My year of obedience was so full that one blog post couldn’t capture it all. I’m pretty sure two can’t either…
A million years ago—okay, a couple of decades—I heard my first teaching on obedience. Vanessa Lerner, our associate pastor’s wife, spoke about hearing from God. She taught that when we hear from God and choose not to obey what he asks of us, we will struggle to hear His voice the next time He speaks. The more we disobey, the less we’ll hear from Him.
The opposite is also true, though. When we hear God and obey, we hear Him even more clearly the next time.
Because we serve a God who is good and full of second chances, I’ve learned that when we fail to obey once doesn’t mean we’ve ruined our chances of hearing from Him again. Yet, that initial teaching has stuck with me–I want to hear from God, so I try to obey when I do.
Over the years I’ve had plenty of opportunities to obey God. In big and small ways—from going to seminary to moving to taking a job I knew would be challenging, from having a third child to going back inside a building…just because.
Standing here in 2020, I can look back to 2019 and marvel. God giving me the word obey for the year was absolute providence. Because He knew 2019 was going to be a challenging year, He knew I’d need His direction and a heart that would be willing to heed His direction.
I’d need to be able to obey for all I’d face.
All those months of watching my grandma wither and decline were hard, but the act of walking into her memory care apartment twice a week was utter obedience on my part. It’s not that I didn’t want to be with Grandma. I really did. But I was afraid. Afraid of what I didn’t know, of what I would see and have to do. Through the process of learning to take each moment at a time, I discovered I was capable of doing more than I thought possible. And I learned how faithful God is.
All the ideas I had for our next Women’s Retreat were abundant and overwhelming, but through all the swirling thoughts, I chose to settle in and seek God’s direction. More than anything I wanted that retreat to be what He envisioned. So, in obedience I waited to hear from Him rather than moving ahead with my own ideas. Then when His ideas came, I had to dig deep to obey because they stretched me beyond what I thought I was capable of. And the end result was an AMAZING team, incredible content, and a whole lot of room for the Holy Spirit to do His thing.
All the challenging relationships in my life seemed to peak in the same year. Some of those relationships hadn’t even been challenging until 2019, but there I found myself in the middle of conflict, stress, drama, and grief—at home and at work, the two places I spent all my time. As hard as it is to admit, at my core I’m a person who wants everyone to like me. So when I found myself in conflict at every turn, I was undone. Over and over again, I’d sit with God, my favorite worship music playing on my phone, and just soak in His presence. I’d pore over His Word. I’d journal my feelings. I’d pray. Instead of laying on the couch to numb out on TV or in my bed getting lost in books as I was tempted to do, I chose to obey what He was calling me to do—to come to Him. In those spiritual practices, I found Him. I found strength. And hope. And courage.
All the unknowns looming in my future were growing bigger in 2019. We didn’t know the future of the United Methodist Church, and our own local church was bracing for a senior pastor change. My husband’s job had changed, and we didn’t know where it might take us. All three of my sons were looking at graduations and future careers—but what? And where? Not only am I a Pleaser, but a Planner. I’ve always had a plan, could work the plan, and count on the plan to come to fruition. But in 2019 no area of my life had a plan. In fact, I could sense God telling me not to plan. He was asking me to lay all of it down at His feet and trust His plans. So, I obeyed. I didn’t plan. In many ways I’m still in the season of waiting to see how the future unfolds–but where He’s already shown me His plan has been worth the wait. So my waiting is full of more expectancy now.
All the studies that presented themselves to me last year were simply remarkable. I dug into a personal study called Made for This that took a lot of patience and obedience because it asked me to be brutally honest as I evaluated myself, my past, and my motives. At the same time my study group did a Holy Spirit study, Encounter the Spirit, that opened our understanding of how He works in our lives. And it made me even hungrier to know Him better. Lysa TerKeurst’s study, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, spoke to my emotions with a health and a holiness in ways I hadn’t experienced before. Through every study I was getting to know God better. And myself. My willingness to stay anchored in His Word—and some days that was sheer obedience—fueled and sustained me in a year that my emotions and energy were drained most days.
All of these things and more made up my 2019. And my choice to obey God in the middle of it all made a huge difference. I landed in November exhausted but not burned out. I was emotionally fragile but not broken. I was raw but not bleeding to death.
God was and is at the center of all of it, but what He showed me last year was that I have a role in how my life goes. I have choices in how I respond to people and situations and to God.
By staying in His Word and praying and worshiping—finding all kinds of ways to stay in His presence—I discovered sustenance in my wilderness. In a year of great need, I was amazed to see that the more I exercised that obedience muscle, the stronger it got, and the more easily I could use it the next time.
The other gift of obedience is just as Vanessa taught all those years ago—as I listened for God’s voice, heard it, and obeyed it, the more I heard Him. I’ve never heard His voice audibly, but as He whispers to my own spirit or speaks to me through another person or His Word, I’ve learned to recognize it. And now I’m seeing the fruit of obeying it.
I’m pretty sure I’m just beginning this journey of obedience with God. And, instead of letting that thought scare me, I breathe deep and ask Him to pour His Spirit over me with peace and trust because if I’ve learned anything in my year of obedience, it’s that He is completely trustworthy.
Leaning in to listen, Shelley Johnson