I don’t make big decisions well.
I’m the kind of person who waffles back and forth, uncertain of which option to choose. This has meant buying a house, purchasing a new car or accepting a new position in a different town have all been painful processes for me. It often takes an artificial deadline or someone else’s timeline to push me to choose.
As a pastor, the most common questions I get are around people discerning God’s voice and knowing God’s will. In that context, the subject of obedience often comes up. Over the years, I’ve encountered three big reasons why we (and I include myself in these struggles) don’t always follow Jesus in obedience—and they all circle around fear. Here are three “lifehacks” to get past them.
Hack 1: Remember Obedience Doesn’t Equal Control
Obedience doesn’t equal control. When Jesus is our leader and we are His followers, He is sovereign over the outcome of our obedience. Yet, when I realize what could happen if I obeyed God in a certain, I often want to determine the outcome before I take a step of obedience. I know many friends who struggle with wanting to know what will happen after their obedience before they will obey. And we just can’t know!
In John 21, we read how Jesus forgave Peter for his denial and restored him. Jesus also shared with Peter about his future where he would not be in control of his future. “Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Following Jesus leads us to opportunities where we can choose to surrender more control of our lives each day. But surrender is never easy.
Hack 2: Remember Fear Can Be a Sign of Obedience
When things don’t make sense, we struggle.
Many of us don’t obey because we think we have to understand before we obey. One of my pastors regularly said, “obedience doesn’t require understanding.” That’s true, but it’s also incomplete. Obedience doesn’t require understanding, but it does require trust. I believe we obey God to the extent we trust Him. But when our trust in Him ends and we only trust ourselves, we get stuck.
Oceans by Hillsong is one of the scariest songs we sing in church. We sing this beautiful refrain, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.”
The song is incredible, but I wonder if we ever consider what the lyrics mean. We’re asking God to lead us beyond the borders of our trust and understanding. Obedience in those kinds of places is terrifying. But sometimes fear is a sign we’re following God in the right direction.
Remember Holds the Future of Your Friends and Family, Too
In the entry for January 11, Chambers writes, “If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins.” Later, he warns, “Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him.”
I have some friends who are working through a big decision in their life, which may change the place where they do ministry. They’re struggling because they have a hunch that once they leave, others will speak badly about them, misrepresent their actions, and tarnish their legacy. My friends are also struggling to step out because they’re afraid of what will happen to the people they’ve loved and served once they’re gone. They feel responsible for those people, which is very normal.
I’ve been encouraging my friends, using Chambers’ words, to step forward in obedience. I’ve been reminding them, “God is well-aware of the consequences.” If they can trust God with their personal futures, they can also trust God with the future of the people they’re leaving behind, who ultimately belong to God more than them. (Notice how much easier it is to tell this to other people than it is to live this ourselves!)
Chasing the Wild Goose
In his book, Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God, Mark Batterson shares how the Welsh use a unique term to describe Holy Spirit. They call Holy Spirit “the wild goose” because Spirit’s movement rarely makes sense and Spirit refuses to be controlled or confined. If we’re going to follow Holy Spirit and allow Him to be the leader of our lives, we’re going to be led to do some crazy things, down some uncomfortable paths, in some moments where little makes sense to us and those around us.
In those moments, obedience will mean everything.