Obedience is not a popular word. In fact, to consider it nearly extinct would be more accurate than calling it “unpopular.” But, in the beginning, it was not so. To be obedient is to know the dignity and importance of our mission. It is a necessary first step for faith to take root.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was killed in a concentration camp for his vehement opposition to the Nazi regime, wrote at length about obedience in his book The Cost of Discipleship.
“Faith is only real when there is obedience and never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience,” he wrote.
God gave us St. Mother Teresa as a modern inspiration of what obedience can do. Hers was a radical and all-consuming obedience. She flung herself into her God-given mission so intensely that she mystically experienced God's thirst for souls. She was keenly aware that her work was somehow consoling the crucified Christ. She was so aware of his thirst that she had all the chapels of her order display the words “I thirst” over the crucifix.
Thirst, like obedience, sounds like a negative experience - but for St. Mother Teresa, her obedience to God's will meant she would be in a state of constant longing for souls.
A life of obedience gives us an appetite for more of God. Because we are not seeking ourselves, there is room in our hearts for more love, compassion, and tenderness. In short, our hearts can more readily hold heaven. A life of disobedience, in contrast, gives us an appetite for things that are not of God and sets us up for a frustrating and unfruitful quest for fulfillment.
The language of obedience, as described in the scriptures, feels negative to us. It is an affront to our freedom because we can only consider it with scenes of abuse and manipulation. But obedience is meant to be a joy.
Obedience is the full exercise of freedom; it is freedom's flowering. When the master is holy, the household is happy to obey and to be part of something great. Consider that the God we serve created the universe. Consider that in him “we live and move and have our being.” Obedience is the least of the gifts he deserves.
When we choose obedience to God, we are
in a constant state of participation and mission. We become
completely unencumbered and free to embrace our identity in its
fullness. We can do the work of the Spirit.
“Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” does not mean that we need never make a mistake. It means to remove all hints of self-seeking and make a complete gift of ourselves, body and soul, to the one who created us in order to love us.
To be obedient presupposes that we are attentive. If we are habitually listening with the ears of our hearts, we will understand what is being asked of us. We will hear the voice of the one who asks for our heart, and it will not be a demanding voice but one of tenderness saying, “come, enter into your master's joy.”