What Does Partial Obedience Look Like?
In following Jesus, sometimes obedience is clear and other times I wonder what obedience means in my situation. What I have found is there are many times God will call me to do something and I am not sure what obedience looks like in that situation. Believers will often choose partial obedience because they lack the wisdom to ask clarity-seeking questions which will help them to fully obey God. Initially, when this would happen to me, I used to take steps towards what I believed obedience looked like. But many times things would be unclear and I would stop short of full obedience by not seeking God for clarity on what obedience was in my situation.
By not following through, many times I would end up failing to fully obey God. At first, I did not realize this was a pattern I was in, but God has since help clarify this process for me. So now, when God calls me to something, I have learned that many times I need to start praying or asking questions. Sometimes I might pray, “God help me to understand what obedience looks like in this situation.” Or I might ask, “God what is my first step here?”
I used to foolishly believe that as long as I was moving towards what I believed God wanted, I was doing what pleased God. I rationalized that in my act of partial obedience, I was trying my best to pursue the Will of God. You see sometimes obedience is clear and other times it takes a bit more work to know your next move. When we are immature in our faith, we often fail to ask the questions needed to fully obey God . Often times, seeking God for clarity IS our first step towards obedience. As God matures us, we learn to ask important clarity-seeking questions.
There are also times I hesitate because I am uncomfortable with what God is asking me to do. We fail to obey God because something else or someone else is more important to us. At best this is lukewarm Christianity. It is like saying, “God you are not important enough” or “God, I do not trust you God enough to take the risk.” It might be, “God, I want to please man so badly that I will not follow you fully. ” While I do not think we consciously say these things to God, our actions often speak for us. Sadly, there are many times I would rather not know the details of what I am supposed to do because then I feel I’m not obligated to do anything. Pretty sad, right?
Shut It Down
Back in late 2018, early 2019, God showed me I need to shut down my hardware consulting business. This news left me in utter shock and dismay. God’s instruction led me to ask frustrated questions like, “God don’t you realize I have nothing else lined up?” Or “Don’t you know I would need to go get a job? ” At the time, I had more questions than I had answers and found myself at a complete loss.
So, hesitantly, I said, “Okay God, I’ll shut it down.” You see, a part of me was sure of what I heard God tell me to do. Another part of me hesitated because I did not want to disappoint my customers. I had relationships with customers I did not want to damage and I was really unclear how this would all pan out. What if I got it wrong? Maybe I misheard what God had told me.
Belief + Unbelief = Unbelief
At the time, I wasn’t all that worried whether God would provide for my family financially. I have seen God come through financially many times before. What I did not have was clear direction to move forward. I did not know my next steps. And instead of turning to God to ask for clarity, I focused on finding a way to not disappoint my customers and partially follow God. I would not have phrased it that way at the time, but essentially that is what I was doing. One leg towards obedience, one leg towards what my flesh wanted.
So, occasionally I would help customers ignoring the message I had received from God. While I did not accept any new customers, I continued to serve a few remaining clients. Essentially, I did the easy part of closing down the bank account, but indirectly I told God “no” when it came to disappointing existing clients. I believe 1 Samuel 15:22-23 in the Message translation really speaks to my situation.
Picking Up the Pieces
I believe that if a close friend brought this situation to me and asked for input, I might encourage them to ask God for forgiveness, ask more questions next time and tell them not to be too hard on themselves. I would remind them of Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV which says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
I would also ask them if knowing what they know now, have they done what they believe God requires of them? Have they followed through on obeying God? If they have, great! If not, I would tell them to go do it now.
The Consequences of Partial Obedience
While I still believe what I stated is sound advice, I want to make sure I am not skipping over what is important here. There are consequences to unbelief and ultimately for my act of partial obedience. What those consequences are in my situation, I am not sure just yet. The first generation Israelites missed out on the Promise Land because of their unbelief. Instead, they wandered in the wilderness. The second generation entered the Promise Land, but missed out on experiencing God’s rest. Why? Unbelief.
Looking back I realize that God knows when he asks us to follow his will, it will be a stretch for us. God understands that following him will cost us something. He realizes that we will potentially fail in the process of trying to obey him. So when God calls us to do something, why does it matter so much that we fully obey him? What is the difference between fully committing and failing in the process or doing what I did and not following through with obedience?
Pick A Side
What I have come to understand is that God knows we are imperfect. This does not stop when we choose to follow Him. He accepts us and loves us as we are, flaws and all. So if we fail in the process of obedience, after whole-heartily agreeing to do what he commanded, He can handle it. The problem with my approach was that I was telling him with my actions that I did not fully trust him enough to do what he asked of me. What is even worse is I did not ask God for help in the process.
My challenge for you today is to choose obedience over your personal comfort. Choose obedience even when it seems unclear. If you find yourself where I often find myself when trying to obey God, seek Him. Ask for help. And most importantly, follow through with obedience!
Other Inspirational Scriptures:
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”Revelation 3:15-16 NLT