Trust and Obey


Alliance leadership has identified seven core values that guide the C&MA. The fourth—“Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success”—came to mind recently as I was reading the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses’ farewell address to the nation of Israel. The people are about to enter the Promised Land under a new leader—Joshua. Moses is about to die, unable to enter the Promised Land because of one act of disobedience at a place called the Desert of Zin.

The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law,” and it does contain a rehearsal of the Ten Commandments and a lengthy retelling of the story of Israel’s desert wanderings. Because of this, most people view it as repetitive, regurgitating familiar information and accounts. They miss the point altogether.

Deuteronomy is a commentary on the Book of Numbers, and its main theme, which appears over and over, is that the people of God can prosper only when they are careful to obey the Word of God.

Deuteronomy 1:2 is a parenthetical comment noting that the trek from Horeb (Mount Sinai) to Kadesh Barnea, the point of entry into the Promised Land, usually took 11 days. But because of their disobedience that journey took the Israelites 40 years!

To get from Sinai to the Promised Land should not have been very hard at all. The Israelites did not even need to develop a plan. God already had one. They needed only to obey.

While there are certainly times when we need to give ourselves to careful planning, more often the urgent thing for us is simply to obey what we already know about the will of God in the full assurance that He will show us the next steps when we need them and provide for all of our needs “according His riches in Christ Jesus.”

Have you wondered why the Church in places like China and Vietnam has grown rapidly and vibrantly, even in the face of terrible persecution, while many churches in America struggle just to maintain the status quo? In China and Vietnam believers have few resources and even fewer trained pastors. Most congregations have no facilities, and members often are persecuted by hostile government officials. There are not even enough Bibles for every Christian. Yet the Church moves triumphantly forward.

In the West it is a different story. We do not lack resources. There are millions of dollars available to build spacious buildings and to fund evangelism and discipleship training. Bible colleges and seminaries train thousands of students every year, and many congregations have two or more well-trained pastors. There is no dearth of Christian literature, and every Christian home contains not one, but many, Bibles.

I am firmly convinced that the reason for our spiritual impotence in the midst of material affluence is simple. We have been discipled toward knowledge, believing that a mature Christian is one who knows a lot about Christ and the Bible. Christians in places like China and Vietnam have been discipled toward obedience. In their paradigm, a mature Christian is one who obeys all that he or she has learned of God’s Word and of Christ.

For nearly four decades, I have made it my business to learn more and more about the Word of God. I have memorized verses, exegeted difficult passages and preached more sermons than I can remember.

It suddenly dawned on me that I have been a good deal better at learning God’s Word than at living God’s word. More often than I would care to admit, 11-day trips have become 40-year ordeals.

The words of James seem to capture it all: “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

It is possible, I suppose, that what we really need to get our denomination and churches going forward is a shiny new and carefully developed strategic plan. My gut feeling, though, is that we just need to obey what we already know God wants us to do in the full assurance that when we need it, He will show us the next step. And I suspect that everything we really need will be supplied along the way.

Who knows? Then maybe we can make a 40-year trip in just 11 days.

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