The Intimacy of Obedience
The Tragic Events at Cornerstone:
By now, each of us has heard and is grieving with the families who have experienced a tragic loss last night and with the church body and staff at Cornerstone. We are called in times like these to grieve with those who are grieving, and we are called to intercede for our brothers and sisters in prayer. We do this knowing that the Lord is a firm and steady place and that he is close to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:18). Finally, we are also called to lament and pray against the darkness and evil of this age.
What’s the point of lament? – Lament gives dignity to our pain and suffering.
- Lament is the prayerful process of vocalizing our grief, pain, and displeasure in this broken world. It is not leveling accusations against God for being unjust or causing suffering in our lives because of some spontaneous or volatile anger.
- It allows us to protest sin and brokenness.
- It helps us process emotions caused by sin and selfishness.
- It restores dignity to our pain and suffering by giving it a voice.
Would you join me in praying for Cornerstone, the students present, and the families experiencing loss?
Heavenly Father, we come once again to you to express and mourn the brokenness and devastation that comes with sin in this age. We grieve with our brothers and sisters at Cornerstone and with the families that are grappling with processing the immense weight of loss. Father, we know that you are not distant in these moments. Instead, we know that just as Jesus wept over Lazarus, you are weeping with us over this tragedy right now. Would you, through the power and presence of your Spirit, comfort all who are grieving, scared, and traumatized right now? Would you send the right people into their lives in the days, weeks, and years to help them process and heal from this event? Would you, Lord Jesus, be made clear in and through this moment? You are the hope of the world. You are the one who ushers us into the wholeness of new life. And, you are the one who will, in the end, restore all things and fix the broken mess we’ve made. Father, we know and confess that this is not how it was supposed to be. Yet, we know that you are more than enough to meet us at this moment. Please, incline your ear, make known your presence, and bring comfort to the hurting and grieving. Father, thank you for not being distant or disengaged from us in a time like this. Lord Jesus, come soon and restore this broken world.
Obedience can be a difficult concept to hold in a healthy way for Christians. In that, we too often confuse the performance or consistency of our obedience with the validity and worth of our personhood. This isn’t just a spiritual problem. We experience this imbalance in other spheres as well. Here are a few examples from my life.
Athletics – There is no environment that, in theory, is as meritorious as sports. Your performance dictates your position. And while there are lots of good lessons that athletics teaches us, teamwork, endurance, and physical and emotional perseverance, it plays into our broken sense of value that is earned via performance or obedience. My coach in college liked to remind us that there was always a guy waiting to take our spot. In other words, you don’t perform… you don’t play.
Marriage – I’m embarrassed to say how many times I’ve tried to justify a poor attitude or inconsiderate word choice to my wife by saying, “But, look at all the things I do for you!” I know you are rightly shaking your head at me, and so do I as I write this. Yet, how often do we refer to our performance or the actions of obedience in marriage to sweep away or justify some unhealthy response to our spouses? I can’t be the only one, right? And, yes, our obedient love is important for our spouses and the health of our marriages. But, we can too quickly get things out of balance.
Parenting – “Dad, do you still love me even though I’m the worst daughter ever?” Man, my heart just about broke into a hundred pieces when one of my daughters said that to me. The thing about it is that she was being totally genuine and serious. We had just concluded a heartfelt discussion and the resulting punishment after some disobedience. In her mind, her lack of obedience would or should result in the removal of my love for her. As if I only loved her because of her obedience. Yes, I love and value her obedience, but her obedience does not earn my love for my child.
Too often in this life, we have equated or been told that our performance or our obedience is what determines our value and worth to others. That is tragic and damaging and is simply not the case with our Father in Heaven. He loves us because he chose to create us and did so out of himself in that we bear his image. Yes, he loves our obedience, but he doesn’t love us because of our obedience. And, when we obey God, it reflects what we believe to be true about him. We believe that he is good, trustworthy, has the best for us in mind, and ultimately, that he loved us first.
The real beauty of obedience is the intimacy it fosters in our relationship with our Father in Heaven. Skye Jethani notes this reality in his summarizing of the Prodigal Son; he says,
Like the younger son, we often build our identities around what we receive from God. Or like the older son, we find our value in how we serve God. A great deal of effort is expended in faith communities trying to transform people from younger sons into older sons. But this is a fool’s errand, because what mattered most to the father was neither the younger son’s disobedience nor the older son’s obedience, but having his sons with him. And so it is with our Heavenly Father. Reversing the rebellion of Eden and restoring what was lost can only be accomplished when we learn that at the center of God’s heart is having his children with him.
When our obedience is held in the proper tension of this reality, it unlocks a deep and profound intimacy with God. Jesus gives us a picture of this intimacy and the blessing of obedience in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt. 7:24-27). Jesus reminds us that the blessing of our obedience is not that we gain or earn the Father’s love; no, it is instead that we grow in being with God, and as we grow in that way, we reap a harvest of endurance and assurance.
God loves you because he made you.
God desires to be in a relationship with you.
Your obedience reflects the goodness of God and unlocks a depth of intimacy and security with him.
You were created to know and enjoy God; that is your highest good.
 Skye Jethani, With: Reimaging the way you relate to God (2011), p. 95.