The Challenge of Obedience

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.

Jeremiah 42:

At the end of Jeremiah 41, the remnant of the Jewish people left by the Babylonians in Judah “prepared to leave for Egypt” (41:17). They were understandably fearful of the Babylonians, especially after a Jewish rebel had recently killed the governor and several Babylonian soldiers.

But before they took flight, the remnant sought out Jeremiah, asking him to pray for them so that they might receive God’s guidance (42:2-3). They vowed to follow the word of the Lord as it came through Jeremiah. “Whether we like it or not,” they said, “we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us” (42:6).

The Hebrew underlying the NLT phrase “whether we like it or not” reads literally “if it is good and if it is bad” (’im-tov we’im-ra‘). This is probably best understood in the sense: “if it seems to be good or if it seems to be bad,” since the people professed to believe that all would turn out well if they obeyed God.

When Jeremiah returned with God’s message for the remnant, it was a clear call to remain in Judah. If the people stayed, God would protect them from the Babylonians and bless their lives. But if they rejected God’s word and fled to Egypt, they would be caught in the judgment of God that was about to fall upon Egypt.

No doubt, this was the “bad” that the remnant had feared might come from the lips of Jeremiah. Human wisdom told them that safety would be found in Egypt, and that’s where they had intended to journey. But now they faced a tough decision, to follow God’s word in spite of their own reservations or to reject as false the clear testimony of Jeremiah.

We won’t learn what the remnant did until Monday’s reflection. But, at this point in the story, I simply want to acknowledge that sometimes God’s ways can seem “bad” to us. Forgiving someone who has wronged us can seem crazy. Confronting directly someone who has hurt us can feel much less satisfying than holding a grudge and gossiping. Saving sex for marriage can appear as old-fashioned prudishness. Being truthful, even at the risk of stalling in our career, can feel foolish. And so on, and so on. Like the remnant of Judah, we often find ourselves with the choice to obey the Lord even when we don’t want to.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you ever been in a situation where you had to choose between what seemed best to you and what you believed God wanted you to do? What happened? What helps you to obey the Lord even when it’s unpopular or contrary to cultural norms?

PRAYER: Gracious God, most of the time, I can see the rightness of your way. Even when I resist, I can discern that what you are wanting for me is best.

But there are times when I am caught, much as the remnant of Judah was caught. I truly want your will, but what seems to be your will also seems to be wrong. I find myself having to trust you or me, one way or the other.

Forgive me, dear Lord, when I choose my way rather than yours. Sometimes, Lord, I am bullheaded enough to do what I want. Period. Please don’t hold this against me.

Help me, I pray, to trust you, to know deep in my heart that your ways are always the best. By your Spirit, may I obey you even when I am forced to swim against the tide of the culture, even when I can’t understand your ways.

I pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.
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