Comer: The importance of exact obedience to God
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attend a worship service each week that involves partaking of bread and water and covenanting that we will always remember Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. The bread and water are blessed prior to being offered to those in attendance. I still remember the first time I said the prayer. I was 16 years old. I remember feeling anxious as the time to say the prayer came. When I finished the prayer, I believed that I had said it exactly how it needed to be said. Then, to my right, I saw the bishop come over. He said my enunciation of one or two of the words wasn’t clear and asked me to say it again. This moment has stuck with me throughout the years as a lesson in obeying exactly.
Early in the Old Testament, we learn about two people who had very different ideas toward obedience: Cain and Abel. One understood the importance of doing what was required, while the other seemed to want to cut corners. This difference was illustrated one day when “Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” (Genesis 4:3) Comparatively, Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof.” (Genesis 4:4) How did the Lord react to each sacrifice? “And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.” (Genesis 4:4-5)
The story continues:
“And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:5-7)
Despite having the opportunity to do things the Lord’s way, Cain rebelled.
“And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” (Genesis 4:8)
Why is exact obedience so important? As long as we’re making some sort of attempt, why can’t that be good enough? Isn’t that better than no effort at all? Simply put, why limit ourselves? Why be OK with failing to reach a certain level of righteousness?
I’ve always been a highly competitive person. When I was in the third grade my teacher organized a competition to see who could be the first to learn all their times tables from 1 to 12. For the winner, the teacher promised a trip to a local restaurant for ice cream. I was determined to win, and fortunately for me, I did. That competitive nature continued into high school when I started taking Seminary classes. Seminary is a church-related class that Latter-day Saints attend. Each year, 25 scripture passages related to what we were studying that year, whether it be the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants, were highlighted as being particularly important. In an effort to help us master those scriptures, the teacher instituted a competition where the keywords for each scripture were written on an oval wooden chip. We would have to recite the keyword on the chip, state the exact scripture it referenced, put the chip in a box and do all 25 in less than a minute. For me, it wasn’t enough to simply achieve the stated goal. I had to be the fastest in the entire class, beating even the teacher. This led to some memorable moments where my time would beat the teacher’s, and then the teacher would beat my time and we would go back and forth. Others in the class joined in the competition to see who could have the fastest time.
In both instances, there was a feeling of accomplishment that came from doing the very best that I actually could.
I try to pass that along to my sons. My oldest son, who is in the second grade, brought home a math worksheet each week last year. On most occasions, he would neglect to do a few of the problems, not because he didn’t know how to solve them, but because he just wanted to be done. When I would check his work, I would point out that he didn’t do all of the problems. A sigh would follow and he’d ask, “Why is it important to do all of them?” Another sigh would come if I told him he had to redo one of the problems because they weren’t done correctly. I tried to explain to him that the point of the worksheet is to practice and learn, and you learn and practice the most if you do all the problems and do them correctly.
When we follow God exactly, doing everything that we can to be obedient instead of just giving a half-hearted effort, we learn the most from God that is possible.
I recently watched a sermon delivered by Pastor Tony Evans about being completely obedient rather than partially obedient. Evans focused his sermon on Noah, who despite living in a time when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8) He “walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9)
“His goal was not to be popular with the world in which he lived, because the world in which he lived was not popular with God,” Evans said. “He saw himself as pleasing God, not pleasing the culture.”
God commanded Noah to build an ark because he was going to “bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 6:17) He provided Noah with specific instructions on how to construct the ark, and according to Genesis 6:22, “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.”
“Now let me tell you what we do,” Evans said. “We do some of what God tells us to do. To walk by faith involves completing what God tells you to do, the work he’s called you to, the obedience he’s demanded of you.”
Exact obedience may be hard. Exact obedience may result in pressure. Evans addressed this.
“Some of you work in pressured environments. You’re under pressure to do this, to act that way, to go with them, to be there, to submit to this, and you’re under pressure. You’re being squeezed. … Because you’re odd man out if you’re walking with God and they aren’t. …
“We live in the post-Christian era, and now Christianity has become persecuted all around the world. We’re now in a post-Christian environment where that value system, that ethic is no longer accepted as the respected norm, and the more serious you are with your walk with God, the more odd you will look like, not because you’re trying to be weird, not because you’re trying to be different, it’s that you just are different.”
But the reward for exact obedience, illustrated by the story of Noah, is guidance from God.
“See, the reason some of us don’t hear from God is we’re too far,” Evans said. “God wants to speak to you, but he wants to speak to you because you’re walking with him. You’re hanging out together. You’re in close proximity. He speaks to the mind and brings thoughts that you didn’t think, brings perspectives you didn’t have, brings an orientation you weren’t about because you’re close enough that you can hear his voice speaking to you. And woe to the Christian who spends their Christian life never having heard the voice of God.”
Noah walked with God, and because he walked with God, God was able to tell him what to do. He listened, he obeyed exactly and he saved his family.
Exact obedience can be difficult. It requires determination and humility. It requires a desire to please God more than those around you. But I can say from many personal experiences that I have been blessed when I obey completely, and not just partially. I gain more personal revelation for my life and I feel a greater amount of peace. May we all strive for this.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org.