Obedience – That Which Stirs God To Act
By Edgar H. Lewellen
"Obey Me, and I will be your God, and you will be My people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you" (Jer. 7:23). (Note what is implied in the second sentence of the above.)
"Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" (Rom. 6:16).
Definition of Obedience
Obedience implies the due submission to authority and control; a readiness to conform to another’s desire and will.
The Scriptures teach us that to know and experience God’s blessing and have access to His throne in prayer requires a determination on our part to be totally His in full submission to His will, unconditionally, without reservation or demands. It is to be immediate with no room for procrastination. We need to keep in mind that God makes the rules. We don’t. Trying to influence God is out of the question. If we were to ask for one word to describe man’s quest for a heaven-sent revival, it would be obedience. This is an all-inclusive word that includes prayer, humility, repentance, and reconciliation, which is demanded by a God of holiness.
As has been said, if we were totally obedient to God there would be no need to pray for revival, for it would already be here. Charles Finney described revival as, "a new beginning of obedience to God." Someone has said that the first great condition of revival is brokenness of heart that is sensitive to the least touch of the Spirit, and that has only to know the will of God, to do it. We don’t want to bring pain or hurt to the One we love.
Note: Prayer without obedience is like a tire without air. They are both necessary! One will not prevail without the other.
Repentance, Obedience, Prayer Which Comes First?
In the book of Hosea (10:12), we are told to "Break up the fallow ground." This refers to the hard, unproductive and resistant soil of our hearts. Breaking it up refers to the need of repentance. See the result of God’s patience and love in Hosea 11:8; 14:1,4; and 14:8.
In Isaiah we read: "For this is what the high and lofty One says – He who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the spirit of the contrite" or simply translated, "penitent heart" (Isa. 57:15). Although brokenness is not revival, it is a necessary step to lead toward it. Thus the prepared heart becomes the praying heart that communes with God and prevails with Him to send the fire from Heaven (2 Chron. 7:14).
What is God’s order for touching the Throne? Dr. A. W. Tozer in his book, The Size of the Soul, says "Thousands of pastors will continue to call their people to prayer in the forlorn hope that God will finally relent and send revival if only His people wear themselves out in intercession…. The prayer meeting room becomes a wailing wall and the lights burn long, and still the rains tarry." He further says, "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Let any reader begin to obey and he will have the answer." Full obedience is God’s first and primary requirement as we pray. The two cannot be separated.
1. How Is Obedience Related to the Word of God?
We need to know to whom and how we should obey. The Holy Spirit plants the first seed of hunger and thirst in our hearts. It is then for us to follow up that work of the Holy Spirit and begin seeking Him. This is the first step in obedience. It is necessary to get deep into the Word of God, spend time reading it and seeking God so He can speak to us through it. It is soon apparent that one more step is required – that is obedience to what God shows us through it. In Deuteronomy 11:26-27, God has said that He will bless those who obey Him, but there will be a divine curse upon anyone who forsakes Him for other gods of this world. (See also Deuteronomy 11:13-17). God intended the language to be plain and clear (See Romans 2:4).
In Joshua 24:24, the children of Israel determined to follow Him by saying, "His voice will we obey." Blessing and the realization of His divine presence will only be ours as we fully obey Him. Total and instant obedience to the Word of God has always characterized those whom God uses in revival. If we long for an outpouring of His Spirit and want to experience revival in our lives, our church and our community, it must begin with obedience. Before we found Christ we were dead in sin. However, when we die with Christ, we are then dead to sin, and sin no longer controls us. Now we are under His control, experiencing the joy of total obedience. However, sin is not dead to us, and therefore we need to daily walk closely with Christ claiming the protective power of His blood.
Psalm 119:105 – "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
Psalm 119:11 – "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee."
2. What Stirs God to Act? Important!
We understand that revival is the sovereign working of God, indicating clearly that He sends revival, not man. However, this is always related to the obedience of God’s people. God responds to brokenness and total submission to His will. Only then is the mighty power of God released. Often a struggle takes place as we relinquish one item after another in our lives until we have given over complete control. Some refer to this as "death to the self life."
It is at this time that we give over total control of our lives to the Holy Spirit and experience the joy and blessing of wonderful obedience to Him alone. This is what the apostle Paul meant when he said in Galatians 2:20 that it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.
Examples, Past and Present
Dr. A. W. Tozer had it right when he said, "The men God uses in revival were always men who did not merely pay lip service to the Author of Scripture. They had a fear of being disobedient."
1. Abraham (Genesis 12:1).
"When he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8). He did not question or argue with God, but obeyed fully. God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. He didn’t fully understand why, since God had promised that his line would be carried forward through Isaac, even as many as the stars in the heavens. (See Gen. 15:5; 22:17; Heb. 11:18-19). Again he obeyed without doubting God.
2. Noah (Gen. 6:5-8).
The Scripture tells us that in the day that Noah lived, the people did what was right in their own eyes. The people were corrupt, filled with violence, sensual, wicked and evil. It seemed that God said, "Let’s start over again," leaving only Noah’s family. God told Noah to build a huge boat on dry land and larger than ever had been built before (450 feet long and 50 feet wide), so large that humanly it could not be conveyed to the sea. Noah obeyed God implicitly even though he didn’t know all the reasons why.
3. Moses (Ex. 14,15; Num. 20)
Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt at God’s command. He also obeyed God at the crossing of the Red Sea. He was told to stretch out his hand over the sea and the sea parted so the children of Israel were able to walk over on dry land (Ex. 14:21-22). Strange? Perhaps yes, but he obeyed God. Later when the people were without water and complained to Moses for bringing them out of Egypt only to die in the wilderness, he disobeyed God, when God told him to speak to the rock. Impatient and annoyed with their continual complaining, he struck the rock, contrary to what God had told him. Water flowed out to nourish the people, but God judged Moses for disobedience and would not allow him to enter into the Promised Land. When man thinks he knows more than God he tries to take matters into his own hands, which invariably results in judgment. God will not tolerate disobedience in His children (Num. 20:7-12).
4. King Saul (1 Sam. 15)
King Saul as Israel’s first king had great promise and led the children of Israel to victory over the Philistines. However, when he went to battle against the Amalekites, God commanded him to spare nothing – the people, cattle, camels, oxen, sheep or possessions. This was God’s punishment against the Amalekites for their rebellion against Jehovah. But Saul, yielding to the dictates of his pride, disobeyed God and spared their king and kept the best of the sheep and oxen and all that was good. In this account we see not only God’s disapproval of Saul’s action, but His anger because of sin. Upon meeting him, the prophet Samuel basically said, "God is not interested in your feeble acts of worship. He is more interested in your obeying Him. Obedience is better than all your religious activities and programs. Your disobedience is the same as worshiping false gods. You have rejected the word of the Lord. Therefore God has rejected you as king." (1 Sam. 15:22-23).
Question: Why did God say that rebellion and stubbornness were the same as idolatry?
5. King Hezekiah
King Hezekiah "did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord." His mind was set as he brought a nation back to God. He was determined to please God. (Readings: 2 Chron. 29; 2 Kgs. 18; Prov. 25). The Scripture says, "He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow Him; he kept the commands the Lord had given to Moses" (2 Kgs. 18:6). King Hezekiah wanted to know what the Word of the Lord had to say. He realized that it was first a personal matter if he was to expect the blessing of the Almighty to rest upon him.
6. Jesus Our Lord (Phil. 2:8)
The greatest example we have is that of Christ Himself obeying His Father. He left heaven’s glory to come to earth to live and die as a living sacrifice for our sin and as our substitute (Luke 19:10). In the garden He prayed that if possible, He might be delivered from drinking the "cup" – sacrificing His life for our sin and thus dying for a lost world. He resisted the pressure from the crowd which dared Him to come down from the cross and prove He was God. He prayed, "Father, not My will but Thine be done." He obeyed and purchased our salvation on the cross and provided us a way to the Father. In Romans 5:19 we read: "…by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." Again in Philippians 2:8 we read: "And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." What was the result? The Father exalted Him and gave Him a name above every other name in heaven and on earth, and our salvation was purchased!
7. Early Missionaries in India
History records that in the early days of missionary efforts in India between the years 1887 and 1905, when the advances of medicine had not reached the level they have today, entire missionary families perished from the dreaded diseases of cholera, smallpox, typhoid and plague. Church history tells us that in one mission alone during this twenty-year period, thirty-five missionaries, plus their children died within two to five years of arriving in India. The reason is simple. They obeyed the call of God to reach the lost of India with the Gospel, fully aware that they would most probably never return to their homeland again. Their obedience to their Lord to give India’s millions the Gospel came first in their lives. Today there is a Church in India, part of Christ’s bride because of their obedience. This was a fulfillment of Christ’s promise that if a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will bear much fruit (John 12:24).
8. Evan Roberts of Wales (1903)
While only a boy of thirteen, Evan Roberts accepted the burden from the Lord to pray for revival in Wales. He claimed God’s promises for eleven years! As a result of his obedience to God he was filled with the Holy Spirit as he prayed, "Lord, bend me. Lord, bend me," meaning, "Lord, make me totally submissive to You." Revival fire descended upon Wales soon after, and spread throughout the whole country. God’s power could not be contained in Wales as it soon spread to Scotland, England, Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa, India, South America and America, to name a few places. Such is the power of God released when He finds even one of His children totally obedient and pliable in His hand.
Yes, Revival Is Costly!
— It cost God His only Son.
— It cost Jesus His life to redeem us from the dominion of sin and self.
— To us, the price tag is genuine humility and absolute surrender of everything we hold dear.
A Word of Caution and Warning
God does not deal with all of us in the same way. Some respond quicker to His prompting, while others have many obstacles to overcome in order to be submissive to His will.
Note: No sacrifice we make for the sake of revival, no matter how great, or how much time is consumed to do so, can be accepted as a substitute for total, unconditional and wholehearted obedience to Him. There have been those who have been so busy trying to promote a revival that they miss the whole point. It first has to be personal, total submission and obedience to God.
Substitutes – Satan’s Device
King Hezekiah took the Word of God seriously. "He did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Chron. 29:2). When it comes to obedience, we need to beware of reading into it what it does not say, or interpreting God’s Word to fit our lifestyle. King Saul disobeyed the word of the Lord, and did that which benefited himself. God severely judged him by removing him from the throne by saying, "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath rejected thee from being king" (1 Sam. 15:23). Man excuses himself by saying, "God will understand that we are only human and will overlook these times of disobedience." Not so!
"Your statutes are wonderful; therefore, I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for Your commands" (Psalm 119:129-131).
"I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before Me in the gap on behalf of the land, so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none" (Ezek. 22:30).
– From Revival – God’s Proven Method of Awakening His Church, by Edgar H. Lewellen. Copyright 2002. Used with permission from the author.
Edgar and Ruth Lewellen were missionaries serving under the Christian and Missionary Alliance in India for forty years, retiring in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. in 1992. While in India they witnessed the revival that came to the state of Maharashtra in 1969.