OBEY, a word that makes me think of marriage vows, strict teachers, and old hymns, hounded me in the final months of 2018. So you can imagine my lack of excitement to choose it as my word for 2019.
But, God made it pretty clear that was my word. And it all started at my very first New Room Conference in September of 2018.
New Room Conference is hosted by Seedbed—my favorite publisher—and is a gathering of Wesleyan believers, mostly pastors and church leaders. J.D. Walt, the head of Seedbed had been an Associate Pastor of ours in The Woodlands back in the 90s, so I’d followed Seedbed’s work faithfully for several years, at first because of J.D. but eventually because I’d fallen in love with their heartbeat—that of “sowing for a great awakening.”
Although I’d been hearing about the New Room Conference for a few years and really wanted go, it never worked out. So, finally, in 2018 when my calendar was clear and I thought a couple of my co-workers were going, I registered!
But, as September rolled around, everyone else dropped out, so I had the choice–either I go alone or cancel.
Having traveled alone in the past, I thought nothing of packing my suitcase and heading to the airport on my own. I don’t even mind eating alone. And I kind of like having a couple of nights all to myself in a hotel room. So, I made the choice to go with an expectancy of meeting God there in big ways because He’d gone to so much trouble to make sure I got there–by myself.
My first instinct when I arrived at New Room was to sit on the back row. I was alone after all. But after that first session, I sensed the Holy Spirit asking me to move closer. So, I obeyed. I didn’t know why. I just did it. I ended up having a much better experience the next session. Then it felt as if God said, “Keep moving.” So, I did. Each session I sat in a different spot.
What an incredible experience of meeting different people, of keeping myself OUT of my comfort zone. And, God had spiritual purposes to my moves. Turns out that three of the people I sat next to were called by the Holy Spirit to minister to me. I was being poured into by strangers who were the very definition of obedient.
Moved by these experiences, by the time I left for dinner the second night, I was promising God all kinds of obedience. Then God stopped me short as I pushed through the glass double doors, headed to my car. He told me as clear as He’s ever told me anything, “Go back inside.”
At first I wanted to chuckle and ignore–because, why would I do that?
“Go back inside.”
“Really, Lord, why would I do that?”
Then I heard that sweet whisper of the Holy Spirit, “Are you going to obey Me or not?”
The light bulb went on, and I responded, “Absolutely! Going back in now!”
I did a U-turn in the middle of the busy sidewalk and headed back to the double doors.
Once inside, I stepped out of the flow of traffic and waited. Waited for God to tell me what to do next, to reveal something as to why I had to go back in.
As I leaned over my bag to get my sweater, I heard his voice – J.D. Walt. Because he reads “The Daily Text,” his daily online devotion, aloud to me every day, I would know his voice anywhere.
I shook my head, astonished. I had hoped to catch J.D. alone just to say hi and thank you for all he was doing, but I’d given up on that idea once I saw the hundreds and HUNDREDS of people at the conference.
But there he was. Standing a few feet from me. Greeting people as they passed by.
I laughed out loud and whispered a thank you to God. Then I went over and talked with J.D. It was a sweet gift of the Holy Spirit to give me that moment. And I would have missed it completely had I not obeyed.
That experience helped me realize that I do know my Father’s voice. When He speaks, I can actually hear Him if I listen. And, I have the choice to obey Him. With that realization came many more opportunities to listen and obey—though none quite so obvious or immediate.
So, it was no surprise when I sensed obey as my word for the New Year. God had already been preparing me!
I will say the word obey in all its forms JUMPED out at me all year–reading Scripture, listening to sermons, and digging into posts, books, and devotions. Each occurrence helped me get a better understanding of what God means by obedience and what He’s asking of me.
Here are just a few of those:
- “All sin is rooted in either disobedience, doubt, or denial.” (Adrian Cole)
- “We’re so overfilled there’s no room for obedience to go where God is calling us.” (Jay Smith)
- “We respond with obedience to God because we are His.” (Jay Smith)
- “When we trust that God chooses the part we play, then we need not worry about our obscurity and anonymity, only our obedience to play the part.” (Christine Caine)
- “Obedience starts with the small stuff. In fact, obedience in the small stuff over the long haul is what builds the capacity for the kind of faith it takes to obey God in the big and often hard stuff.” (J.D. Walt)
- Eugene Peterson has a book about this very thing, appropriately called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
I even completed a study on spiritual disciplines.
The book started off with disciplines I was familiar with—prayer, Bible study, solitude. Then I turned a page one night to discover the next week’s discipline was, you guessed it, obedience.
I laughed. Out loud.
Then I dug in to see how obedience is a spiritual practice.
It turns out that obedience takes discipline. It’s a choice. It’s a spiritual decision to lay down personal desire and obey what God is calling us to do (or not do, as the case may be).
And, just like that evening I was leaving the New Room Conference, any time I’m given the opportunity to obey, I must stop and intentionally choose God’s way.
I may have had immediate gratification that night with my obedience to turn around and go back inside, but obedience doesn’t always have obvious fruit. We simply choose to believe and trust God enough to obey Him, whether or not we understand in the moment. Whether or not we ever get to see why.
We obey because we trust.
Are you singing the hymn yet?
I hear it in my head a lot lately because they really do go hand in hand. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way.”
Obedience is a choice. We can choose to step out in faith, trusting God’s ways over what we see or understand because He’s good. And He wants only good for us.
While I may not have been excited to have obey as my word for 2019, its illustrious entrance into my worldview will forever be with me. “Are you going to obey Me or not?”
Listening for His voice, Shelley Johnson