Obedience is something I've mostly done without complaint, especially when it is something that came from my parents or was a clear direction from the Lord. But, I now know, that most times my heart did not match my actions. I obeyed, and even now often times obey, because I knew, or I know, I should but my heart and mind are rebellious. My actions were obedient, but my heart and mind complained and wanted to not do it or do the opposite. And I think many would say, "But that's ok. You're doing the right thing. Nobody knows that you really don't want to." And here I have to disagree... God knows. And there is no one more important than He toward whom I should have the right motivations in my heart and mind.
All of this came to the forefront of my mind in recent days for two reasons... First, I am studying the book of Exodus in this season of Lent, via the She Reads Truth app. It especially struck me as I read Exodus 4 where Moses makes every excuse under the sun to the Lord on why he was not qualified to do what God was calling him to do but he did eventually go and fulfill his calling. But even more than that came in Exodus 5. I need to back up a minute... At the end of Exodus 4 we see this:
29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.
The Israelites had been pleading to God to save them, to rescue them. And I believe that their prayers and pleading to God were an act of obedience. Who else are we to call on but our heavenly Father. And finally Moses and Aaron show up, praise the Lord, right? God heard, He has sent help, and we are going to be free. But wait, we need to read chapter 5, because what we expect to happen doesn't happen...
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” 4 But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” 6 The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.”
Wait, what? Moses and Aaron are here to rescue the Israelites, but what happened? Pharaoh said no and basically doubled their work. I don't know about you, but that is not how I would want my rescue to work...
But here is where I believe the Israelites faltered in their obedience. Let's look at Exodus 5:20-21...
20 They met Moses and Aaron, who were waiting for them, as they came out from Pharaoh; 21 and they said to them, “The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
Their obedience in following Aaron and Moses was incomplete. As soon as they didn't receive what they wanted, as soon as their rescue didn't look like they wanted it to, they called down God's judgment on Moses and Aaron. They had only worshipped and obeyed because they though they were getting what they wanted. And they did, eventually. And we can look with hindsight and see that not only were they brought into freedom but the Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt were destroyed. And, we also know they were prone to complaining and not trusting God for their provision while in the wilderness. What if God had used the extra work before they were released to strengthen them their ability to withstand hardship? How much more quickly would they have given up if they had been freed immediately? And, how much less would they have appreciated that freedom if it had not come with the extra trial?
The other thing that has had obedience at the forefront of my mind is our move... I find myself regularly in conversations about when, where, and why we are returning to the US. So, the first two are easy... When? December when all of Eden's school activities and concerts are complete... Where? As of the Lord's leading right now, Texas... But why? Yes, I know the answer, but it is so much more than most people want to hear though they probably need to. Why are we returning? Isn't Costa Rica your "home" after so long here? Wouldn't you rather stay? Because the vision God gave to Bart and I, and confirmed through various other people, will be complete. We will have done everything we believe God called us here to do. But even more than that, even if we didn't believe the work was complete, we are heading "home" because God has said to and it is the obedient thing. Yes we love Costa Rica, especially San Vito and the community we have here. Yes, it feels strange to call the US "home" now, but it is where God seems to be calling us. And yes and no... Part of us would love to stay, build a house here, and make this "home" but because we know living outside of obedience with the Lord is not good for our lives, we must move on. These are not our lives to live, they are His to use as He sees fit and to bring Himself glory. And really, nowhere here this side of Heaven will ever really be "home."
So here is where obedience rubs for me, and where the Lord has brought conviction on my heart... One, I realized that in our move to Costa Rica, I was not fully obedient. I held a grudge and I resented the timing, the place, the trials that ensued, and though my body was here, I was not obedient in mind and heart. I obeyed because I believed I would receive something for my obedience, i.e. another child... I was looking for a reward for my obeying. And I got one but not what I expected or thought I deserved at the time.
And, now that we've been here nearly 9 years, I am struggling with some of the same... Just as we have gotten our home to a state that its very comfortable to live in, we have to leave it and start again. Now that we are fully established and have the comforts and things that make this feel like "home" we've got to decide once again what to take and what to leave behind. Just as Eden is entering one of the most difficult times of her life, adolescence, she going to have to leave the only life she has ever really known and start a new one. And, I could go on... But, each day, I am working to move us another step closer to being ready for that move. But this time I am aware that God is working on my heart, just as I believe He did with many of the Israelites as they prepared for their rescue in the hard labor of slavery in Egypt. (Please know I am not equating my trials right now with those of Israel in Egypt. I can't imagine having to live under that kind of tyranny.)
But here is what I keep hearing from the Lord, through His Word...
And this isn't the only place God speaks of not wanting just a "burnt offering", which I believe for us now is our obedience in body alone because our sin has been paid for once and for all by Jesus Christ, but desires the sacrifice of our hearts and minds in obedience too. I encourage you to read them for yourself. Psalm 40:6-7, Isaiah 1:1-17, Jeremiah 7:21-27, Hosea 6:6-7, Mark 12:28-34 I am sure there are others, but these are the ones that I have recently come across...
As I meditate on this scripture, and continue in the story of the Israelites and their Exodus, I believe I understand more of why God is walking me through this bit of wilderness... As I mentioned before, I did receive a "reward" for my obedience, though it's not what I wanted or would have asked for if I had been asked what I wanted. I got God himself. Because of my salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, I have received the greatest reward, a relationship with the God of the universe. What more could I ask for?
For much of my life I have obeyed out of obligation and this is of part how and why I have lacked joy in the journey. Obedience out of obligation is a joy-stealer. It has robbed me of the One my joy comes from. It dampens what I do in obedience because I am always expecting something more, expecting some reward for doing the right thing. And I have more often than not completely missed the Someone more, God Almighty, who is ever present with me, desiring me not because of anything I can do, but simply desiring me.
I am learning to be thankful for this season of obedience and I hope that I am doing it this time, not for what I might get out of it, but for Who I get to know better and deepen my relationship with.
Heather Carty is a wife, a mother, a musician, and a missionary, among many other things. She is a recovering "Older Brother" (see Tim Keller's Prodigal God) who desires to find God's joy in this journey called life. Which, by the way, has not gone at all as she had planned, but has turned out way better than she could have ever imagined.