This is the tenth message on the topic of worry and fretting.
Just as I am learning to trust God by yielding my life to him in the subtraction of grace, I am gaining peace with God in the discipline of obedience.
There are those whose lives have been ravaged by legalism who have a hard time equating obedience with grace. Others are indoctrinated with relativism to the point that they cannot conceive of a loving God requiring anything of them. If we pray “Thy will be done. . .” with sincere hearts, however, we are conceding the direction of our life path to our Father in heaven.
Let’s get this straight. To worry is to disobey God. It is a distrust of God (Matt 6:25-34). Worry tells God, “Despite what you are saying to me (1 Pet 5:7), you don’t really love me and you won’t take care of me.” That is an attitude that breaks relationships.
Worry is also a sin because it refuses to accept God’s providence in my life. The Word of God says that “God will provide all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). The Word tells us that “All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Worry says, “Nice thoughts, Lord. I’ll print them off in a nice font and tape them to the refrigerator, but I will work through this problem and clean it up before I bring it to you.” He is calling us to bring him our needs and our circumstances and we are holding on in the rebellious arrogance that we can do better with what concerns us than he can.
So we toss and turn, fret and worry, push and pull, manipulate and control to try to have it our way against the will of the One who made us and knows us best. Things seem so murky to us and here is why– “Peace, peace, to the far and near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its water tosses up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked” (Isa 57:19-21).
We cannot have peace with God without obeying God. It would be disingenuous to sever thoughts of grace–the providence of a sovereign and loving God–from thoughts of obedience–the recognition of God’s sovereign authority over our lives. So let’s talk about what it means to obey God.
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
as on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors put me to the test,
though they had seen my works for forty years.
Therefore I was angry with that generation,
and I said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts,
and they have not known my ways.’As in my anger I swore,
‘They will not enter my rest.'”
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart
that turns away from the living God.
I pray to partake of the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. In my mind’s eye during morning prayer, I see my life as a blue lake in a windless dawn with the snowy mountains above it reflected in the perfect stillness.
I am not meditating on the image of a lake. It is just the picture that enters my thought as I pray for the Lord to calm and quiet the fretting of my soul that is turbulent with currents of pride and judgment competing with the Holy Spirit for dominance over me. Stillness before my God is my first obedience to him.
“Even the winds and the sea obey him,” the shocked disciples said of Jesus after witnessing him subdue a violent storm into a dead calm (Mt 8:26-27).
“I hear you” is a responsive phrase in current vogue. It conveys the message that the listener has understood and accepts what he or she has been told and will follow through on the message. As any parent, lover or friend knows, it is a wonderful thing to be heard and understood in a manner that leads to positive action. This is the plaintive but loving thought of God spoken through the prophet Jeremiah to his wayward children when he said:
and give you a pleasant land,
the most beautiful heritage of all the nations.
And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me. (Jer 3:19)
Careful listening is the heart of obedience. The word “obey” has roots in Latin words meaning “to listen” and “to hear” as in receiving instructions accurately and following through on them. “Obedience” is the word for the act of obeying.
Obedience is a despised concept these days when self-esteem is exalted to doctrinal status and individualism is prized above community. Frank Sinatra’s voice warbles “I Did It My Way” on 10,000 elevators. “You can’t tell me what to do” is a phrase that springs up like weeds at home or workplace and in our hearts against parents, leaders, colleagues, spouses and friends.
We are also conditioned by centuries of patriarchal, oligarchical and totalitarian abuses that have offended God-given sensibilities with rock-walled platitudes like “Because I said so, that’s why!” and “God said it (in King James’ English, of course), I believe it and that settles it!” and “My Country–Right or Wrong!” and “When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it!” and “I’m the man, that’s why!” and “You have no right to question anything that I say or do!” or “Do as I say, not as I do!” or “The husband is the hammer in the hand of God, the wife is the chisel and the child is the block of marble being sculpted into godliness.” Is there one of us who hasn’t suffered or caused suffering with one or more of these statements uttered in a coercive effort to take control?
The human soul lacks an effective internal thermostat to temper its reactions. What we find scornful in one we find scornful in all. So we easily transfer our resistance to human authority and cooperation to refusing to follow the instructions of God. It is important to cut through all the cultural wrappings to know that obedience to God is not the same as obedience to humans as the great martyrs through the ages have eloquently witnessed to us.
The original source of our rebellion against God was the proud desire to set our own standards of good and evil rather than to let him guide us. How quickly and permanently we became lost without his guidance. Our desire to go it alone became a barrier between us and our God and we began thrashing around in the resulting darkness hurting ourselves and others. The prophet Isaiah cried out that the result was a loss of peace for humankind.
and there is no justice in their paths.
Their roads they have made crooked;
no one who walks in them knows peace.
Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope like the blind along a wall,
groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among the vigorous as though we were dead.
We all growl like bears;
like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing and denying the Lord,
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words
and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Our peace with God follows our obedience to God just as the calm followed when the wind and the waves heeded Jesus’ command, “Peace! Be still!” (Mk. 4:39).
God pleads for our obedience to his will for our own good. “O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river and your success like the waves of the sea (Isa 48:18).
The principle that obedience leads to peace and success is demonstrated when a student’s cell phone rings and is answered on the first day of the “Dentistry and the Law” course that I am teaching to fourth-year dentistry students. My lecture trails off mid-sentence and I glare at the student who begins a cheerful conversation with no thought to its inappropriateness in that setting. I walk up to her row and stand over her, glaring at her. Seconds pass before she looks up at me. “Please turn that off now and keep it off,” I say tersely. “She rolls her eyes, but complies.
It is necessary to hold the respectful attention of the students before I can impart the intricacies of the Dental Practice Act. Every teacher and student, regardless of subject, knows that learning is impossible without careful attentiveness, although students often forget, or refuse to open, this door to their mind.
Jesus taught his disciples this point with a farming analogy. “The seed is the word of God…But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” (Luke 8:11, 15). Good hearts, like good soil, require the stirring, softening and aeration of tilling, exposure to light and warmth, and irrigation to grow fruit. Hearts or soil are not capable of this in themselves. They must wait, yielded and still, to receive the grace of preparation and planting.
Using a different metaphor to support the same point, a lake must lie limpid and restful in the dawning light to mirror the perfect image of its sheltering mountain. The heart, open and still, in the light of its Maker’s presence is transformed into his image.
The growing seedling and the reflecting lake are both transformed by the light, as we must be transformed by the life of Christ who is “the light of all people” (John 1:4). But there are far more than beautiful metaphors here. There is a harsh truth that we must confront. Worry and fretting are sins. If we do not turn the darkness of our anxious hearts to “The True Light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:8) then we face the judgment on the side of darkness.
Our resistance to turning over our dark and anxious thoughts to the light of God is truly evil as the Prophet Samuel pointed out to King Saul who did not trust the Lord, but instead insisted on doing things his way and presented the results to God as the best that he could do. “Rebellion is no less a sin then divination (turning away from God for answers), and stubbornness is iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam 15:23).
Jesus told Nicodemus, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may clearly be seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:20-21).
The glory of Christ is grace and truth (John 1:14). His grace saves us and provides for us (Eph 2:8-10). His truth sets us free (John 8:31-32, 36). He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” (Mt 1:23). He comes to us for us. The ultimate obedience, and the healing of fear, is to accept his love and live within it.
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him.”
Under the mercy of Christ,