The old hymn goes "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."
Easier sung than done.
As Americans, obedience isn't exactly our primary virtue. For many, even the sound of the word "obey" conjures thoughts of oppression and a loss of freedom that often intertwines our convoluted misperceptions about the relationship between church and state. But when it comes to the church, there is little question that simple obedience is a hallmark of discipleship.
Famed German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew this fact well. Bonhoeffer believed we are not only to read the Bible as a general guideline as to how to live but that instead Christians must actually be willing to follow Jesus' commands. This, I dare say, is a bit harder than it might initially sound.
Bonhoeffer contended that such obedience means that like Levi was called from tax collecting and Peter from his fishing nets, we too must be willing to up and leave everything and do what Jesus asks of us.
As Christ calls us to love God and love people, we are simply to obey. Jesus tells us not to worry about our material needs or the future. We are told to be merciful, resolve disputes quickly, give to the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and comfort those in distress. We are simply to do all of these things in obedience. No pressure, right?
But the list goes on ...
We are to also uphold the Ten Commandments, follow the Golden Rule, turn the other cheek, forgive everyone of all of their offenses against us and even love our enemies. We are to enact the Great Commission and we are not supposed to judge others. If something causes us to sin, we are to get rid of it. We are to give what people ask of us and give more than is required. We are to have total faith in God in everything. We are even commanded to love others the way that Jesus himself loved people. As Peter was called out into the stormy sea -- seemingly risking life and limb to do the unthinkable -- so, too, are we actually supposed to be willing to risk it all if Jesus' calls as such.
If you aren't in shock quite yet then please feel free to reread the last two paragraphs and really let them sink in. I don't know about you, but to me, this seems to be a pretty tall order. Fortunately, if you share my sentiment, we aren't alone. Jesus' disciples thought so, too.
As a matter of fact, when Jesus instructed a rich young man, who had impressively kept all of these commands up to that point, to "go sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor and then follow" him -- the disciples were aghast. As the man quickly became saddened, many fearfully asked, "Who then can be saved?"
What was Jesus' reply? "What is impossible for man is possible with God."
This is surely good news for us.
In a time when many have just celebrated that Jesus is Emmanuel (i.e., "God with us") and as we now look with resolve to a new year full of opportunities, challenges and goals, we can certainly take hope that when we abide with God, having the faith to act in simple obedience, all things are truly possible.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.