Last month we stopped winking at Jesus from across the room with concerns about our schedule, and committed instead to rest in His labor, and become a guest at His table. Yes, December remembered how to listen like Mary at the feet of the Word made flesh. But more like Martha came January, as we asked Jesus to have a seat and again be our guest.
Cleverly Obedient: Merit or Misunderstood?
One recent evening, my wife and I returned home from celebrating our anniversary and were presented with a sweet surprise. Our oldest daughter (age 13) had created from scratch (no recipe) a gluten free, peanut buttery, chocolate cake. It was not only delicious but thoughtfully labor intensive. My wife doesn’t eat wheat so my daughter had to do more than empty a box – she took initiative and really persevered to please us. She’s a great kid.
The real surprise came when our younger daughter (age 12), who is jealously competitive, made no effort to grab the gusto for herself. Like most kids, she lives for mom and dad’s spotlight – especially when her sister has taken the stage. And she can masterfully attain equal billing with one stroll through the kitchen. “Found the cocoa for you -they’ll love our surprise -I’ll be reading in the other room if you need more help”. But this time was different. We cut the cake, praised the chef and nothing was said. She’s up to something…
A couple of hugs later we discovered that our in-house baker had still not cleaned her room, walked the dog, or taken a bath, as we requested. On the other hand, the one who wouldn’t lift a finger to help with our surprise, had indeed cleaned her room, walked the dog, and taken a bath (as requested). We understand that siblings come in different kinds of gift wrap, and those gifts require a little freedom of expression while being unwrapped. But at the end of the day, every dog needs a walk and every kid needs a bath. So in spite of our sweet distraction, it was obvious that only one of our children had been obedient, but not necessarily for the obvious reason.
Obedience Begins With Rest Not Labor
The perception may be that we consider it better to be uncaringly obedient than warm-heartedly disobedient. But what I’m really suggesting is that obedience begins with rest not labor – by being the guest, not the waiter.
This may sound a little strange at first, but that’s because we’re used to following our own standards. In the flesh (by default not textbook) we measure obedience by looking at the end results of our labor. Our obedience equals what we’ve produced. But Jesus measures obedience by looking at our willingness to rest in His labor, and submitting to His authority. So it’s not about our work but about willingness to rest in His work. The difference is subtle but it matters; just as a one degree difference will eventually take parallel paths in opposite directions. It matters because one magnifies us, the other magnifies Him.
The other obstacle we face is the nature of our flesh. We just plain old think we’re God and so we act like it. Whether it’s from arrogance or ignorance, we believe we know best and subsequently take matters into our own hands. We get hooked on the controlled substance of controlling substances and live for starting fires that we can’t put out. We love directing traffic, laboring, earning, leading, hosting – plug in whatever you want. And again… we believe we’ve been obedient if we’ve produced the intended result or made a good effort – labor, labor and more labor is the focus of fleshly minded obedience.
Peter Resisted Becoming His Guest
Why did Peter resist Jesus’ initial effort to wash his feet? Same idea…because in his un-renewed mind he couldn’t allow his respected teacher to be the server. And even after Jesus rebuked him, he still tried to take charge by suggesting a better way. Have a look… John 13: 8-9
Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
But Jesus wanted Peter to be the guest, not the server, waiter or host. He wants us to begin each moment by resting in, listening to, and learning from Him (He is our portion). We have to be willing to be served by Him before we can serve anyone (Him included). It may sound a bit selfish, but this is an inescapable truth and the enemy vehemently hates it. He twists the truth so an un-renewed mind sees rest as pride and labor as humility.
Mary’s Rest Is Martha’s Stress
When I look at my personal example above, it reminds me of the Mary and Martha story Luke 10:38-42. And as I make application, the depth of that passage really changes the focal point of my daughters’ obedience and disobedience.
I now understand that my younger daughter was obedient, not because she walked the dog, but because she rested in our authority. She listened like Mary who made knowing God’s word her highest priority. My older daughter was disobedient, not because she failed to walk the dog, but because she rejected our authority. She resisted it just as Peter did and because of that she worked in vain like Martha by assuming it was best. The younger rested in our authority by listening, the older labored against it by assuming – make sense?
Regarding obedience and how it works: Our ability to recognize these hairlike differences between what we believe and actuallly do, can make the difference between a wasted life and a productive one. I believe this subject is that important as God has laid it on my heart!
Later this week: Why This Really Matters To Each Of Us
The subject is easy to ignore because it seems like we’re just toying with sematics. But if we take time to make it personal, it will cut to the heart of whether or not we are bible-literate believers. And that is the key for real intimacy with God. Next post we’ll dig in with a close look at Mary & Martha and try to provide more practical application to these ideas.
Just a personal note: (if you have an extra minute…)
For many of us, last year was the toughest year of our lives, filled with painful trials. For all of you who have shared your struggles and testimonies, we continue to lift up your concerns to the Lord, as you have lifted ours.
Our 2010 began by having a sheriff’s deputy knock on our door to deliver a court summons for debts we couldn’t pay. We had to send our 18 year old son out of our house without warning as a dose of tough love – he didnt return for 11 months. We lost family relationships and suffered harsh judgments. We went through two foreclosures and the stress of being forced out. Our phones never stopped ringing with collection calls and our marriage came under heavy fire to the point of becoming tired and sometimes bitter, roommates.
In the late summer we fell to our lowest place having no means of paying our expenses or even buying food. It was a dark and lonely year for us. Our faith was shaken to the core. In the end, we held on to nothing (not even each other), nothing but God’s word. In the process he held on to us. At the darkest moment I could do nothing but write down my thoughts which eventually became this blog. I had no idea anyone would actually read it but God has used it to bring us new friends and a wealth of prayers and encouragement. He has also used it to teach me who I am.
In the closing months of 2010 God radically restored our lives – our son returned home, our finances were stabilized, toxic relationships were replaced by Godly ones, and our marriage has been rebuilt on a new foundation. God is more than good, He is God! There is much further yet to travel so please continue to pray for us as we aim to draw near to God and serve the way he intended. My hope this year is that God would be pleased to develop “Wake Up My Faith” into a humble teaching ministry that will revive in people a hunger for His word and the courage to walk in true faith.
Blessings to you friends – we love you!
Please contact me for prayer, encouragement or otherwise by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or connecting with me on facebook.
Your brother in Christ,