The necessary pain of obedience

Here you are again, under the same old crushing pain and shame of disobedience…

After my wife completes a run I generally ask, “How was it?” Her explanations often seem like a list of torturous experiences, and then she ends by saying something like “But it was a good run.” Take her torturous list to your local physician, minus the running, and they’d diagnose you with any number of issues in which medicine, therapy, and the occasional hospital stay would be in order.

We have a category for a good, necessary, and expected pain, but we don’t seem to see that category working in our spiritual selves. We seem inclined to think pain is bad and no pain is good regarding our spiritual habits. Why wouldn’t working our spiritual muscles toward endurance not be painful? It is, or at least it should be. After all the fad diets, flipped-off commuters, hidden credit cards, internet filters, accountability partners, and authentic communities, Christians have to engage in the painful work of obedience.

I recall losing yet another round with a lifelong struggle a few years ago that led me into the “fed up cycle” of; I hate this, I hate me, I hate you. While wallowing in self-loathing and crying out to God in sackcloth and ashes a small thought sparked in my soul:

Why don’t you just not do that?

There’s that old devil again, I thought. Just stop! Oh, if it were that simple. It is. It’s simple, just painful, that’s why we miss the simplicity of it all. You know it’s wrong. You know the pain it causes. You know the loathing cycle that ensues. Why don’t you just be obedient? But I can’t Lord. It’s too painful and powerful. I’m so weak. Again, with what seemed to be a whispering into my soul. No, disobedience is too painful, and you are not powerless because you’re powerful enough to choose the wrong pain. The right pain is one that anchors into the faithfulness of Christ rather than the immediacy of gratification.

You’re choosing the wrong pain. 

I was choosing the pain of disobedience rather than the pain of obedience. One pain leads to life the other to death. One pain is a tearing of the muscle to greater strength, while the other is a tearing of the muscle to greater injury.

Obedience has been downplayed for far too long. We’ve created a false aversion toward a redefined sense of legalism where we’ve said that the pain of obedience is for the legalist and the authenticity of soaking in our disobedience is for the free. That couldn’t be any further from the truth. Actual legalism is a working for righteousness, while the necessary pain of obedience is a working toward righteousness. Both are painful, and one is impossibly painful unto eternal injury, while the necessary pain of obedience offers a glorious freedom.

Pain isn’t a choice, it’s a given. Let us choose the glory of God in the necessary pain of obedience. 

BY JOSHUA WHETSTINE – NORTH AMERICAN MISSION BOARD CITY MISSIONARY FOR MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL. 

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