“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”James 1: 22-25
Over the past month, God has been challenging me in the area of obedience towards Him. The Bible talks a great deal about following God’s commands and trusting His will, but how many of us can admit to pushing our own agenda more often than not? This usually also means we are probably living outside of the will of God. For me personally, I had gotten so comfortable doing things my way that the idea of fully surrendering my plans to Him was a stretch. I’ve always viewed myself as a “good girl”. Mind my own business, stay out of trouble, keep the peace, don’t cuss, be nice to others, go to church, and follow most of the rules. But this particular season that I’m in is teaching me that there is far more to obedience than just “doing what I’m told” and hoping the consequences aren’t too bad if I don’t.
To begin, the posture of our heart matters. What is your motivation for being obedient? Are you afraid of the consequences if you don’t? Are you following suit so you can get a pat on the back from those who see you? Are you merely complying even though you really don’t agree? Or are you being obedient because you know that “it” is for your good, and because you have a deep love and respect for God? Is it because you want to please Him? These things matter. The way you view what it is you are complying with makes a difference in whether or not you will be successful.
I realized that the reason I kept (past tense – I’m speaking my freedom into existence) falling short in certain areas is because my reasons for trying to comply weren’t rooted in right intentions. Trying to prove myself worthy is the wrong motive. Attempting to maintain a “good girl” image is the wrong motive. Being afraid of consequences is not enough to sustain obedience. These motives were all rooted in self. What do I want? What will people think of me? Will I miss out on my blessing if I do disobey? I’m in a process of learning to shift the focus from my own desires to focusing more on God and what it means to really love and respect Him. I’m learning that I have to be committed to obeying Him out of pure love, knowing that He is only trying to do what’s best for me.
Now let’s talk about commitment and its role in being obedient. Have you ever wanted to break a bad habit, but at the same time you weren’t ready to say goodbye to it forever? Yeah, me too. On the one hand, I do want to be free. I do want to please God. I do want to try to be as much like Christ as I can. But, this thing – whatever ‘it’ may be – is pleasing to me. This thing helps me to cope. This thing isn’t causing any real harm to anyone. My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. Sound familiar? So how do we go from wanting to be stronger and please God in this area, to actually being stronger? We have to commit. It’s not at all as simple as that, but this is the first step. Change starts in the mind. If we want to get serious about being obedient towards God, we first have to be committed to Him.
**Disclaimer – sometimes we can commit and still fall short. Luckily for us, God is merciful and His grace is sufficient. He understands our weaknesses. He knew we were going to slip long before the temptation ever appeared. Trust me, this is not my first time re-committing to the same process yet again. However, I got back up and decided to keep trying. I decided to do even better this time. Go even harder this time. Pin point my triggers and weak spots, and choose to do something differently in those moments. I’m claiming in advance that this was the last time I’d have to restart. This is encouragement from me to you to get back up. God is not keeping track of how many times we have had to give it another go. Remember, it’s your heart posture and commitment that matter.
Next, we also need to consider the role of discipline and self-control in this process. So we made the decision to get serious and remain steadfast in our commitment. Now we have to stand firm in that, and walk it out. This is the hardest part. It’s one thing to say we’re going to be obedient. It’s a whole new ball game to actually put it into action. God has been strengthening my discipline in ways I’ve never allowed Him to before. He has me pursuing purity in a deeper way – not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. He also has me temporarily separated from my man. This in itself is forcing me to use more self-control than I have in the past. Everyday I’m tempted to move ahead of God in this situation, but I committed to waiting on Him this time. On top of practicing purity and not being able to talk to my lover, I’ve also decided to not drink any alcohol (wine included), or consume dairy. These were both healthy decisions for me. Together, these definitely create a major challenge for me, and that’s an understatement. But I’m proud of how far I’ve made it so far.
I’m already doing better than I have in the past. Old Jourdan would have reached out to her man by now, ordered a pizza, drank a glass of wine to go with it, and had my R&B playing in the background. Instead, when I’m feeling extra emotional, I’ll pray or write a letter to my guy about how I’m feeling in that moment (a letter that won’t be sent of course). I considered ordering a pizza the other day, but remembered I’m not eating dairy, so I forced myself to cook instead. And when I had my R&B station going and a song that was a little too sensual came on, I had the wisdom and will-power to switch to my r&b-sounding-gospel music (check out Deitrick Haddon).
I love what God is doing within me. Every time I resist any of my urges is a win. He’s teaching me to have self-control. To run to Him when I’m feeling weak and ready to give in. To shift my thoughts from things that are not like Him rather than dwelling on them. There was even a day where I binge watched Netflix and ate my dairy free ice-cream to keep myself from being impulsive. Although I didn’t run to God in that particular moment, I did what I could to not fall short. Everyday is a challenge, but with every win, I feel stronger. Every time I resist, I can feel God’s power working in me. The more we practice self-control, the more disciplined we will become.
Another lesson that this process has been teaching me is that it isn’t enough to just “not do” something. Simply telling myself “don’t do it” isn’t the most helpful strategy. Just sitting here ruminating on how badly I want to do it and weighing the pros and cons will ultimately lead to me giving in sooner than later. Instead, I have to have a battle plan. This is where spiritual disciplines play a huge role. I have to keep God’s words on my heart. I have to have His encouragements stored in my mind for when I need them. There was a day when I was so close to falling, and then I looked up at the scripture on my wall “Be still, and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10. This verse has stopped me in my tracks numerous times. It is so important for us to study His word so that we can know Him and what He’d probably tell us in those moments of weakness.
Prayer is also absolutely necessary. It’s hard to have impure thoughts and commune with God at the same time. While it’s possible that you could be flooded with negative or ungodly thoughts during prayer (because the enemy tends to get upset when we’re trying to do right), it’s far less likely that we’ll give into temptation in the midst of prayer. I’ve been spending a lot more time in my prayer closet and it has been great. I’ve also been praying more with my best friend. There is power in numbers. The cool part about prayer is that there isn’t just one way to do it. I write prayers in my journal, I write prayers on note cards and tape them to my wall, I go for walks and pray, etc. Get creative. Also, I don’t only pray when I’m tempted. It’s important to keep yourself covered. Pray when you get up. Pray throughout the day. Pray before bed. Definitely pray when you’re feeling weak, upset, or emotional. And if you can’t pray for yourself, ask someone else to keep you in their prayers. God listens to us and cares about each and every one of our requests.
Fasting is another weapon that we can use to guard ourselves. Fasting is an excellent way to shift the focus from self to a more God-centered focus. Consider the symbolism between learning discipline and spiritual fasting. My process is teaching me to deny my own desires and allow God to have His way. When we fast, we deny our flesh as we draw nearer to God and hear from Him more clearly. What better way to strengthen discipline than committing to a fast?
Additional strategies that have helped me through this are talking about it, asking for encouragement, and working towards other goals. Accountability has been necessary. When we battle things in silence, we are more prone to falling. The enemy likes when we are isolated because he can whisper lies to us and there will be no one to point out the fact that it is indeed a lie. I’ll admit that I haven’t always been quick to reach out for help, but I’m learning that talking about my struggles is healthy and beneficial. This doesn’t mean go talk to any and everybody, but if you have one or two people that can be trusted to give you solid wisdom (not worldly advice), then don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with them. I am really grateful for my support system.
With regards to working towards other goals, I’ve been trying to grow my edges back, learn songs on my piano, and take care of my physical health. Each of these plus the bible study, prayer, journaling, and fasting, have also required commitment. This process isn’t all about what I’ve sacrificed, but also about what is being added to my life. I’m becoming more disciplined in several areas of my life, and I can see the character development that is happening as a result of this as well. I can also feel my relationship with God evolving and becoming deeper which is my ultimate goal.
Remember: Obedience is not always easy, but it will be worth it. Trust Him.
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.Titus 2: 11-14