Our obedience forms the backside of the tapestry of God’s plan for the world. I’m sure you’ve looked at the back of a beautiful weaving where the strands of different colors run every which way with little purpose or order. We are called to obey the voice of our Shepherd even though we often do not know why nor do we see the purpose in such obedience.
Elizabeth Elliot once wrote about her visit to a Welsh sheep farm where she saw a champion Scottish collie at work. “This is what Mack (the dog) had been trained for, and it was a marvelous thing to see him circling to the right, circling to the left, barking, crouching, racing along, herding a stray sheep here, nipping at a stubborn one there, his eyes always glued to the sheep, his ears listening for the tiny metal whistle from his master which I couldn’t hear….Sometimes, tearing at top speed around the flock, Mack would jam on the brakes, his eyes blazing but still on the sheep, his body tense and quivering but obedient to the command to stop. What the shepherd saw the dog could not see–the weak ewe that lagged behind, the one caught in the bush, the danger that lay ahead for the flock.”
I am reading through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and there is one thing that stands out to me. Over and over we read, “The word of the Lord came to the prophet—do this, do that.” Rarely did this word come with an explanation; perhaps that came later, but the prophet was expected to obey–just like Mack, and just like us.
There are two essential things to realize about such obedience. First, it is intimately entwined with trust. It is not a blind obedience based upon fear, but a willing obedience based upon faith. We trust the voice of our Shepherd; we believe that he gave his life for us and would never abuse us or lead us to destruction. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:11, 27, 28).
There is a second essential thing about obedience about which we hear little. Our obedience affects other people. To put it succinctly; your obedience affects me, and vice versa. We do not live to ourselves in our own private little world. We may think we do and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can do what we want and it’s nobody’s business—bull. There have been a couple of incidents on the Wheaton College campus this past week which you may have read about that illustrate how the actions of one person can seriously affect many.
Just think of the damage I could do to you if I went off the tracks.
Abram could have stayed in Ur of the Chaldees; Moses could have retired in Pharaoh’s court; Joseph could have taken advantage of the perks in Potiphar’s house; Jeremiah could have quit in the pit; Ezekiel could have taken a compassionate after his wife died; Jonah could have run from God (Oh wait, he did); Joseph could have divorced Mary; Paul could have gotten a little place on the Mediterranean after he was stoned (with rocks) and left for dead at Lystra; Jim Elliot and his four friends could have chosen to stay with their families instead of going to evangelize the Auca Indians of Ecuador; and Jesus could have stayed in heaven! All of these obeyed God’s will because they trusted him. Their obedience were the threads on the backside of the beautiful tapestry of God’s plan for the world by which all of us have been affected.
Elizabeth Elliot asked the sheep farmer whether Mack had any idea what was happening with the sheep. She was told that the dog “did not understand the pattern–only obedience.” And so she concluded, “There are those who would call it nothing more than a conditioned reflex, or at best blind obedience. But in that Welsh pasture in the cool of that summer morning, I saw two creatures who were in the fullest sense in their glory: a man who had given his life for the sheep, who loved them and loved his dog, and a dog whose trust in that man was absolute, whose obedience was instant and unconditional, and whose very meat and drink was to do the will of his master. ‘I delight to do your will,’ was what Mack portrayed. ‘Yea, thy law is written in my heart.'” (The Glory of God’s Will, Gateway to Joy Press)
And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according to mine?
But no, Lord, no–that never shall be, rather,
I pray thee blend my human will with Thine. (Amy Carmichael)