Obedience to the Will of God Brings Great Blessings

By Virginia Barber, O.C.D.S

Obedience is not the most popular word in our culture today, but it is a word which should inspire a sense of gratitude, because obedience brings great blessing.

Notice first of all that obedience to the will of God is based on imitating the obedience of Jesus to the will of God the Father. Obedience is a learned virtue. Hebrews 5:8-10 says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, designated by God as high priest according to the order of Melchezedek.”

Obedience is learned through trust in those we obey. We learned to obey our parents as children through trusting in them and doing as they asked which earned us a reward. For instance, mother might say: “If you brush your teeth and get into your pajamas now, I’ll read you a story. “ The child who complies promptly gets the story. Conversely, if the child dawdles and resists the move toward bed, mother will say: “Too bad, you didn’t obey me, there is now no time for a story.” Now if mother reads the story anyway when the child pulls a long face, then the child doesn’t learn to trust the mother’s word, and the child doesn’t learn obedience. That is why obedience is an exercise of faith. One of the important lessons that I learned about life I learned from my father when he was trying to teach me how to catch a baseball. I was a terrible baseball player, but I loved the game. I couldn’t catch the ball because the ball hurt when it hit my hand. It may have been a softball, but it wasn’t soft. I was afraid of the ball. My dad had played minor league ball in Canada in his youth, so he was the neighborhood coach. My dad taught me that if I moved my hand and arm backwards in the same direction the ball was moving when I caught it, the ball wouldn’t hurt. It was resistance that made it hurt. A little give would make catching it possible. You know? That not only worked for baseballs, it works for a lot of things in life! But in order to learn the lesson, I had to trust my dad’s instruction. If I had never put his words into action and caught the ball, I’d never have learned it!

Before we look at this any farther, let us return to our basic premise that the first beatitude, the bliss of the poor in spirit is the key to following the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience according to our state in life. William Barclay developed the teaching to arrive at the restatement of the beatitude as follows: “O the bliss of the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God, for thus alone can he render to God that perfect obedience which will make him a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered, and endured, because he trusted in his Father’s wisdom, love, and word. He began learning obedience as a child in his home in Nazareth Remember, in Luke 2:51 after his parents found him , it says: “He went down with them then, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” He didn’t learn it through punishment as we often do, he learned it through knowing and experiencing that perfect obedience brought him perfect peace and union with the Father, even when what he had to go through was painful. He learned it through love. In the Gospel of John we have Jesus’ own words on his life in obedience to the Father.

In John 8:28-29 Jesus says: “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will come to realize that I AM and that I do nothing by myself. I say only what the Father has taught me. The One who sent me is with me. He has not deserted me since I always do what pleases him.” Following in verse 31-32, he says: If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Obedience brings the blessing of true freedom, the freedom from slavery to sin and freedom for intimacy and union with God in his service.

In Chapter 12 of John, Jesus gives a summary of his proclamation which ends in these lines of verses 47-50: “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I am not the one to condemn him, for I did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words already has his judge, namely, the word I have spoken--it is that which will condemn him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own; no, the Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to speak. Since I know that his commandment means eternal life, whatever I say is spoken just as he instructed me.” See, Jesus is obedient because he knows eternal life depends on it, and he knows that the Father’s word is faithful and final.

In John 15:10-16 of Jesus’ last discourse, Jesus instructs his disciples and us: You will live in my love if you keep my commandments, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and live in his love. All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if You do what I command you. I no longer speak of you as slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. Instead, I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father.” The blessing of obedience is complete joy in friendship with Jesus.

The apostles learned their lessons from Jesus well. They learned the blessings of purity of heart, of poverty and of obedience. St. Paul has much to say in Romans about the slavery of sin and the freedom we have in obedience of faith. In the book of Hebrews, the writer speaks of Abraham’s obedience of faith in Chapter 11:8 as follows: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called, and went forth to the place he was to receive as a heritage; he went forth, moreover, not knowing where he was going.” James tells us to “be doers of the word and not hearers only”. St. Peter writes in I Peter: “By obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves for a genuine love of your brothers; therefore, love one another constantly from the heart.” Peter learned so well the blessing of obedience that he along with the other apostles could say: “Better for us to obey God than men!” when they were arrested and appeared before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29.

We can, then, render obedience to the Church’s teaching trusting that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. In so doing, we are rendering obedience to the will of God. We can also render obedience to just laws of our land. Paul, writing to Titus says: “Remind people to be loyally subject to the government and its officials, to obey the laws, to be ready to take on any honest employment”. Hebrews 13:17 directs us: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over you as men who must render an account. So act that they may fulfill their task with joy, not with sorrow, for that would be harmful to you.”

So then, to summarize the bliss of obedience: Faith and trust in God are the necessary prerequisites for obedience. Obedience frees us for friendship, intimacy and union with God through Christ. Obedience makes us citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven where God’s will is done perfectly and therein lies all our joy and peace, our bliss, the beatitude of God.

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