Even for the most well-intentioned Christian, obedience is not an automatic impulse, but a learned behavior. The Bible tells us that Jesus Himself, the perfect Son of God, had to “learn obedience” (Hebrews 5:8).
How do we learn to obey? I believe there are at least four essential principles for developing an obedient heart.
1. Decide that obedience is a priority (Psalm 19:7-10)
To put it bluntly, the reason most of us don’t obey God is because we have no intention of obeying God. I do not mean to suggest that making some one-time decision can forever end our struggle to obey God. But I do believe we must settle the issue in our own mind regarding the character of God.
Can God be trusted? Does He really want what is best for me? Does He really know what is best for me?
You will never obey God consistently without intending to obey God. And developing the intention to obey God begins with the conviction that God’s character can be trusted and obedience to God’s commands will result in a better life (Psalm 19:7-10).
2. Develop a “God is here” mindset (Psalm 16:8)
We need a way to be reminded of God’s presence in our lives, and King David shows us how. With one simple phrase, David provides us an invaluable insight into how he became a man after God’s own heart (Psalm 16:8). Sure, he suffered relapses in his relationship with the Lord, but the general direction of his life was toward God rather than away from God.
The psalms reveal that David mediated on God’s Word continually (Psalm 1). David understood the importance and developed a system for regularly keeping God in the forefront of his thinking.
I will confess that there are times (more than I wish to admit) that my daily reading of God’s Word tastes more like Bran Flakes with no milk than the “drippings of a honeycomb” that David described. But as dry as the experience may feel, reading God’s Word at the very least reminds us that there is a God in whom we ” live, move and have our existence” (Acts 17:28).
3. Obey what you know to be true (Deuteronomy 30:2)
Selective obedience to God’s commands entails risks. When we blatantly ignore what we know to be God’s will for our lives we are cultivating a habit of disobedience that will eventually become the rule rather than the exception of our lives.
Although selective obedience is a viable option for many Christians, one mark of a disciple is a complete adherence to His commands (Deut. 30:2).
Are you obeying all of God’s commands? In what area of your life are you practicing selective obedience? The only way to cultivate obedience as a habit is to obey all that you know to be true.
4. Remember the reward for obedience (Hebrews 11:6)
You will never obey God consistently until you are convinced that God exists and that God rewards those who obey Him. The author of Hebrews explains this in Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
The necessity in believing in an invisible God’s existence is an obvious prerequisite for obedience. Nevertheless, a belief in the reality of God is not enough to sustain consistent obedience to God. We must believe there is a payoff somewhere at some time for submitting to His commands.
Read the remainder of Hebrews 11 and you will discover men and women who obeyed God for one reason: they were “looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26). Some, like Noah, experienced some immediate benefits for their obedience (like not drowning). Others, like Moses, died without seeing any reward for following God. But none of those mentioned received the full reward . . . not in this life, anyway (Hebrews 11:13).
No act of obedience, no matter how small, is inconsequential. What is it that God is asking you to do in this present moment? It may be monumental. Or, it may appear minuscule and inconsequential. But saying “Yes, Lord” is your first step in developing an obedient heart.