Recently I came across a quote by writer Ami Loper, “Hustle will never accomplish more than obedience.” Not to be dramatic, but it genuinely struck me right then and there that I tend to confuse discipline for obedience.
Let’s be honest, obedience is difficult to grasp. I try in my own strength to be obedient but it turns into forced discipline, which leads to overthinking, which leads to forgetting the idea altogether out of self preservation.
Obedience has been an elusive concept to me for, well, awhile.
I’m familiar with discipline in praying and reading the word daily. Our relationship with the Lord is built through our perseverance. Although, intention and motive play a role in that relationship too.
Imagine, you take your significant other out on a date not because you want to spend time with them but because you’re idolizing appearances. Have you ever idolized the pursuit and appearance of your relationship with Christ?
I reckon we’ve all done this once or twice or a billion times; you prayed, spent time in worship, or did something you felt you were ‘supposed’ to do because that’s what being a Christian should look like, right? Because it was what being the ‘good Christian girl’ meant?
Discipline does not always equate obedience. Sadly, I will never be as perfect as I try to be. I will never be an Ann Perkins or Leslie Knope of the world.
The more I practice discipline as obedience in my relationship with the Lord, the more helpless I find myself. The more I’m unable to reach the depths of wisdom and joy set apart for those that choose to walk with Christ.
The more I’m caught bobbing at the surface.
Take aquarium fish, for example. I have one; he’s a pretty blackish red and I named him Buggy for his spherical, bulging, bug-like eyes. He’s not doing well at the moment.
Balance is incredibly important for fish. Every bony fish has a gas bladder which is an organ filled with just the right amount of gas and air. It helps them balance their ability to swim below the surface while not completely sinking to the bottom. In other words, their buoyancy. (Also, I am paraphrasing Wikipedia at this point and am not an expert on gas bladder so there’s that disclaimer out of the way. I may or may not have any idea what I am on about).
The gas bladder makes swimming effortless for fish. As people, we struggle to ‘stay down’ in the water because we aren’t made for swimming. Now, imagine if a fish had to do the same. They likely wouldn’t have a long life span, you know, as they would be spending their time fighting the tendency to float back to the surface rather than doing basic fish survival shenanigans like eating and outswimming predators.
Unfortunately, Buggy has a case of swim bladder at the moment which is a common condition for aquarium fish. The condition is caused by an excess of gas in their gas bladder. They then become stuck bobbing at the surface of the tank, sometimes upside down.
Anyway, Buggy has taught me a few lessons during our time together. I like to observe him swim. I find it peaceful to watch him meander through the tank without a care in the world. I wonder whether he is content, or lonely, or not thinking at all. It’s difficult to watch him struggle with his swim bladder.
While watching Buggy, I started to realize that in this life, we are a lot like an aquarium fish. Helpless, dependent, oblivious to the fact we are simply fish. We are heedless to the immensity of the things beyond our knowledge and understanding. Imagine trying to teach a fish about the universe; first, you’d have to teach him English. Like Buggy, we are blind to how little we understand (2 Corinthians 4:18).
We are heedless to the immensity of the things beyond our knowledge and understanding. Imagine trying to teach a fish about the universe; first, you’d have to teach him English. Click To Tweet
Buggy has taught me yet another lesson in his simple way of being. Balance is, while normally unnoticed, still incredibly important. I’ve noticed Buggy’s lack of buoyancy because of his exaggerated struggle to ‘stay down.’
We also tend to notice our lack of buoyancy in Christ when He is no longer our centering point. There are times we drag our feet when opening the Word or lose focus while praying because our hearts and minds have wandered elsewhere. Discipline is good practice for these occasional moments; as people, we aren’t perfect.
But what happens when lacking buoyancy in Christ is our day-to-day normal?
For me, I notice prayer becomes a chore. I repeatedly attempt to pull ‘discipline’ out of my arsenal of traits to carry me through. Loving others becomes difficult; I lose sight of my purpose to care for others. I shy away from uncomfortable situations even if it’s important work.
And I feel far from the Lord in my heart and soul; one: because I am operating in my own strength and two: my heart isn’t focused on Him but what my relationship with Him looks like. I’m discontent in this state of exaggerated struggle.
And what happens when I’m balanced with Christ as my center?
Prayer becomes rejuvenation after a long day. Reading the Word becomes my daily bread. My love for others comes like a steady stream of water; it isn’t forced nor hurried but confident and forthcoming. I embrace uncomfortable situations (not entirely willingly) but more readily. My soul feels centered. I may not always feel happy in all circumstances, but I am able to remain joyful.
When we become legalistic, concerned with appearances, or act because we believe we should act… We’re merely bobbing the surface of depths we are capable of reaching in Christ. When we operate from a place of discipline and lackluster, lukewarm affection, we are not walking in trust and love. We are hustling in our own strength to be who we think we’re supposed to be.
God didn’t call us into faith to bind us up but to set us free (Galatians 5:1). He didn’t call us into faith to float helplessly, lacking buoyancy, but to swim freely. Nor did He call us to sink but to walk on the water (Matthew 14:29).
Galatians 5:13-14 says, ‘You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’
The Lord says he has set us free to be free, so why do we bind ourselves with rules that indulge our egos? Freedom in Christ is a gift so many of us, myself included, struggle to receive at times. Every rule we create, every area of forced discipline (with the wrong heart intentions), and every concern for appearances regarding our relationship with the Lord indulges the flesh.
What are your motivations for your actions? Who is your centering point? You… or Christ?
2 John 1:6 says, ‘And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.’ We are called to be free; therefore we are to abandon our expectations of what our faith should look look and walk in love. To walk in love is to walk in obedience.
In the flesh, we become like the fish with swim bladder. We’re stuck struggling in our own strength to go deeper and farther. We’re easily devoured and deceived because our energy is wasted in the trying. Hustle over obedience will leave us exhausted, unfulfilled, and bobbing back to the surface time and again.
At the end of the day, the pursuit to be the ‘good Christian girl’ is my spiritual swim bladder. It distracts me from pressing matters. It disorients me from actions born out of love and obedience versus an ode to my own ego. For example, am I praying daily to communicate with my Father or to say I pray daily?
Beth Moore couldn’t have phrased it better when she said, “It will become increasingly vital that we learn to distinguish between what is pro-Christian and what is actually Christlike.” Am I doing something because I am a ‘Christian’ or because I want to be Christlike?
My pursuit to be the ‘good Christian girl’ is a wasted effort. When God says ‘walk in love’ he doesn’t say, ‘you’re supposed to get it right. You’re supposed to be a perfect, holy vision like Me.’ He also doesn’t say, ‘You’ll know the right things to say at the right moments every time. Things won’t be hard. Things won’t be awkward and uncomfortable. You will never have to step out of your comfort zone.’
He only instructs we walk in love. Did you catch any supplemental verse about needing to be perfect simultaneously? I didn’t.
Walking in love might look like an awkward exchange of toiletries to the person that may need it (including their offended reaction). Or, maybe, fumbling over your words during prayer for someone. Maybe it will be sending a highly uncomfortable Facebook message to the person that shares anti-Christian memes telling him that the Lord loves him. It could include a mission trip you never wanted to go on. It may look like a ‘mistake,’ that turned into a blessing.
The Lord is a redeeming God; he can take imperfection and turn it into a reflection of Jesus Christ himself.
Walking in love doesn’t guarantee we will be the perfect specimen. We can’t be perfect at anything, especially not a perfect ‘Christian.’ To try is missing the point altogether. We are meant to lean into the Lord in our imperfection and trust he will carry our burdens and shortcomings.
Being an obedient, loving daughter of Christ does not equal ‘perfection,’ but the opposite. It means we humble ourselves to reality: we are imperfect, broken people. But we are redeemed in our pursuits to be Christlike in loving others. And it will looks as unique for me as it will for you.