After college, my husband and I moved to North Carolina to pastor at a local church. And I loved it! The winters were milder than anywhere we had lived before. I loved our house. I loved our church. I remember telling the Lord (and my husband) that I never wanted to move any further north than where we currently lived. Two years later, the Lord called us to Michigan.
I moved, begrudgingly. I had terrible sinus issues in Michigan, including surgery and countless trips to a specialist at U of M. It was cold, cloudy and I gave up a successful business in NC. I was obedient in moving, but I was miserable.
My Jonah experience...
About three years into living in Michigan, I was driving through town reminding the Lord how unhappy I was and ultimately that I wanted to move. I know exactly where I was when I heard him speak this to me (in his kind, but direct way) - "You are acting like Jonah, and I need you to stop. I've called you to these people." I remember sitting at the stoplight recognizing that I was indeed acting just like Jonah. That kind correction prompted me to begin asking the Lord to help me find joy in obedience. Still, with significant challenges, we spent the next four years in Michigan finding joy in obedience.
Fast forward about five years after my "Jonah experience,” I was in a meeting with some other pastors and leaders. We were discussing how to be intentional in our discipleship process. A team member shared how important it is to acknowledge that following Jesus is difficult and there is often sacrifice involved.
"Then he said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.'" - Luke 9:23-24
I reflected on my experience in Michigan and other life experiences and was reminded how true this is. I also remembered the joy God began to show me in when I honored him with full obedience. I believe very few people choose not to follow God because it is too difficult to be obedient. I believe they fall away because they have not yet experienced the joy in obedience.
The Biblical word for “obey” comes from the Greek “hupakou” which means to listen attentively.
As it relates to discipleship...
When we make obedience a "dirty word," we remove the potential to find joy in obedience. We unintentionally create rule-following disciples who will fall away when they encounter actual challenges. Why? Because they have been taught that obedience is about restriction as opposed to living in freedom. There is redemptive power in allowing the Lord to teach us joy in the midst of trial. There is joy in obedience.
Based on personal observation and experience, a KEY thread that binds together a disciple’s heart to God’s heart is the deeply rooted confidence that God is good even in the midst of trial. Learning the joy of the Lord in the midst of the trial affirms deep within us that HE IS GOOD and His character remains unchanged in the midst of our circumstance. He is the bringer of joy, the redeemer of all things and the one who always walks with us. Especially in our trials.
If you're like me...
You've been in circumstances where you've had to find the joy. My search for joy in obedience led me to one question: Do I really believe that God is good and that his character remains unchanged? Choosing to believe that God is still good in the midst of trial has been the most significant decision in my walk with God. My belief in his constant goodness is the foundation that allowed me to find joy in obedience.
My belief in his constant goodness is the foundation that allowed me to find joy in obedience.
The Lord often affirms his goodness and my joy through intercessory prayer and worship. He has used these songs to align my heart with his many times. Check them out :)