Philippians 2:7-8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The theme of obedience has been coming to me again and again over the past few years. It is a lesson that I have been slow to learn. But God is patient.
At first glance, the word “obedience” implies restriction, lack of freedom, removal of choice. It brings back memories of childhood, of being prevented from doing those things we wanted to do, or being made to do things we didn’t want to do. “Don’t throw that ball around in the house.” “Pick up your toys.” “Give Aunt Emma a kiss.”
As children and especially as teenagers we often complained, or outright rebelled. Our freedom was being trampled on, our choices taken away. No fair! No fun.
It was only as we grew to adulthood that we could see more clearly the reasons behind our parents’ words and actions. We could see how our obedience, however unwillingly it was bestowed, was what brought us safely through childhood. We could see the places we went wrong by being disobedient. We could even see in hindsight how happy our childhood really was because we had parents who cared enough to set limits.
Obedience takes on a new importance as we journey towards holiness. The lessons we learn in childhood sometimes have to be painfully relearned if we are to make any progress.
A couple of years ago I was undergoing a lengthy and difficult ordeal. It lasted for years. I prayed daily, constantly, to be delivered from it. I agonized over the past and worried about the future. Then, one day, as I prayed I felt led to Psalm 31. That day, Verse 9 leaped out at me: “You will not abandon me into enemy hands, but will set my feet in a free and open space.”
From then on, the verse burned in my heart. It became my new daily prayer. By leading me to this Psalm, I thought, surely God intended to “set my feet in a free and open space”, a space free from this oppressive burden. I prayed this prayer for many months. But nothing changed. Or did it
After many months of praying this prayer, while continuing to carry my burden, I began to recognize my mistake. Instead of living in the daily grace God had given me, I had been attempting to shoulder this burden, past, present and future. I was rebelling against the presence of God in the present by clinging to the problems of the past and borrowing problems from the future. Once I recognized this and began to dwell in the present moment in the grace of God’s presence, I noticed a new feeling of freedom. The burden no longer felt oppressive, because I realized that all I was being asked to do was bear this burden for this day only out of love and trust, in obedience to the will of God. I realized that obedience to the will of God is the only “free and open space” there is, and that it may only be found only in the present moment.
I wish I could say that I did not rebel against the weight of the burden anymore, but after that, I could at least name the rebellion for what it was. Then I could consciously step back into the “free and open space” of obedience to God’s will.
So, my prayer was answered, but as usual, not in the way I expected. I had to humble myself in imitation of Christ, crucify my desires, and fall into step with the will of God. Only then could He “set my feet in a free and open space.”
Thanks be to God! He is a Father who loves us enough to set limits, and in those limits, he sets us free.