But, again, the reason behind the rule often gets lost in the translation.
That’s why I constantly talked with my students about WHY we follow rules. People who obey just to “stay out of trouble” can’t be trusted when no one is watching. Same for people who obey in hopes of earning rewards. I encouraged my students to be better than that – to do the right thing regardless of the audience. I encouraged them to look beyond the rule and find the purpose . . . and even when they couldn’t see it, to trust me (the rule-maker) that there is one.
I mention that because it reminds me of how so many Christians view the concept of obedience. Some people claim to be followers of Christ, but refuse to submit to His leadership. They accept His Grace, but they ignore His authority.
Others reluctantly submit to “follow the rules”, but do so with the attitude of a immature grade-schooler – they hope that toeing the line (so to speak) will force God to bless them, or at least keep them on His good side. This type of obedience harkens to the Pharisees, who proudly kept the law as well as anyone could, and expected a reward.
Jesus obviously rebuffed the Pharisees, and He rejects empty obedience from us as well. Yes, He wants us to live by Godly Wisdom, which means following some rules and principles that He left – but He never wants us to grasp those things reluctantly. Instead, He wants us to understand the heart behind our obedience.
Look at how Solomon expressed this idea in Proverbs 3: 1-2 – “My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring your prosperity.”
Notice, Solomon says to keep the commands in your heart. In other words, don’t just go through the motions. Keep them joyfully, as a committed follower. Discover the heart behind what is being asked, and the heart of the One who is asking. Solomon promises that this type of obedience brings “prosperity.”
In case you are wondering, Solomon eventually clarifies the type of prosperity this obedience brings. Think of something greater than riches or power or fame. Instead, he writes, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
In other words, His way will keep you from the sin-induced suffering found in disobedience. The world’s way leads to pain and dysfunction; God’s way leads to peace.
The point – God loves you, and His rules are given to provide for you and to protect you. Appreciate the fact that there is a more excellent way than what comes naturally to us – there is a way that leads to life that is truly life.
Choose to obey in love. Trust in God, and He will make your paths straight.