Practicing the Better: Obedience

Of course, God includes in the Covenant the expectation that we will obey it.  Every relationship is honored, made real, and strengthened by obedience. Our relationship with God is no different.

But in the Covenant (that is rooted in God’s love for us, and our loving God and loving others) obedience is more than doing our duty.  It is expressing our delight.  Duty can be minimalistic (e.g. “what’s the least I can do and still be accepted?”), but delight never can be.  In the delight of knowing we are God’s beloved, we look for every opportunity to enact the two great commandments.

But there is still more.  The root of obedience is listening–listening with the intention to put into practice what we hear. God is constantly speaking and showing (revelation), our task is to be constantly listening and looking (response).  This is why attentiveness is considered to be at the heart of the spiritual life, why Jesus wanted us to have seeing eyes and hearing ears (Mark 8:18), why Jean-Pierre de Caussade spoke of “the sacrament of the present moment,” and Henri Nouwen wrote that we are to live ” here and now. ”

Study the saints of the ages, and they tell us, “Every moment is a God-monent.” Francis and Clare related to everyone they met as if the person were Christ. Macrina Wiederkehr reminds us that every tree is full of angels.  Richard Rohr emphasizes that each day is sufficient to reveal God’s presence and to ignite our service.  We recognize by practicing what Walter Brueggemann calls “deep listening,” –what we refer to as prayer.

Obedience is action born of contemplation.  With respect to the practice of the better, it means we need never look elsewhere to do good.  We do not know whom we will meet next, but we do know what we are to do when we meet them. Love them.  This is the essence of obedience.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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