On Requiring the Impossible: Obedience

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By Shannon Morrison

(Note: This article is the second in a series on the topic of training virtue. The first article, on attention, appeared in the Sep. 11 Lamp-Post. Shannon Morrison is a founding board member of Providence, and now serves on staff as Director of Operations and Community Engagement. She and her husband Josh have five children, all students at Providence.)


“We are leaving the house in five minutes.  I need you to please go grab a pair of socks and meet me in the garage,” I called to my daughter from the bedroom doorway.  


She immediately started arguing with me about why she could not obey.  “I’m wearing sandals!  I don’t need socks!  Sister lost my tennis shoe, so I can’t even wear socks!”  


I stopped what I was doing, held her hands, and asked her, “What did I ask you to do?”


“You asked me to get a pair of socks and meet you in the garage,” she replied meekly.


“That’s right.  Are you going to obey or disobey me?  The choice is yours,”  I said with conviction.


Lately in our home, we have noticed a troubling trend towards disobedience.  The start of the school year (meaning many more commands to obey), combined with a lack of consistency on my part to check for compliance, has led to an epidemic of partial obedience, tardy obedience, or, often, total disobedience in our children.


In my head, I would say that teaching my children to obey is at the top of my “Essential Things a Parent Must Do” list.  But my life was saying differently.  I asked myself, “Do I really believe that obedience is what God requires of my children and me (Deut. 10:12-13, I Sam. 15:22)?  Do I really believe that we are either slaves of sin or slaves of obedience which leads to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)”  I do, and so I decided it was time to tighten things up, and had a little conference with my children.


After our Bible reading in Genesis where we read about God bestowing favor on Noah and Noah receiving grace to do “all that was commanded him” (despite being commanded to do some pretty crazy things), I asked for forgiveness for treating disobedience as “not that big of a deal.”  I explained that God had tasked Daddy and me with an important task–to raise them in the paideia of the Lord, and that meant training them in obedience.  We prayed together and asked God to help me follow-through and train them to obey.  Here are some principles and practical applications we have used in our renewed emphasis on obedience.


  • Modeling.  As a parent, am I obeying those in authority over me?  Am I driving above the speed limit?  Am I wearing my seatbelt?  Am I sneaking food into a venue that requests “No outside food or drink?”  Am I showing deference and submission to my spouse, to my pastors and elders, to our elected officials?  I find this type of modeling must be both “caught” and “taught.” (I Cor. 11:1)  I sometimes narrate out loud when I choose to obey, and explain that my obedience honors the name of the Lord Jesus “among all the nations.” (Rom. 1:5)  To require obedience of my children while displaying a rebellious heart myself is hypocrisy.  I do not want to unwittingly communicate that obedience is something God only expects of children.
  • Communicating.  I, as the parent, take responsibility for communicating with my child in a way that s/he can understand.  I am kind, specific, and expectant.  I alter my expectations depending on the abilities of the child.  For one child, I might limit myself to two-step requests.  For another child, I might write the commands down with a checklist.  I use songs and catch-phrases to instruct without nagging.  I do not bark, and I am appreciative.  (Eph. 6:4).  
  • Practicing.  Training requires practice.  When I feel that a young child needs practice in obedience, I might play a light-hearted game of “Simon Says,” then follow with a kind word about obedience.  Another child having trouble obeying will get many more opportunities to practice obedience in the form of extra chores.  For children of all ages, I often will demonstrate the desired behavior or task in front of them and then watch carefully as s/he mimics. John 8:34
  • Consistency.  It’s not enough to talk about obedience.  I must follow-through and confirm obedience.  I have heard this referred to as “Get Off Your Butt” parenting.  Physically moving nearer to my child is often all it takes to ensure compliance.  Sometimes a reassuring hand on the shoulder or back can communicate to the child, “I mean what I say.”  I check for obedience immediately–this encourages “right-away obedience” and also helps my distracted brain to not forget!  When I get weary, I preach to myself continually that I am not doing my kids any favors when I do not require obedience.


All of these practices, however, have the potential to make my children and me into modern-day Pharisees, having an outward appearance of godliness with hearts dark with sin inside.  All the best training in the world will do is behavior modification, and my kids and I are in need of heart transplants.  Only Jesus can so captivate our hearts with his glory and goodness such that we have hearts to obey.


And so we pray.  And we preach.  We talk about our total depravity.  “Did you know you and I have nothing good in our hearts except what God has granted us? (Rom. 7:18)” “Anytime we obey, it’s a sign of God’s grace working in our lives. (Php 2:13)”  We discuss how obeying outwardly is not enough (Matt. 7:21), we must bring “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) through his divine power.  We marvel how disobedience is really a form of idolatry.  “Just like Adam and Eve, we think we know what’s best, instead of God.  Let’s ask God to give us mercy to say, ‘Not what I want, but you want, Lord.’”  We nurture a sense of awe of the Master that compels us to obey.  “Look at the stars!  God knows the number of them, and He knows the number of hairs on my head.  He knows the whole story, and I will obey!”  We wage war against the pride of life.  “You and I will never be able to obey God enough to gain His favor.  There’s only one person who has obeyed enough.  What’s His name?”  


Lastly, we remember that God requires obedience for our own good.  


“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord which I command you this day for your good.”  Deuteronomy 10:12-13


God rejoices when we obey because He is rejoicing in our good.  The same was true for me with my daughter when I asked her to get some socks.  As we pulled into the indoor trampoline park parking lot later that afternoon for a special outing, her eyes widened and she said, “That’s why you wanted me to obey by getting a pair of socks!  Thank you, Mommy!”  

She and I are alike in that way–we doubt our Parent has our good at heart.  Lord, rescue me from a heart that wants to rule my own world.  Give me grace to see myself as a slave to sin, and transform me into a slave to obedience, which leads to righteousness.  Make me like the Lord Jesus, who obeyed even unto a shameful death on the cross.

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